Persistence in the face of intransigence

Today is the feast of Saint Scholastica, sister (possibly twin sister) of Saint Benedict, the father of western monasticism. She is often consider the mother of Benedictines.

There is a beautiful story told by St. Gregory the Great in his Books of Dialogues, about her persistence.

Each year Benedict and Scholastica met for a day of prayer and discussion in a house near Benedict’s monastery. As a woman she was not permitted in the male monastery.

She had a premonition that she would soon die and so she asked her brother to stay the night and speak of the things of heaven. He said no; he had to return to the monastery, because of the Rule. She bowed her head and prayed. A huge storm came on and prevented Benedict from leaving.

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Benedict castigated her. But she calmly noted:

I asked you and you would not listen to me. So I asked my God and he listened.

St. Gregory notes that

“It ought not surprise us that the woman won out. John tells us that ‘God is Love.‘ It was inevitable that she who loved more would accomplish more.”

This story reminded me of something I read recently:

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

So let us too persist in prayer – in the face of intransigence.

My cloud of witnesses

This morning as I read today’s first reading from the lectionary (Hebrews 12: 1-4), I began to think of the “great cloud of witnesses” that challenge and sustain me. I began to list them and came up with nineteen. I am sure that I could add many more – including some witnesses who are family members and some who are still alive. But here are those who have passed on to the Lord who help me be who I am called to be. (I have linked each witness to a meditation I wrote on this blog.)

  1. Mary, the Mother of God

Mary in her canticle, the Magnificat, challenges me to live God’s Reign among and with the least of God’s people, for “God lifts up the lowly.”

  1. St. Francis of Assisi

Identifying with the poor crucified Christ, Francis calls me to love God and the poor.

  1. Dorothy Day

A living sign of God’s love and God’s call for peace, Dorothy Day calls me to open my heart to all the poor.

  1. Blessed Charles de Foucauld

The hermit of the desert, Charles de Foucauld, challenges me to be a person of contemplation in the midst of the poor, willing to give my life for them.

  1. Thomas Merton

The Trappist monk, Father Louis [aka Thomas Merton], challenges me to uproot the roots of war and violence in my heart, reminding me that the “root of war is fear.”

  1. Blessed Oscar Romero 

The martyred archbishop, Monseñor Romero, calls me to be willing to be the seed that falls to the ground and dies.

  1. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

The Austrian peasant martyr, Franz, reminds me to say “No” to all that opposes God, as he refused to serve in Hitler’s army.

  1. Blessed Jerzy Popielusko

The Polish priest martyr, Father Jerzy, reminds me that the call to Solidarity is central to our lives, even if it means suffering and death.

  1. Trappist Father Christian de Chergé

Killed by Islamicist extremists in Algerian, Father Christian challenges me to love even those who wish me ill and to open my hearts to all people of faith.

  1. St. Benedict Joseph Labré

This poor beggar, a street person in Rome, St. Benedict challenges me to accept all persons, even those who smell terrible.

  1. St. Benedict the Black 

This humble African-Italian Franciscan, St. Benedict the Black (sometimes called St. Benedict the Moor), has challenged me to recognize and defend all persons, no matter their race or economic condition.

  1. St. Martin of Tours

This early bishop, Saint Martin, challenges me to share with the poor and to refuse to kill.

  1. St. Thomas More

This lawyer martyr, St. Thomas More, a “Man for All Seasons,” challenges me to be faithful to my conscience, even as he tried to make reasonable compromises.

  1. Father Alfred Delp, S.J.

This Jesuit priest, Father Delp, challenges me with his writings from a Nazi prison to be a voice in the wilderness.

  1. St. Brigid of Kildaire

This Irish nun, Saint Brigid, inspires me to see Heaven as a “Lake of Beer,” with a special place for the poor.

  1. St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles

This woman, Mary of Magdala, the first to witness the risen Lord, challenges me to listen to the Good News from the mouths of women.

  1. Pastor André Trocmé

This Reformed Church pacifist pastor, Pastor André Trocmé, challenges me to open my heart and my life to the stranger and the persecuted, as he help the village of Le Chambon, France, rescue hundreds of Jews.

  1. St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J.

This Chilean Jesuit, Padre Hurtado, challenges me to be a person of faith seeking justice.

  1. St. John the Baptist

The precursor of Jesus, Saint John, challenges me, so that I may decrease and the Lord may increase.

There are hundreds more surrounding me, but these are those whom I most cherish on this day.


 

I would also like to refer you to my meditation on prostrating before the altar during the Litany of the Saints on the day of my ordination as a permanent deacon.

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The Will of God

This morning before getting up from the bed, I found myself praying, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”

After fixing coffee and showering – in that order,  I sat down to pray and read the first reading for the day, Hebrews 10: 1-10, in which the author cites, twice, a passage from Psalm 40: “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”

Then in the Gospel, Mark 3: 31-35, we find Jesus saying that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Wow! Doing the will of God must be central to our life of faith.

In our parish, when the candidates for baptism or confirmation are introduced, we ask them to respond to their name with the phrase, “Aquí estoy, Señor, para hacer tu voluntad” – “Here I am, Lord, to do your will.” Some respond forcefully, even with a fist bump, but others, perhaps a bit more shy, barely say it above a whisper.

But the question is “How do we know we are trying to do the will of God?” All too often I confuse my will with God’s, thinking that I know what he wants and it’s what I want.

This points me to the real need we have to learn and teach discernment. All too often I find that our teaching of the faith and the moral life seem more aligned with a black-and-white, law-based approach.

