Pietà – Mother and Child

Mary, at the foot of the Cross, received Jesus in her arms – weeping as many mothers have throughout the ages. Here. a various images

PietaFrank

By Frederick Franck in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

DSC01468

Kathe Kollwitz, Berlin – Memorial of the victims of war; Neue Wache

DSC00590

Michelangelo – Florence

DSC08307

Michelangelo – Saint Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican

Even when all despaired
at the hour when Christ was dying on the cross,
Mary, serene,
awaited the hour of the resurrection.
Mary is the symbol
of the people who suffer oppression and injustice.
Theirs is the calm suffering
that awaits the resurrection.
It is Christian suffering,
the suffering of the church,
which does not accept the present injustices
but awaits without rancor the moment
when the Risen One will return
to give us the redemption we await.
– – – Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero, December 11, 1977

Loving enemies, My Lai, New Zealand

Love your enemies.
Jesus

A day after the killing of almost 50 in mosques in New Zealand by a white terrorist, fifty- one years after the massacre of almost 350 civilians in My Lai, South Vietnam, by US troops, today’s Gospel reading (Mathew 5: 43-48) ought to challenge us.

How can we live as people of peace if we do not love even our enemies, as God showers rain and love on all of us?

The perfection of God is in love – and so we can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, merciful as God is, if we too love our enemies and do good to them.

Perhaps the best commentary on this text comes from a poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist spiritual master and advocate for his people, Thich Nhat Hanh. The poem, “Condemnation,” was written before the My Lai massacre in 1968. The full text can be found here, but here are several verses which, in my mind, reflect the call of Jesus to love even those who hate us and do us harm. They are also a call to live that love in concrete.

Listen to this:
yesterday six Vietcong came through my village.
Because of this my village was bombed — completely destroyed.
Every soul was killed.

Here in the presence of the undisturbed stars,
in the invisible presence of all the people still alive on earth,
let me raise my voice to denounce this filthy war,
this murder of brothers by brothers!
I have question: Who pushed us into this killing of one another?
Whoever is listening, be my witness!
 I cannot accept this war.
 I never could, I never shall.
 I must say this a thousand times before I am killed.
 …
Men cannot be our enemies — even men called ‘Vietcong!’
If we kill men, what brothers will we have left?
With whom shall we live then?

The final words are at the heart of the love of enemies:
If we kill our sisters and brothers, with whom shall we live?

I wonder if we citizens of the United States must ponder these words of Jesus even more seriously. Have  we exported violence – not just by the killings in Viet Nam and other places throughout the world, not just by exporting arms to dictators in the Mid East and in the Americas, but by exporting hatred of the other, the stranger, the enemy?

DSC00689

Sculpture at Coventry Cathedral

Preaching to the poor about fasting

I live in a parish where most of the people are poor. How can I talk with them about fasting during Lent? How can I preach about fasting this Lent?

Earlier this year I was working with a few groups of people to prepare them for Lent. When I got to talking about fasting, I asked them, “How many of you eat meat every day?” No response. “How many eat meat three times a week?” A few hands went up. How many eat meat once a week?” A more, but there were still some who had not raised their hands. They probably have meat once every two or three weeks.

I explained, first of all, I explained that abstinence means not eating meat and that fasting in the church’s understanding is eating one full meal and two smaller meals and no eating between meals. I thought this understanding in necessary because some have the idea that the fasting in the church means not eating anything.

It helps to explain that fasting is not just something physical. The readings from Isaiah 58 the next two days make that clear:

“This, is the fasting that I wish:  releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

This morning, preaching at the 10 am Ash Wednesday Mass in Dulce Nombre, to the Delegates of the Word from most of the villages. They had come in to Dulce Nombre, from some of the furthest parts of the parish, to get ashes to bring to their communities for a celebration this afternoon or evening.

I spoke about fasting from what keeps us from opening our hearts to the Lord so that we can celebrate our death and resurrection in Christ in a special way at the Easter Vigil.

If we fast from gossip, from the desire for vengeance, from the tendency to scold other, from quarrelling – we are going a long way to letting our hearts be rent.

But I also noted that on fast days we are called to only eat three times a day. So I put in an admonition to give up the mid-morning snack and the churros – chips and the like sold in small bags.

I am not sure this is the best way to speak about fasting and abstinence among the poor – but it’s a start.

