A call for missionaries

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Matthew 9: 37-38

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, one of Roma: Gesu: arm of St. Francis Xaviewthe patrons of missionaries, who died at 46 years of age, after eleven years as a missionary to Asia. He was a tireless worker and baptized thousands.

In one of his letters he complained about the lack of workers in mission, specifically addressing those studying at the universities in Europe.

I often imagine myself dashing about the schools of Europe, especially at Paris, and crying out like a madman to those who have more learning than love: “What multitudes of souls are being excluded from heaven and cast down into hell through your fault!” If only these men would be as much concerned about rendering an account to God of the teaching they could be doing and the talents they could be using as they are with their learning!

This is even more extraordinary because he had been a young professor at the university when he heard the call of St. Ignatius to follow Christ is a special way.

Today I am at the Central American gathering of associates of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters. We are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and from the US, gathered until Monday morning to share or love of God in the tradition of Francis and Clare, together with the Franciscan Sisters who are in mission in Honduras.

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These sisters and associates are people who take seriously the call to mission – even if it is only in their own towns and families.

For me, this is a time to renew my commitment to mission and those who are accompanying us – in spirit and in the flesh.

 

 

 

Poverty, contemplation, and Charles de Foucauld

One hundred years ago today, on December 1, 1916, Charles de Foucauld was killed by Tuareg rebels in Tamanrasset, Algeria.

DSC06472My white diaconal stole bears his symbol of the heart of Jesus with the Cross. Why does he appeal to me so much?

When I lived in New York City in the early 1970s, I came across the Little Brothers of the Gospel, a community inspired by his life and spirituality. Their life of contemplation combined with living and working among the poor, inspired me. Their simplicity and their evangelization by the witness of their lives still challenge me.

This combination of accompanying the poor and living a contemplative life can be found in other heroes of mine – Saint Francis of Assisi, Servant of God Dorothy Day, and Saint Benedict the Black. There is no opposition between a life with Jesus and a life with the poor.

I hardly live a life like the poor, even though I live among them. I also fail to spend enough time in contemplation with the Lord. But these are the challenges of my life. These are the challenges that Blessed Charles de Foucauld gives me.

But I believe that I cannot respond well to these challenges until I can pray with conviction Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment:

Father, I put myself in your hands;
Father, I abandon myself to you.
I entrust myself to you.
Father, do with me as it pleases you.
Whatever you do with me,
I will thank you for it.
Giving thanks for anything, I am ready for anything.
As long as your will, O God, is done in me,
as long as your will is done in all your creatures,
I ask for nothing else, O God.
I put my soul into your hands.
I give it to you, O God,
with all the love of my heart,
because I love you,
and because my love requires me to give myself,
I put myself unreservedly in your hands
with infinite confidence,
because you are my Father.

 

Dorothy Day and the disarmed kingdom

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
Isaiah 11

The peaceable kingdom, where wolf and lamb lie die together and a little child leads them, is one of the most poignant readings for Advent.

In the midst of violence and upheaval all around us, in the midst of concerns about the future of the US and the world, in the midst of a deep sadness in the face of so many deaths here in our parish in Honduras in the last month or so, God offers us a vision of hope, a vision of peace.

So today’s readings help console me and move me to action. How can I help the lions and the lambs live together in peace? How can I help the lions disarm their hearts – as I seek to disarm my heart?

Also, today is the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Dorothy Day on November 29, 1980. Her life among the poor, her advocacy of peace and nonviolence, and her deep love of God continue to inspire me and give me hope.

Dorothy Day wrote in 1938 of the disarmament of the heart.

“Today the whole world is in the midst of a revolution. We are living through it now – all of us. History will record this time as a time of world revolution. And frankly, we are calling for Saints…. We must prepare now for martyrdom — otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if … attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother [or sister] who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend [themselves] with any forceful means in [their] power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.”

this disarmament of the heart makes sense only in light of the Lordship of Jesus, the Word made flesh among the poor. The infant born in a stable is the source of our salvation and our safety.

As Dorothy Day write in 1966, she wrote in one of her Advent Meditations for The Ave Maria Magazine:

“When I go to the crib this year I will think, as I always do, that we are not dependent on the governments of this world for our safety, but “the government will be upon His shoulder.”

Disarming my heart, can I find safety and security in God this Advent?

Waking up and kneeling down

Advent is a time to wake up. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans (13:11), “it is the hour for you to rise from your sleep.”

But what do we need to wake up from?

In his famous epiphany moment on a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas Merton noted,

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.

It was for him like “waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world.”

For him it confirmed his common humanity with all who live, with all members of the human race. He was not someone special and being a member of the human race was not something to be despised. Even “God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race,” he noted.

We are in this together.

This morning as I welcomed almost fifty young people into the catechumenate in Dulce Nombre, I reminded them that they were no longer alone. They are part of the community of faith. They can wake up from the nightmare of isolation.

But that means that we also are called to wake from the nightmare of individualism and self-isolation.

When we do that, what happens?

Merton put it well:

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…. There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

I reminded the catechumens that when they were signed with the cross by their sponsors during the rite, the sponsors got on their knees before them when they traced the cross on their feet.