Discernment is hard in such a climate. That’s why I want to spend more time this year learning how to discern better and learning how to assist the people I serve with learning the practical wisdom of discernment.

Many years ago, as I considered coming here to Honduras, I re-read Dean Brackley’s The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspective on the Transformative Vision of Ignatius of Loyola. I’m thinking of re-reading it, perhaps for Lent, as a way to deepen my life of faith. (It’s also now available in Spanish, from UCA editores in El Salvador.)

I would also appreciate any suggestions for other resources – books, articles, activities – in English or Spanish, to help our ministry here.

And keep discerning – it’s a life long project.

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The subversive power of virginity

dsc00821Today is the feast of St. Agnes, a virgin–martyr who was killed at the age of thirteen about the year 304.

The opening prayer of the liturgy notes that God chooses the weak in the world to confound the strong, a belief deeply embedded in the theology of the incarnation and in the reflections of St. Paul in his letter to Philippians (chapter 2) and throughout his second letter to the Corinthians, where he notes:

 “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”(2 Cor 11:30)

In his reflection of Saint Agnes in  All Saints, Robert Ellsberg reveals the subversive power of this virgin martyr:

In the story of Agnes, however, the opposition is not between sex and virginity. The conflict is between a young woman’s power in Christ to define her own identity versus a patriarchal culture’s claim to identify her in terms of her sexuality. According to the view shared by her “suitors” and the state, if she would not be one man’s wife, she might as well be every man’s whore. Failing these options, she might as well be dead. Agnes did not choose death. She chose not to worship the gods of her culture. The God she worshiped sets an altogether different value on her body, her identity, and her human worth. Espoused to God, she was beyond the power of any man to “have his way with her.” “Virgin” in this case is another way of saying Free Woman.

May this free woman, Agnes, move us all to worship not a God of power and violence, but a good of weakness and love.


I will return to this theme later, but I have to leave early this morning for the celebration of the closing of the centennial year of our diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima.

Notes for a baptism homily

This afternoon I’ll be preaching and baptizing in the aldea of El Zapote Santa Rosa. Praying over today’s readings I find them pertinent for baptizing new members of our church.

Hebrews 8: 6-13
Mark 3: 13-19

Here are some notes, in English, for my homily.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls his twelve apostles – by name. We just called these young children by name – to welcome them into the Body of Christ. They do not come as a group, nor as anonymous. They come as persons with a name.

And they will be welcomed into a community, which experiences the new covenant that the Letter of the Hebrews speaks of.

They will be welcomed and baptized into Christ, not only to free them from sin but also to welcome them into a new relationship with God. As the prophet Jeremiah recalls the promise of God:  “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

It is a relationship of deep intimacy. God’s way, God’s law – the law of love – will not be an external commandment constraining them. It will be written in their hearts and when they  live it they will be free.

We need to welcome these young people. But, even more, we need to live that covenant, that law of love, so that they can grow in love.

We need to be people of love, of solidarity, deeply in love with Jesus and open to love as he did – even loving our enemies. We need to have a community here in El Zapote where these children will see the New Covenant at work, where all know the Lord, from the least unto the greatest.

And so, we will now baptize these young people into Christ Jesus, so that they may God’s people and show forth signs of God’s Reign here in El Zapote.

 

The Virgin of Tenderness

One of my favorite icons of Mary is the Virgin of Tenderness, also known as the Vladimir Mother of God.

There is a stunning icon of the Virgin in the church of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, written by Yaroslava Sumach Mills.

The iconographer worked with the parish to write an icon that fits so well into the church – for example, the color of Mary’s mantle matches the color of the rosewood of the altar.

Yaroslava came to Ames and spoke about her work and even provided the parish with a series of photos of the icon being written. She also left a line drawing of the Vladimir icon.

I brought a copy of that line drawing to Honduras and have passed it on to the catechists in the parish of Dulce Nombre so that the children can color the icon or make copies.

Wednesday, I went to the village of Pasquingual to lead a Celebration of the Word with Communion for the father of one of the Delegates of the Word there. On the wall of the church there were several drawings, including this one of the Vladimir Mother of God, by Nicol, one of the children there.

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I was overwhelmed. Nicol captured the life and spirit of the icon.

You  can compare this with the line drawing she had

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or with this detail of the original

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We may have a young iconographer in our midst.

And so we pray,

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us and for all the world.

 

Put the poor in the center

Rise up into the midst of us.
Mark 3:3

The poor and the sick are on the margins. We’d rather not see them.

In Jesus’ time, the sick, especially those with deformed limbs, were ostracized and liv dint eh shadows of society. And so, when Jesus calls on the man with the withered hand, he calls him out of the shadows and into the light of the community.

How often do I avoid the sick, those with physical or mental illness? I’d rather not see them, since their presence may make demands on me, demands of love and solidarity. They make me uncomfortable, perhaps reminding me of the unseen deformities in my life.

But Jesus calls the man with the withered hand out into the middle.

Sadly, most English-speakers will not here this message. The New American Bible translates the passage as ““Come up here before us.” The New Revised Standard Version renders it as ““Come forward.”

But the Greek is much more direct: Ἔγειρε εἰς τὸ μέσον – Rise up out into the middle.

In Spanish this is translated as “Ponte en medio” – “Put yourself in the middle.”

Only the Jerusalem Bible translation gets this: “Stand up out into the middle.”

The sick and the poor must be in the middle of our lives as followers of Christ the healer.