Enter the narrow door

On the way to Jerusalem, someone asks Jesus if it is true that only a few will be saved.

Jesus does not respond directly to the question. For Jesus it is a question of the heart and not the intellect.

“Struggle to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will strive to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13: 24)

Reading this, I thought of the door of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It is low and narrow, probably made so that soldiers couldn’t enter on horseback.

Bethlehemdoor

They would need to dismount and maybe even leave aside their shields and large weapons. They could not enter, trusting in their horses and swords (Psalm 20:7; Psalm 44:6). Their horses and weapons are not the strength needed to enter the cave of Bethlehem.

What do we need to leave behind to enter the door?

Jesus continues his answer to the question in a very unusual way. He tells us that it is not enough to be one of the inner circle or to be someone who hangs around him. In fact, he suggests that the hangers-on will be cast out and the strangers will be welcomed into the Reign of God and will sit at the banquet table.

Maybe we need to leave behind all our efforts to determine who is in and who is out and find ways to welcome all into the Reign of God.

Sending the rich away empty

God casts down the mighty from the thrones
and raises the lowly,
fills the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty.
Luke 1: 52-53

DSC04679When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, she broke into the song we call the Magnificat. This hymn, rooted in the hymn of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, is a revolutionary call to recognize and live the Reign of God which has begun in this world with the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of a young poor woman from the backwoods hamlet of Nazareth.

Something new has happened: God has become flesh.

Something new can begin: human beings saved by God can begin to live in the light of the Reign of God.

“God sends the rich away empty,” Mary sings.

Now that’s a bit much for some of us who have more than we need – even if we are not super-rich. It’s really a challenge to those of us who live among the poor but with all the security of a US bank account, Social Security, and more.

But what might God be saying to us?

During my canonical retreat before ordination as a deacon, the retreat director led a session on Mary. Sometime later that day, I was praying the Magnificat when this insight came to me, which I quote from my notes:

You fill the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty
so that we may experience
the emptiness that you alone can fill,
with the emptying out of ourselves for others.

We who are rich need to be emptied out of all that keeps us safe and isolated from the precariousness of existence for so many in the world.

This became very clear to me the last week. I live a comfortable, uncomplicated life here in Honduras, with easy access to what I need. But this past week the village has been digging up the road to put in a sewage line before the road is paved. It’s a major inconvenience. I cannot park my car by the house. I have to find alternative places to park the car and walk ten minutes to the house.

Yesterday, I had to travel an alternative route to get to where I wanted to go. We were going to a nearby village to celebrate Mass on their feast day – anticipating the Assumption of Mary. The truck was full – with people and with the drinks for the meal after Mass.

But even this adventure proved to be a valuable lesson in the vision of the Reign of God. Isaias helped me find a back way out of Plan Grande. But we got stuck in the mud and even four-wheel drive wasn’t enough. So almost everyone got out of the truck and tried pulling and pushing. No luck.  Sure enough, about five men from nearby came and pushed and pulled the truck. We proceeded to Mass but, as I look back, I realized that act of being pushed and pulled by the poor was also a sign of God’s presence and what God wants for us.

May God continue to empty me of my attempts to be self-sufficient and move me to serve at the table of the poor.


The photo was taken in the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

Olympian specials

When I had been here in Honduras for a few months, I noticed the large number of people with birth defects of various types. Some are beggars but many are just trying to live and survive with twisted limbs, missing limbs, and other less visible disabilities.

I also saw a fair number of people with Downs syndrome. I presume there are a number hidden away in homes and houses. I had seen one case of a young man who was just let to sit in the dirt in the patio, but when I returned a few months later he was seated in a wheel chair.

I have made an effort to go out of my way to greet these people whom much of the world despises.

But one of the great joys is the presence of Adrián. A young man with Downs, I think he is in his thirties. He is almost always present at the Masses and church events near Vertientes, where he lives with his aged parents. He goes out of the way to greet people. He helps at the altar; he plays the guitar and sings. He is a refreshing presence in these communities. And the people accept him.

I was reminded of this today as I read Give Us This Day. Today Robert Ellsberg wrote about Eunice Shriver, who died on August 11, 2009. Her work with people with disabilities in her family led her to work with the Special Olympics, reminding them at the first Special Olympics in 1968 of the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

In these days when the world is looking at the beautiful and talented athletes in Brazil, it is good to remember what she saw in people with disabilities. They are real people with names, with histories, with needs and desires like those of other people. As she told them:

“You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.”


The August 15, 2016, issue of America has an article on welcoming people with disabilities in parishes as well as a pointed column by the magazine’s editor.

The treasures of the church

DSC07607Saint Lawrence, a deacon of Rome, was not martyred with his bishop, Pope Sixtus. The prefect of Rome knew that he was in charge of the treasures of the church and demanded that he present them to the Roman authorities.

According of one version of the legend, Lawrence, distributed all the goods of the Church to the poor, the ill, and the widows, even selling the sacred vessels. Then he gathered the poor and presented them to the Roman prefect, announcing, “Here are the treasures of the church.”