But I also need to add, that fasting should open our hearts to God and to others. The third discipline of Lent – with prayer and fasting – is almsgiving, or, as we sometimes say here, charity.

But I think that is inadequate.

Almsgiving presumes a distance between the almsgiver and the one begging. I wonder if we would be better off, spiritually, when we think of sharing with the poor, who are part of our family.

This is what struck me this morning, while reading a passage from a Lenten sermon of Pope Saint Leo the Great, found in Benedictine Daily Prayer:

For such a holy fast there can be no better companion than almsgiving. But we must note that “almsgiving” or “mercy” here includes the many pious actions which make possible a familial equality among the faithful, whatever be the disparities between them in worldly wealth.

Our fasting should open us to our family in need.

But I wonder if many of the people I know need that message. How many times have I seen them helping someone in need – even a gringo whose car is broken?

I think some of them know better than I what St. Leo the Great also said in the same sermon:

Those who are less able to give material things can rival their richer neighbors in good will and love.

DSC08928

 

Among the poor – in the Eucharist

By the prayers and example of Saint Katherine Drexel,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and the oppressed,
 and keep us united in love
in the Eucharistic community of your Church…

 Today is the feast of Saint Katherine Drexel, daughter of a rich Philadelphia banker. But, with his example of daily prayer and the example of her step-mother who served the poor three times a week in her home, she developed a faith that strove for justice.

maxresdefault

Alarmed at the poverty and oppression among Native Americans and African Americans, she asked the pope to send missionaries. His response was to the point, “Why not become a missionary yourself?” She did and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

This morning, the prayer for her feast day noted above, struck me.

We ask to be enabled to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed – not for them, but among them. This is a struggle with them, taking part with them – not as leaders, but accompanying them.

It is also a prayer to keep united in love, in the Eucharist. Mother Katherine Drexel had a deep devotion to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the presence of Christ uniting us in love with all people.

Justice and the Eucharist – two dimensions of the holiness of Saint Katherine.

Justice among the poor and Eucharist in union with the whole Body of Christ – these are for me, especially as a deacon, the central dimensions of my life.


The image is taken from an article in Franciscan Media, found here.

How can I preach the Lucan beatitudes to the poor?

In the Gospel for this coming Sunday, we hear the beatitudes and woes of Luke 6: 20-26.

Blessed are you who are poor
Woe to you who are rich

Blessed are you who are hungry
Woe to you who are stuffed

Blessed are you who weep
Woe to you who are laughing

How can I preach “Blessed are you who are poor,” when I know that there are people here, perhaps in the church, who struggle to eat?

What can I say to them?

DSC08715

Yes, most of the people in the celebrations in the countryside are poor, but some have a dream of escaping poverty by going to the US to earn lots of money. Though poor, some have the dream of the rich, to be completely self-sufficient. They are willing to endure the nightmare of passing through Mexico to try to reach the US.

This is not to deny that those who are trying to enter the US are more often those who are trying to escape the violence and the poverty, the misery, that affects the lives of many in Honduras.

Those who live in the cities experience the violence of the gangs and drug-traffickers, as well as the repression of those who try to speak out against the rampant injustice. Throughout the country there is continuing violence of many other kinds – domestic violence, especially against women; violence due to conflicts over land or other issues; violence due to people seeking vengeance for crimes committed against their families; violence connected with abuse of alcohol or drugs as well as the large number of weapons. This is exacerbated by the lack of a justice and police system that investigates and prosecutes crimes. But others are leaving and seeking refuge in the US because of extreme poverty and the worsening of the economic situation. They are seeking to improve the lives of their families.

Of course there are some who leave seeking adventure or seeking money to live comfortably in the future. But violence and poverty, in a political situation of ineptitude and corruption and an economic situation of extreme inequality, are the driving forces for the migration.

But what do I say about the Gospel to those who are here?  More than two-thirds in the country live in poverty, perhaps 40% in extreme poverty.

I think the message has to be a message of hope: Jesus has a vision that turns this world upside down.

Jesus does not invite the poor to be rich, but to live the kingdom. When the poor are really poor, living austerely, they are more likely to be living the Kingdom. When the poor are impoverished, they have been deprived of even the little they need to live as people of worth.

What is the kingdom? What are the signs of the kingdom? Share, care, trust.

What signs of the kingdom have I seen here?

