What kind of king?

Meditating this morning on the feast of Christ the King, one question ran through my mind: “What kind of king is Jesus?”

The kings of this world rule by power, domination, and violence, with soldiers and weapons of war. They want their enemies to suffer – death or defeat. They thrive on vengeance. They are arrogant. They want their followers to serve them, to acquiesce to today idea or demand – to whatever Twitter they send out. They are arrogant and think they know it all and are the best in everything. Their thrones are of precious woods or of gold. Some even have gold toilets.

Our king, Jesus, rules from the wood of the cross. He suffers the violence of the powerful and is the brunt of violence and of mocking. But he is at the side of those who are cast aside, the marginalized, the wretched of the earth – and suffers with them. He pardons his enemies and even those who put him to death, putting an end to violence. He serves others, washing their feet. He hears the cry of the poor and even of the good thief. He has no weapons but love, tenderness, mercy, and forgiveness. He is humble and puts himself with those at the bottom of society.

DSCN4910As Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians (1: 13-14), “He delivered us from the power of dark­ness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Do we really want king Jesus – or do we want the kings of this world?

 

Saints of the Missions

October is the month of the missions in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis proclaimed that this year we would celebrate an extraordinary month of missions to recall the hundredth anniversary of an apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XV, Maximum Illud, which opened up a new understanding of mission.

What I found most refreshing in this one hundred year old letter is the way the pope sought to separate missionary activity from any type of nationalism or colonialism.

“the true missionary is always aware that he is not working as an agent of his country, but as an ambassador of Christ”

Pope Benedict XV praised the work of sisters in missionary countries and also called for others to collaborate in mission. In addition, the pope wanted to see the development of local clergy as an important part of missionary activity.

In our diocese, parishes sent out missionaries to other parishes in the deaneries. Our parish, Dulce Nombre de María, sent about fifty to the parish of Corquín, at the other end of our deanery. I had it easy and went to the US for the mission week.

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But, to help myself pray and reflect on the missionary vocation of every Christian I complied a calendar of saints, blessed, and holy persons who died or celebrated their feast day in October.

But what is most interesting is that the month begins and ends on the feast days of two persons who never went to the missions but are linked to mission.

October 1 is the feast of the cloistered Carmelite sister who died at the age of 24. Saint Thèrése of Lisieux is the patron saint of missions. She wanted to go to the Carmelite foundation in Indochina (Vietnam), but was unable. Yet she prayed for missionaries and had a missionary spirit.

October 31 is the feast of the Jesuit brother, Saint Alfonso Rodríguez, who spent forty years as the door-keeper of the Jesuit house of studies on the island of Majorca. During his time there he was a spiritual guide for Saint Pedro Claver, the Jesuit who spent forty years in Colombia especially serving the slaves brought by the Spaniards to the port city of Cartagena. He owed his mission to the inspiration and advice of Saint Alfonso.

Missionary activity is so often thought of as going to another place, especially exotic lands, to preach the Gospel and, at least today, to witness to the Good News of Jesus for the poor. But Saints Thérèse and Alfonso show us the importance of being a witness to the Gospel wherever we are.

As Pope Francis has often noted, in Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, 120

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization… The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.

The saints show us the way.

My calendar of October saints with quotes can be found here: OCTOBER saints

Banqueting with the poor

When you give a banquet, invite the poor.
Luke 14:13

When I was working in campus ministry and social ministry in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, one of our ministries was to bring meals on Fridays to the local homeless shelter. Parishioners and students would go to cook meals at the shelter and I would join them a few times a year.

In the 1990s we began a student service and justice team to lead various service activities in Ames and nearby communities. They met each week to prepare upcoming activities, but also to reflect on their experiences in the light of their faith. It was probably the closest I’ve ever come to a base community in the US – combining prayer, reflection of scripture, fellowship, and service to the poor.

Many of them loved to lead the groups of students preparing meals at the shelter. Some of them began activities with the kids at the shelter. They were extraordinary young people – and they are now extraordinary adults.

I insisted that they went to eat with the poor, not merely prepare food for them. They would meet at the student center, decide on a menu, go to buy what was needed at a grocery store, and then go to the shelter and prepare it in the kitchen. Then they would sit down and eat with the residents

I am convinced that this changed the lives of many of them, as they sat around the table with the men, mostly homeless wanderers, and shared stories.

One of our service and justice team members, Maria Lux, painted her memory of one of those meals. The painting hangs at the Emergency Resident Project in Ames.

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What strikes me is that these students had an opportunity to meet the homeless as real persons, with stories of joys and sorrows, of success and failure. The poor were not a group; they were Joe, Harry, Marty. Eating beside these men, the students could recognize the bonds between them.

So many people I know are very generous – but from a distance. A few people I know are advocates of the poor – but from a distance. Very few, but many from groups like the Catholic Workers, know the poor by name and sit down with them at table. They know that we are one.

This is a hard message for me, and for many of us. We prefer a disembodied charity and an advocacy of justice from above. Getting our hands dirty with the poor, eating and speaking with them are hard. But I think this is what God wants.

