Saint Alban and World Refugee Day

June 20 is the feast of Saint Alban, an early English martyr. He is also the patron saint of refugees.

He was living in Briton when a Christian priest appeared on his doorstep, fleeing from persecution. He was very impressed by the prayer and holiness of the priest and received instruction from him. The local authorities began to suspect that Alban was harboring a Christian and searched his house. Alban had helped the priest to escape and had put on the priest’s clothes.

Alban was arrested and when his real identity was known he refused to renounce the Christian faith and was subsequently tortured and martyred.

But it all started with welcoming a stranger.

May we follow the example of Saint Alban – even risking imprisonment and death to save the refugees.

Today let us pray especially for the Chaldean Catholics arrested in Detroit who face deportation to a situation of intense violence and persecution.

Saint Albam, pray for them and for us.

 

 

Corpus Christi meditations

Corpus Christi Procession meditations for the Dulce Nombre Parish 2017

We stopped with the Eucharist at five altars where these themes, reflecting the recent pastoral letter of Bishop Darwin Andino, were used as the basis for our prayer and meditation.

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1. Deepening our encounter with God through the Word of God.

2 Timothy 3: 15-16

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 174:
All evangelization is based on that word, listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to. The sacred Scriptures are the very source of evangelization. Consequently, we need to be constantly trained in hearing the word. The Church does not evangelize unless she constantly lets herself be evangelized. It is indispensable that the word of God “be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity”. God’s word, listened to and celebrated, above all in the Eucharist, nourishes and inwardly strengthens Christians, enabling them to offer an authentic witness to the Gospel in daily life. We have long since moved beyond that old contraposition between word and sacrament. The preaching of the word, living and effective, prepares for the reception of the sacrament, and in the sacrament that word attains its maximum efficacy.

2. Living the sacraments as encounters with God.

1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

Pope Saint John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 29
Christian spirituality is nourished above all by a constant sacramental life, since the Sacraments are the root and endless source of God’s grace which believers need to sustain them on their earthly pilgrimage. The sacramental life needs to be complemented by the values of popular piety, values which will be enriched in turn by sacramental practice and saved from falling into the danger of routine. It should also be noted that this spirituality is not opposed to the social responsibilities of the Christian life. On the contrary, in following the path of prayer, believers become more conscious of the Gospel’s demands and of their duties towards others. Through prayer, they are strengthened with the grace they need to persevere in doing good.

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 47
The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.

3. Strengthening the family as “domestic church,’ gathered around the Table of the Eucharist.

Joshua 24: 14-15

Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 317:
Family prayer is a special way of express­ing and strengthening this paschal faith.376 A few minutes can be found each day to come together before the living God, to tell him our worries, to ask for the needs of our family, to pray for someone experiencing difficulty, to ask for help in showing love, to give thanks for life and for its blessings, and to ask Our Lady to protect us beneath her maternal mantle. With a few simple words, this moment of prayer can do immense good for our families. The various expressions of popular piety are a treasure of spirituality for many families. The family’s communal journey of prayer culminates by sharing together in the Eucharist, especially in the context of the Sun­day rest. Jesus knocks on the door of families, to share with them the Eucharistic supper…. The Eucharist is the sacrament of the new covenant, where Christ’s redemptive work is carried out. The close bond between married life and the Eucharist thus becomes all the more clear. For the food of the Eucharist offers the spouses the strength and incentive needed to live the marriage covenant each day as a “domestic church”.

4. Caring for our “common Home” where God reveals his glory.

Psalm 19: 2-7

Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 236:
It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsur­passable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God.…  The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adora­tion…. Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.

5. Living the Eucharist in lives of charity and justice.

Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-35

A reading for Pope Francis’ Message on the World Day of the Poor 2017:
If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist. The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Saint John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness”.

 

 

Corpus Christi Procession

Here in Honduras, we celebrate Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, with processions, carrying the Eucharist in a monstrance. Here is a picture of a procession from several years ago.

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Usually the communities prepare several altars where the priest or deacon (or, in some cases, the extraordinary ministers of Communion) place the Eucharist so that those gathered can stop and pray.

Our pastor asked me to prepare materials based on the recent pastoral letter of our bishop, Monseñor Darwin Rudy Andino, CRS,  Evangelizando a la luz de la PALABRA – Evangelizing in the light of the Word.

The themes chosen are:

  1. Deepening our encounter with God through the Word of God.
  2. Living the sacraments as deeds where we encounter God.
  3. Strengthening the family as the “domestic church,” gathered around the Table of the Eucharist.
  4. Caring for our “Common Home” where God reveals His glory.
  5. Living the Eucharist in a life of charity and justice.

I included scripture passages and quotes from Pope Francis and Pope St. John Paul II. I have not yet translated it into English but you can find te Spanish by clicking on the link below:

Temas para la Procesión de Corpus Christi

Baptized into the Body of Christ open to the world

Seventy years ago today I was baptized, becoming a member of the Body of Christ, the Church.

Someone took pictures which I have scanned as a memory of this important event in my life.

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Mom and Dad and me

What I find interesting is that both my grandmothers were there – and my grandmother Donaghy, Nana, was not Catholic (neither was my father at the time of my baptism.)

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Mom-mom Barrar and Nana Donaghy – and me

I feel blessed to have been baptized but I also feel blessed for where I was baptized, in Saint Raphael’s parish in the Meadows, in West Philadelphia.

