A saint to end vengeance killings

Honduras is plagued with violent killings. In the big cities these are often related to gangs or to crime. But there are a significant number of killings that are related to vengeance.

In our area of Honduras there have been a number of vengeance killings in the last year. Two villages have been deeply affected.

At a recent meeting of catechists I heard a story from a few years ago of a feud within a family that started with a dog killing a chicken and ended with deaths of members of the family.

So I was surprised to learn of a saint who should be the patron of those who seek to end violence based in vengeance.

Last Sunday I was in the village of El Zapote de Dulce Nombre to lead a Celebration of the Word with Communion. They noted that they will celebrate Saint Rita of Cascia, their patron saint, on Friday with a procession, Mass, and baptisms.

S._Rita I have heard of Saint Rita and know that she is revered by many Italians and Italian Americans, but I didn’t know much about her. As I sat listening to the village’s plans, I looked up her short biography in the missal I had with me and was surprised about a few details of her life.

Saint Rita lived between 1381 and 1457.  I know that she is often invoked as the saint of impossible cases, but she really should be the patron saint of peacemakers within families.

Though she wanted to become a sister, Rita was forced into a marriage with a man who was not very faithful. They had twin sons.

After several years of marriage, he was killed by some members of a rival family. His sons wanted to take vengeance on the family of the assassins but their mother forbid it. There is even a story that she prayed to God that it would be better for them to die than to take the lives of others in vengeance.

They did die and she decided that now was the time to follow her dream of becoming a sister.

She applied to the town’s convent of Augustinians sisters. She was refused because the sisters were afraid that vengeance killings – or at least disharmony – would follow her into the convent, since some of the sisters were members of the rival family that had killed her husband.

As Michael Di Gregorio, OSA, put it here:

…inspired by her three patron saints (Augustine, Nicholas of Tolentino and John the Baptist), Rita set out to make peace between the families. She went to her husband’s family and exhorted them to put aside their hostility and stubbornness. They were convinced by her courage and agreed. The rival family, astounded by this overture of peace, also agreed. The two families exchanged a peace embrace and signed a written agreement, putting the vendetta to rest forever.

There are other details of Saint Rita’s life which are fascinating but I really think that she needs to be looked upon as an example of how to live the loving reconciliation of Christ and as an intercessor for those places where vengeance and vendettas lead to death.

And so today I pray to Saint Rita to help us find ways to stop the cycle of violence that so often plagues us here in Honduras and many other places of the world.


Photo credits:
“S. Rita”. Tramite Wikipedia – http://scn.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:S._Rita.jpg#/media/File:S._Rita.jpg

Praying for your enemies

This year has seen a large number of killings of Christians by religious extremists. But this is not new.

In the 1990s Algeria experienced a wave of killings of Christians, among them seven Trappists of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas in Tibhirine. Their story – a witness of God’s presence in the midst of an Islamic country – is beautifully told in several books and in the movie Of Gods and Men.

In December 1993, the prior, Fr. Christian-Marie de Chergé, OCSO, wrote a letter that was to be opened only at his death.

He and six other Trappists were kidnapped and then killed on May 21, 1996.

These words of Dom Christian’s letter deserve our meditation in the midst of calls for violence and revenge:

“If it were ever to happen — and it could happen any day — that I should be the victim of the terrorism which seems to be engulfing all the foreigners now living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

“That they accept that the unique Master of all life will be no stranger to such a brutal departure.

“That they pray for me: for how should I prove worthy of such an offering?

“That they understand that such a death should be linked to so many others, equally violent, but which remain masked by the anonymity of indifference.

“My life has no greater worth than that of another. Nor is it worth any less. . . .

“I have lived long enough to recognize that I am caught up as an accomplice in the evil which, alas, seems to prevail in the world, even which might strike me blindly.

“At such a moment, I would like to have enough lucidity left to beg God’s pardon and that of all my fellow human beings, while pardoning with all my heart anyone who might have hurt me.”

In the final words he addresses his assassin with words that speak of a heart full of God’s love for all:

“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.


Deacon servant of the Reign of God

DSC05087Yesterday when I was in line for the procession at Mass in Dulce Nombre, Padre German who was being installed as pastor whispered to me about my being accepted as a candidate for the permanent diaconate at the same Mass.

For the Reign of God – in the spirit of Monseñor Romero.

I was floored.

This isn’t about me; it’s about the Reign of God.

And it’s about doing it as a member of the Servant Church, a Church that is diaconía.

As Romero said in his speech at Louvain, February 2, 1980, less than two months before his martyrdom,

 The essence of the church lies in its mission of service to the world, in its mission to save the world in its totality, and of saving it in history, here and now. The church exists to act in solidarity with the hopes and joys, the anxieties and sorrows, of men and women [Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, ¶1]. Like Jesus, the church was sent “to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart…and to seek and to save what was lost “ (Luke 4: 18; 19:10).