I write this on Saturday, August 31, the anniversary of the death of John Leary in 1982 at age 24. I met John a few times at Haley House, the Catholic Worker House in Boston. He came to Boston to study at Harvard, but he found himself working with the poor, sometimes sharing his room with them. He was an advocate for peace, protesting and being arrested two times at a Boston weapons lab. He lived the seamless garment, also being arrested once at an abortion clinic. He worked at the Pax Christi Center for Conscience and War with Gordon Zahn. He embodied the love of the poor, the advocacy of a seamless garment of life, and a nonviolent life. But he was also a man of God. One of his prayer was praying the Jesus prayer as he jogged. He died, jogging home from the Pax Christi Center to Haley House – probably with the words of the Jesus prayer on his lips.

He had given his life, as a banquet for the poor.

May we find ways to eat at the table with the poor, making ourselves friends with the poor. As Paul wrote to the Romans (12:16):

“do not be haughty but associate with the lowly”

 

San Roque

Today is the feast of San Roque who cared for victims of the plague. He is known among Italians as San Rocco (Rocky) and in English as Saint Roch. But I invoke his intercession as San Roque.

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Statue in the Cloisters Museum, MMA, NYC

I use his Spanish name because my first experience of pastoral work in Latin America was in the church of San Roque in San Salvador, accompanying the pastor, Padre Pedro Cortes, for two months in 1987. The parish was in an area of San Salvador which was deeply affected by the October 10, 1986, earthquake.

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The church of San Roque, San Salvador, about 1987

San Roque was, in my mind, a fitting name for this parish.

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Heading out on an excursion with the youth of the parish of San Roque, 1987

San Roque was born in the fourteenth century, in Montpellier, France, of wealthy parents, who died when he was ten. When he was twenty, he sold his goods and went on pilgrimage to Rome. There he began to care for victims of the plague. He contracted the plague and went to the forest to die peacefully. There a dog came, bringing him food and licking his wounds. He was cured and returned to caring for the sick.

There are two versions of his death. He is said to have returned to his native city of Montpelier and continued his care for the victims of the plague, dying when he was about thirty-two years of age. The other version is that on his way back to France he was arrested by soldiers in northern Italy and accused of being a spied. He was jailed and died in prison.

Though little is known of his life, what we learn from him is commitment to the poor, to those at the margins of society, even to the point of becoming one of them.

These past two weeks I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal, which he published in 1983. It is a book full of wisdom for anyone in ministry and especially for us in missionary countries. He noted that

Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.

That is what San Roque was for the victims of the plague. That is what I experienced at San Roque in El Salvador. That is what I hope I do here in Honduras.

Where is your heart?

Some thoughts for this coming Sunday, based on the Gospel, Luke 12: 32-48.

“Where your treasure is, there is your heart,” Jesus tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel.

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There is a legend about Saint Anthony of Padua that might surprise us. Many of us think of Saint Anthony as the saint to find lost keys; I admit I spent several hours searching for some credit cards I had hidden and prayed hard to this saint. He is also known as a wonder worker for all the miracles attributed to him.

But he was an awesome preacher who was not afraid to speak the truth. He denounced the vices of his day – not just drinking and gambling, but especially greed and usury.

One day, Saint Anthony was at a funeral for a rich and avaricious man in Tuscany. He began to cry out that the man should not be buried in the hallowed ground of a Christian cemetery. For his greed and usury, his soul was condemned to hell and his body had no heart – literally!

People were confused and astounded but they sought out some physicians who came and opened the chest of the dead rich man. They found that he had no heart.

But then some people went to the rich man’s house and opened his money boxes. There they found his heart.

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When we put our trust in wealth and power and domination, these take away our heart; they harden our hearts and we live half-dead, since what supposedly moves us is dead matter – gold, silver, cash, coins, and all types of possessions. In fact, we don’t own these possessions; they own us. And so we walk about, heartless.

But there is another story that may help us see how we can live with our hearts in the right places.

For several years, an Oklahoman diocesan priest by the name of Stanley Francis Rother was a missionary in the town of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, from 1968 to 1981. He learned Spanish as well as the local indigenous language and even translated the Gospels into their language.

He and his pastoral team served the people, evangelizing them in many ways, including projects to improve the lives of the people.

But in Guatemala this was not a time to be interested in the well-being of the poor, especially the indigenous. Many were killed, villages were destroyed, indigenous leaders were disappeared and killed. Even church workers suffered disappearance, torture, and murder.

At one point, things got very dangerous for Father Aplás, as the people called him. He went to the states for a short time but returned, convinced that “the shepherd cannot run and leave the sheep to fend for themselves.” During the night of July 28, 1981, he was killed in the rectory. He was beatified as a martyr in 2017.

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The room where Father Stanley Rother was martyred.

His family arranged to have his body flown back to Oklahoma to be buried there. But the people in Santiago Atitlán asked them to leave them his heart. The family assented. His heart rests in a shrine in the church.

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Last year the pastor of the church I work in and I went to Santiago Atitlán, on pilgrimage. We prayed in the church, we talked to the current pastor, and we served at a Mass at the altar where Padre Apla´s presided; I read the Gospel from the ambo where he preached. We also got a chance to speak over dinner with someone who had worked with Padre Apla´s.