On the day of my father’s burial I found out a lot of this neighborhood where my parents grew up. I was sitting with my aunt Mary (whose husband, uncle George) had been my godfather) and my cousin Mary, looking at some photos.

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Godparents, Aunt Sis Rechner and Uncle George Barrar

Aunt Mary told me that Catholics, Protestants, Jews, blacks, and whites all lived in the neighborhood. She also told me how there were basketball games in the parish gym where all these played together.

I often have wondered why my experience of the world has been so open and my parents without prejudice. They grew up living with those who were different from themselves. Their faith in God moved them to embrace the world.

For this I am grateful.

Where your treasure is

There are many delightful legends about Saint Anthony of Padua but there is one that should cause us to step back and examine our lives.

One day Saint Anthony was asked to preside at the funeral of a rich man who lent money at extremely high interest. We need to remember that lending at interest was called usury and considered a serious sin until the fifteenth century.

Saint Anthony didn’t want to preside at the funeral because he considered this man to be a public sinner who defrauded the poor. He noted the statement of Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there you will find your heart.”

Family members, going through the coffers of the rich man, found his heart there. Examining his body, they found there was no heart.

heart

These questions for all of us are: Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?

I would hope my heart is like the heart of Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest, martyred in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, who will be beatified this September. He gave himself completely to the persecuted indigenous poor of his parish, even returning after he had left briefly because of death threats.

After his death his body was transported to Oklahama to be buried there, But the people of Santiago Atitlán asked that his heart be left in the church. When I visited the church in the early 1990s, I was moved to see the shrine around the heart of Padre ‘Aplas, as they called him. His heart was with the poor and there it still is.

 

Burying the dead

Tobit 1:1 -2:9

Tobit buried the dead.

That doesn’t seem radical.

But Tobit had to flee from his home once for burying the bodies of his fellow Jews, killed by the king’s men. In today’s reading, we see his family gathered on the feast of Pentecost, the feast of the giving of the Law that created the People of God. He sends his son to invite the poor to the feast but his son returns, telling him of the dead Jew, a member of the People of God, whose body lies in the streets. Tobit goes out, hides the body, and buries it in the dark of night. His neighbors make fun of him for running the risk of further punishment.

In El Salvador during the civil war, the government did not look kindly on those who buried the dead, especially if they were members of the guerrilla. But in several places, members of the church buried the dead, no matter who they were. Studying the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador, I learned how the parish priest and the US sisters (one Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth and four Dubuque Franciscans) who were serving there would bury the dead, at times identifying them and informing their families.

But there was another woman who performed these works of mercy, Niña Flor Diaz. She was a very traditional Catholic and probably centrist or rightist in her politics. But for her, all the dead deserved a burial, no matter who they were. And so she went out to pick up bodies and parts of bodies and buried them.

I have not encountered this here, but last week, attending a Mass for a man killed in a nearby village, I heard something that reminds me that burial and respect for the dead can be subversive.

After the Mass, Padre German went with the family as they planted a cross at the site where he was killed. He told them not to get upset if someone destroys the cross. He recalled two cases where someone destroyed the crosses to remember the dead. In one case they chopped up the cross in pieces and put them on the tomb.

This, in turn, reminds me of the site of the martyrdom of Salvadoran Jesuit Rutilio Grande with two campesinos, Manuel Solorzano and Nelson Rutilio Lemus. A cross was erected there and destroyed.

Care for the dead and remembering them is a subversive activity, especially when the dead are victims of violence.

But even more subversive is our belief that the cross and the resurrection of Jesus are intimately linked. When we recall this mystery we offer a message of hope in the midst of violence and injustice.

For this reason, I find myself drawn to Tobit. Though I will probably not be called to risk my life as he did, but I am called to accompany the families of those who have died.

This has been a great grace of being a deacon, accompanying the dead in the name of the People of God. May I have the love and compassion to continue to do this.

 

Twentieth century martyrs

Today is the feast day of several twentieth century martyrs.

St. Toribio Romo (1900-1928) was a Mexican priest who was killed during the time of the Cristero rebellion. He was not involved directly in the rebellion but had continued his ministry despite the prohibitions of the authorities. On February 28, 1928, soldiers broke into his room and shot him.

His short life has been overshadowed by a ministry that he has assumed after death. A number of migrants from Mexico to the United States have be assisted by a young priest when they were in dire circumstances who identified himself as Toribio Romo. A few stories can be found here. He is thus invoked as a protector of migrants, many of whom visit his shrine in Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Jalisco.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Franz Jägerstëtter (1907-1943), an Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, despite the admonitions of friends and clergy. He saw Nazism as a train headed to hell and refused to be part of this. His story would have been forgotten if the US Catholic sociologist Gordon Zahn had not published his life and some of his letters in the early 1960s in the book In Solitary Witness. His witness against war influenced many, including me, in our opposition to the Viet Nam war and to war in general.

Today is also the anniversary of the martyrdom in 1996 of the Trappist Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas in Algiers. Their story is beautifully portrayed in the films Of Gods and Men. Their witness has inspired me since I first read their story in John W. Kiser’s The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria.

Especially poignant is the last testimony of the prior, Christian de Chergé which he wrote several years before his death. The full text can be found in several languages here. In the last sentences he addressed his future killers:

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
Amen! In sh’ Allah!”

His words of love for those who killed him are an inspiration in a time when we demonize our opponents and enemies.

These martyrs – and many others – can teach us about the love of God who does not leave us orphans and which calls us to care for the migrant, to refuse to kill, and to love our enemies.