  • People caring for their sick or elderly relatives.
  • Communities regularly responding to the needs of the poor, collecting basic food supplies and taking up collections to pay for expensive medicines or medical treatments.
  • People donating money to buy land for a homeless family.
  • People stopping to help me start my car when it broke down.
  • Communion ministers walking for hours to bring Communion to the sick.
  • Groups of young people who visit the sick.
  • Poor people almost never turning aside from someone who asks for help, even if it’s only one lempira (about four cents).
  • Offering food to whoever is in the house, even a crazy gringo.

I would suggest that when Jesus says the Kingdom belongs to the poor he is asking us to look at our communities:

  • Are they selfish, concerned only with my well-being? Or are they place where people share?
  • Are they communities where the poor and the marginalized are welcomed as full members of the community
  • Are they places where people accompany those who mourn or are they only concerned about themselves?
  • Are they places where the hungry are fed? Or, better, are they places where we all sit down together to eat, poor and not poor?

So, what can I preach?

  • Be communities that welcome all.
  • Avoid the temptation to accumulate.
  • Share in the joys and sorrows of all.
  • Above all, place your trust in God, who is a God of life and hope, and live as participants in the Kingdom of God.

I’m not sure that’s what I’ll preach – but it’s what’s moving my heart tonight.

More saints than Saint Marianne of Molokai

Today is the feast of Saint Marianne Cope, a German-American immigrant, who joined the Franciscan Sisters in Syracuse. In 1883, she left her position as provincial and six other sisters left for Hawaii to serve the lepers. She died there, on August 9, 1918, after serving on the island of Molokai for thirty years. One of her first patients was Saint Damian of Molokai.

mother_marianne_cope_with_sisters_and_patients,_1918

image of Saint Marianne shortly before her death.

But there is a part of this story that reveals the holiness of her sisters.

The king of Hawaii had contacted more than fifty religious orders seeking some sisters to serve the lepers, in the Kakaako Receiving Station for people who might have leprosy.

Hansen’s disease was dreaded in those days and most were reluctant to take on what was perceived as a dangerous mission.

When the request came to the sisters in Saint Marianne Cope’s province, thirty-five volunteered immediately. What generosity! What trust in the Providence of God! What love!

Saint Marianne was canonized. But what of the other six who went with her? What of the other twenty-nice who had volunteered? Do they not also show us the face of holiness, the willingness to see Christ in the face of the leper, the outcast?

I am inspired by Saint Marianne but today I find myself even more inspired by these anonymous sisters who had the courage to say yes to God.

All you holy women, saints of God, intercede for us.



The image was downloaded from this site

 

The Epiphany – Eliot and Ferlinghetti

The feast of the Epiphany fills many people with wonder. There are these wise men from afar, a star in the sky, a babe in a manger, and extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (whatever that is).

Though we know nothing about their number, their race, or their names, the mythic story unfolds. They arrive on camels. There are three of them, though the Gospel doesn’t mention a number. They are of three different race and bear the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

dscn5409

But, seemingly indifferent to the message of a savage king, Herod, and the tales of his household priests, they find themselves amazed at seeing a star. But, when they enter the house, there is nothing amazing there – just a mother and child. Yet they fall down and worship.

It’s a story that arouses our wonder, that amazes us.

As I was preparing my homily today, I came across two poems that, in very different ways, plumb the depths of this day.

T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi: is a classic. It’s worth your while to listen to the poem being read by T. S. Eliot himself or Sir Alec Guinness. The text is here.

Eliot speaks in the voice of one of the Magi, years later, recalling the journey. After recalling the hassles, he notes, in an almost nonchalant way:

…and so we continued,
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon,
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

Not splendid, not overwhelming, but “satisfactory.”

But then Eliot reflects that this birth was “like Death, our death.” For this birth changes something in us and makes us uneasy with our old gods, our old ways. And so, “I should be glad of another death.”

The second poem comes from an unlikely author, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. “Christ climbed down,” which you can read here has five stanzas that have Christ coming down, “from his bare tree,” and running away from the trappings of Christmas, especially the tinsel trees, the Santa Clauses, the department store nativity scenes, and the winter wonderland caroling. But the last stanza opens up to us where Christ might come down:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Christ comes in anonymity, as he did to the Magi, so that we can reconceive the coming of Christ – in our souls.

And so I recall the words of the Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart:

“What good is it for me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to God’s son in my person and my culture and my times?”