But one moment stands out for me.

We entered the church and noted that there were people praying in Adoration before the exposed Eucharist. We knelt and prayed. I took a picture. Later I noticed that in the front side of the altar there was a reliquary with the blood of Father Rother: Jesus in the Eucharist and the blood of a martyr below.

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Where was Blessed Father Stanley’s treasure? It was in the lives of the people in Santiago Atitlán. And so, in the church from which he served the impoverished, oppressed indigenous people, there is his heart.

What do you treasure? Where is your heart?

Is your heart with the poor, the migrant, the oppressed – as Father Rother’s was?

 

If not, there is still time for conversion.

You are where you’re supposed to be

On August 9, 1991, two Polish missionaries, Conventual Franciscan friars, Fathers Miguel (Michal) Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski, were murdered by members of Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path.  They were beatified in December 2015.

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Today, sitting in the dentist’s office, I was contemplating what I would write tomorrow, when I came across this quote of one of these martyrs, Blessed Miguel Tomaszek, OFM Conv.:

“You are not where you are now to understand the world, but to understand what the will of God is for you. It is a matter of being where you are supposed to be.”

A few years ago I came across a quote on the wrapper of a Dove piece. “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” It seemed so right for me that I put the wrapper on the magnetic board in my kitchen.

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When the volunteers from the medical group Honduras Amigas came to the house for a discussion on the reality of Honduras last June, one of them saw it and wrote it on the board.

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There are times when I wonder if this is where I really am called to be – loneliness, frustrations, feelings of inadequacy, and more. But in the middle of this, there is a peace, especially on days when I connect with someone here.

I wonder what was going through the mind of Father Miguel and his fellow Conventual Franciscan priest, Zbigniew Adam Strzalkowski, as they served in the people of their parish in Pariacoto, in the diocese of Chimbote. In Give Us This Day, Robert Ellsberg notes how these two young Polish friars were struggling with Spanish, but many of their parishioners deeply loved them as they administered the sacraments, trained catechists, visited the sick, helped with projects of water and community development, and more.

In a letter he wrote before going to Perú, Father Michal wrote:

“I am a happy priest…. Overall, I am very well received. I can feel it over and over, but this isn’t so important to me. I’m myself, and I want to be myself.”

There is a page of the Polish Conventual Franciscans in English with photos and stories that lets you see some of this joy in their ministry in Perú.

When we find where God wants us to be, there can be real joy.

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The photo is taken from the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/meczennicy.pariacoto/posts/

 

 

Deacons, beware

Today is the feast of Pope Saint Sixtus II and six companions – deacons of the church of Rome. They were apprehended while celebrating the Eucharist in the private cemetery of Praetextatus and killed on August 6, 258 AD. Saint Sixtus and four of the deacons – Januarius, Magnus, Stephen, and Vincent – were beheaded there and the two others – Felicissimus and Agapitus – were killed probably later the same day. The seventh of the deacons, and the most famous, Lawrence, was killed on August 10.

In a letter to Successus, St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote about the martyrdom:

The truth of the matter is that [Emperor] Valerian sent a rescript to the senate that provides for the immediate punishment of bishops, presbyters, and deacons…. Sixtus was executed in the cemetery on August 6, and four deacons with him…

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How often do we deacons reflect on the commitment of these and other early deacons, to the point of martyrdom?

The Blood of Christ is central to my understanding of the diaconate. The deacon prepares the chalice. He lifts the chalice of the Blood of Christ at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. He is minister of the Eucharist, especially the Blood of Christ, as I heard on the day of my ordination.

Often when I lift the chalice, I recall the Blood of Christ in my hands, the Blood poured out in love, in commitment. Am I willing to give my life, to the point of shedding my blood, for God and for God’s people? Am I willing to pour out my life in serving Christ and those at the margins?

I often pray that I may have the grace and the courage to do this – most of all in my daily life. Stephen, Vincent of Saragossa, Lawrence were among those early deacons who poured out their lives in service of God’s people to the point of shedding their blood.

I don’t know of any contemporary Catholic permanent deacons who have given their lives for God and for God’s people, though many pour themselves out in daily works of dying to self in order to be present to the poor and despised of this earth.

A few days ago I shared on Facebook a quote from blessed Monseñor Enrique Angelelli, Bishop of La Rioja, Argentina, defender of campesinos, martyr, who died in what was made to appear to be a car crash, on August 4, 1976:

“The thought crosses my mind that the Lord needs a bishop in jail or killed in order to make us wake up to our episcopal collegiality and live it more deeply.”

Maybe we need a few deacons in jail or killed to show the mystery of Christ the Servant.

I don’t think I have the guts for this since I have problems giving myself to the ordinary demands of life and ministry.

I don’t seek it, but maybe I should pray that I may be open to giving myself up for God and the poor, as did Lawrence, Januarius, Magnus, Stephen, Vincent, Felicissimus, and Agapitus.


Image from: https://www.catholicireland.net/saintoftheday/st-sixtus-ii-pope-257-258-and-his-companions-martyrs/