Needless to say, the prefect was not impressed and proceeded to have Lawrence martyred on a gridiron. The saint seems to have had a sense of humor. After some time over the flames he told his executioners to turn him over since he was done on that side. (Does this qualifying St. Lawrence as the patron saint of barbecues?)

All kidding aside, Lawrence knew what was important – the glory of God and the poor.

The glory of God is shown when we gather around the table of the Lord, rich and poor, sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord.

The glory of God is also shown when we gather around the table of the poor where all have a part, where all share the goodness of creation, where, in the words of the Salvadoran martyred Jesuit Rutilio Grande, everyone has a place, a stool, around a long shared table.

The servant of God serves God at the table of the Eucharist and the table of the poor – both are part of our mission, our identity.

Recalling the absolute equality around the Lord’s table, where there are no divisions, we gather around a table where those who have more share so that all may experience the abundance of God’s creation.

This may call for sacrifices, for selling what we have, even what we think we need. It might even mean, as it meant for St. Lawrence, selling the goods of the church to feed the poor.

This is not all that radical. It was mentioned by Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis  [On Social Concern], # 31:

Thus, part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

That is the witness of St. Lawrence, as it is the witness of many saints, recall the example of St. Dominic who sold his books to feed the poor in time of famine.

The question then is how can we truly serve God and the poor, recognizing the real treasures of the Church.


The image is from a holy card designed by Ade Bethune. A collection of her works is at St. Catherine University.

 

 

Where am I supposed to be?

“It’s a matter of being where you are supposed to be.”
Blessed Michal Tomaszek, OFM Conv

Where am I supposed to be? How will I know this?

Blesseds Michal Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski were Conventual Franciscan friars who found themselves among the poor of Perú where they were killed by militants of the Sendero Luminoso terrorists on August 9, 1991.

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter found himself in a Berlin jail for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army, despite opposing advice from almost everyone he knew. He was beheaded for his solitary witness to a God of life and love in the face of Nazism on August 9, 1943.

Hundreds of Catholics were gathered of prayer in the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan, the most Catholic city in Japan, when a United States bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the city, using the cathedral as one of its ways of identifying the city on August 6, 1945. Over 6,000 Catholics were killed that day, some of them preparing for confession in the cathedral,

On August 6, 1942, Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce – Sister Teresa blessed by the Cross – was killed at Auschwitz. A Carmelite sister, born Jewish, a convert from atheism, Edith Stein was but one of six million Jews, killed by the Nazis in their concentration and death camps.

Where am I supposed to be?

Saint Teresa offers an answer:

“Do you want to be totally united to the Crucified? If you are serious about this, you will be present, by the power of His Cross, at every front, at every place of sorrow, bringing to those who suffer, healing and salvation.”

Being a sign of hope at every place of sorrow. There we may be signs, as blessed Franz wrote from prison, that

“The power of God cannot be overcome.”


SteinKoln

The photo is of a sculpture of Edith Stein, Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, on a street in Köln, Germany, where she entered the Carmelites.

 

The dogs of God

Today the church celebrates the founded of the Dominicans (canes Domini – the dogs of God), St. Dominic of Guzman.

What is striking about his life of faith is how he saw the need of a serious intellectual life combined with a life of poverty and identification with the poor.

As a young man he sold his books in the face of a famine: “I will not study on dead skins while living skins are dying of hunger.”

When he accompanied his bishop in southern France, among the ascetic and world-denying Albigensians, he noted that the Cistercians had little effect on them since they traveled and preached surrounded by power and wealth. He also rejected use of violence to try to convert the heretics: “Arm yourself with prayer rather than a sword; wear humility rather than fine clothes.”

As he lay dying, he left a simple testament to his friars: “Have charity, guard humility, and make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.”

Though I find myself spiritually more a follower of Francis of Assisi than of Dominic, I find the two of them complimentary, offering us varied ways to live out our following of Christ.

There is a legend that Dominic met Francis one day after having a dream of an ill-clad beggar. They embraced and a tradition has ensued that the Dominicans and Franciscans visit each other on the feast of their founders.

DSC00431

San Croce, Florence

Transfiguration, Hiroshima, and Pope Paul VI

On a mountain in Galilee, Jesus let his disciples see the glory of God, his divinity, hidden beneath his humanity. And so we celebrate today the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

The world hides the glory of God which is concealed at the depths of the creation. In fact, we distort the glory of God by the bombing of civilians, as at Hiroshima, what Pope Paul VI called “a butchery of untold magnitude.”

But God has a way of undermining our attempts to destroy creation.

God has a way of revealing the Glory of God hidden in Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, and in God’s creation.

God is the God who transfigures, who subtly reveals the Glory that God wishes for us.

St. Irenaeus said that “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero said that “The Glory of God is the poor person fully alive.”

How will I make that glory known and loved today?


Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It is also the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. On this day in 1978 Blessed Pope Paul VI died.