Advent is a wake-up call – to fall down in reverence before all people who are shining like the sun, like the Sun of Justice, Jesus, who comes with healing on his wings. (Malachi 3:2)

The elusive patroness of philosophers

Today the church commemorates Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a patroness of philosophers.

As a philosopher, I rejoice that a woman is our patron. But there’s one problem: Saint Catherine might never have existed! Now that’s a philosopher’s dilemma.

According to the legend, Saint Catherine became a Christian after an intellectual search led her to Christ. The Emperor, fascinated by her beauty, had her brought before him. Stirred by his lechery he asked her to be his consort. (What a good virgin martyr’s story without a lecherous emperor.) When this didn’t work, he urged her to give up her faith. She was so convincing in her argument against this that the emperor brought in fifty philosophers who were so moved by her arguments that they became Christians and were martyred. Catherine was thrown into jail where she converted the emperor’s wife, her jailer, and two hundred soldiers. Frustrated by all this, he planned to kill her by a machine made of spoked wheels, but it flew apart and she was untouched. Then the emperor had her beheaded. And, not make things even more fascinating, angels took her body and buried it on Mount Sinai.

Saint Catherine was a very popular saint in the middle ages and into the modern era. But the Catholic Church first suppressed her feast but then restored it in 2002. Alas, such is the fate of women philosophers.

Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, ends his short entry on St. Catherine, a saint who may never have existed, thus:

[Saint Catherine] may continue to represent the subversive power of women’s wisdom, a voice which many would like to silence lest it subvert the whole world with its irrefutable logic. So Catherine continues to inspire and illuminate us with her edifying story, like the light emanating from a distant star which no longer exists.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.

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Mosaic of women saints in Ravenna

Thanksgiving in difficult times

Almost twenty-fie years ago, I learned a profound lesson in thanksgiving in the midst of poverty.

In 1992 I spent a seven-month sabbatical in El Salvador, six months helping in the parish of Santa Lucía, Suchitoto, where I assisted the Salvadoran pastor and five US women religious.

They sent me out to the furthest part of the parish – a four hours walk from Suchitoto. They arranged for me to stay with Esteban Clavel (May he rest in peace) and his wife, Rosa Elbia, for several days each week.

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Esteban and Rosa Elbia 

The Clavel family had recently moved into the community of Haciendita II and had made a home in the ruins of cattle stalls. The family was large and eight of the children were living there at the time. To avoid displacing someone from a bed I brought a hammock to sleep in.

Life was simple. Each morning I heard Esteban waking the girls to go and fetch water from a source about 30 minutes away. Later the boys would go out with their father to work in the fields. Meals were simple: tortillas and beans (usually with too much salt). I would often bring coffee and a few fruits or vegetables when I came, but the diet was very boring – except when the mangos were ripe. In the rainy season water would come into the house, under the door, and there would be a small river beneath my hammock.

I helped train catechists, visited other nearby communities, and sought to be a pastoral presence. I also went out a few times to help dig the trench for the village’s water project.

What I most remember – beside the love and the hospitality the people showed me – was my experience upon awakening.

When I work up in my hammock, my first thought was “Thanks be to God.”

It wasn’t for the discomfort or the food. It was just a thank you for being there – even in the midst of the poverty. I could even say thank you when my bowels were not functioning well.

I didn’t need to have things work well to be able to give thanks.

This past month I feel as if I am re-learning this message. I have had one funeral for a couple who were killed in their home. I went with my neighbors to the site of two men killed in Plan Grande and prayed at the side of the coffin of one of them. I visited the prison for a workshop on nonviolence and met one young man who has been in prison for more than a year without a trial and two other young men who seem to be imprisoned for what in the US we might have labeled legitimate defense. Yesterday I visited a seventeen-year old who is bedridden, possibly from kidney failure and an inflamed liver, and who suffers from anemia. Her nine-month old child, though, is doing well.

These days it is cold and rainy – with lots of mud.

Yet I feel grateful – to these people who welcome me and respond to me with such generosity. The other day someone gave me a bag of oranges and would not take any money for them. Yesterday, after giving a ride to a few guys returning from their coffee fields, one gave me two oranges.

In all this, God is present, sustaining me.

And for all this I give thanks.

Missionary martyr

The word martyr means “witness.”

Forty years ago, on November 20, 1976, Maryknoll missionary Father Bill Woods died in a suspicious plane crash in Guatemala. Even if it was not a deliberate attempt to kill him (and those with him on the plane), Fr. Bill is a martyr, a witness to the God who takes the side of the poor.

But this “Texas cowboy for Jesus,” (as his friend Bishop Mc Carthy called him) had been receiving death threats and had been warned by the US ambassador to Guatemala that his life was endangered.

But Padre Guillermo did not leave his beloved people, the indigenous whom he served in Ixcan, Guatemala, developing a new way of life for these people.

Before he died, he wrote a letter to the president of Guatemala:

“I love Guatemala and especially those peasants who are putting so much effort into developing a new life in the Zona Reina [in the Ixcán]. It would break my heart to have to leave the country. I repeat, my only interest is to help make the peasants better Christians, better Guatemalans, and thus help them produce more for themselves and for their country.”

Padre Guillermo is one of the witnesses of the love of Christ for the poor, a witness to the mercy of God, and a sign of the all for justice.