The witness of Monseñor Romero has challenged and sustained me, offering an example of a person committed to God and to the poor.

It’s not one or the other – it’s both and more.

To be a servant – a diakonos – is be at the beck and call of God and the poor, helping to make clear to all the connection between the table of the Eucharist and the table of the poor.

May I have the courage to go forward on this journey – and walk the way of self-emptying to be a servant (Philippians 2).

Called to serve

A few days ago Padre German asked me what reading from the New Testament I would like for today’s Mass. He will be installed as pastor of the Dulce Nombre de María parish and I will be accepted as a candidate for the diaconate.

The one he had thought of was 1 Timothy 3: 8-11 which lists the requisites for the deacon: “deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

It’s a good passage – and a good guide for an examination of conscience for a potential deacon. But I asked Padre German to use another reading.

First of all, if that reading were used some might think that was being ordained a deacon at this Mass. That is about a year down the road – God willing.

I prefer Philippians 2: 5-11, Paul’s hymn to the self-emptying Christ.

For me, the self-emptying of Christ and his becoming a slave are central to my understanding of what it would mean for me to be a deacon.

The deacon is, as I see him, the person in the shadows, looking at the needs of others and bringing them to the People of God.

The deacon is the one who empties self of all that keeps one self-centered and self-contained. The deacon allows one’s self to be emptied so that God and God’s people might find a place there.

As I write these words I recall the event that moved me to come here to Honduras, to “serve those most in need.”

During a service trip to New Orleans with one resident and fourteen students parishioners from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, we emptied out the house of an African-American grandmother as she stood by.

As we emptied out that house, something was emptied out of me so that I could open myself to a new calling – serving God and the People of God, especially the poor, in Honduras.

And so today I ask God to give me the grace to be emptied of all that keeps me from being open and available for God and God’s people.

Farmer saints and justice for the land

San Isidro La Cueva procession 2013

San Isidro La Cueva procession 2013

Today is the feast of Saint Isidore the Farmer, a Spanish farm laborer who – with his wife Turibia (sometimes known as Santa María de la Cabeza) – is an example of the holiness of workers on the land.

My 24 years in Ames, Iowa, left me with a profound respect for farmers and for all those who work on the land.

In Iowa there is – or, at least, has been – a rural culture of respect for the land and care for others. How many times did I hear of farmers getting together to harvest the crop of a neighbor who had fallen ill.

Yes, many farmers have given in to the desire for gain at all cost. But many still respect the land and some who provide people with wholesome food. Thanks are due to them, including Gary, Ellen, Alice, and others.

But the issues for farmers in the US and here in Central America are not just questions of ecology; they include land tenure and more.

In a 1988 pastoral letter, The Cry for Land, the Guatemalan bishops wrote:

We belong to the earth (Gen 2:7) and it belongs to us because when the Lord created us, he charged us to till it and care for it (Gen 2:15). Thus, work in agriculture appears the quintessential task by which we situate ourselves in the world and before God.

Many scriptural texts express joy at the fruit of our fatiguing labor on the land and our thanksgiving for God’s blessing. When the land bears a crop, we know that God blesses us (Ps 67:7; 85:13)….

The land does not belong to us, but to God, and what each calls property is in reality the portion needed to live. ‘The land and all in it, the world and those who inhabit it, belong to God” (Ps 24:1)….

In Recife, Brazil, [Pope] John Paul II told the farmers: ‘The land is a gift from God, a gift for all human beings, men and women, who are called to be united in a single family and related to one another in a fraternal spirit. Therefore, it is not legitimate, because it is not according to God’s design, to use this gift so that its fruits benefit only a few, excluding others, who form the immense majority.’”

Today, remembering San Isidro Labrador and his wife Santa María de la Cabeza, I pray for all farmers, all workers on the land.

And so I’m heading out in about an hour for Mass in the village of San Isidro La Cueva to celebrate the feast with campesinos and campesinos.

Novelties and truth

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (17: 15, 22 – 18:1) leaves out a very interesting section describing Paul’s experience in Athens.

What struck me was verse 21:

Now all the Athenians as well as the foreigners residing there spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

N. T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament puts it a bit more bluntly:

All the Athenians, and the foreigners who live there, spend their time simply and solely in telling and hearing the latest novelty.

The desire for something new isn’t something that started with the consumer culture. It may be part of our nature. And it may not be all that bad.

What is new is not necessary bad (or good). But if we are only satisfied with the latest novelty I fear we are missing something.

I think we need to let our penchant for newness open us to the truth.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel (John 16: 13), notes that

when he comes, the Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth.

The craving for novelty might be assuaged by a listening for truth, opening us to the Spirit of Truth.

That listening for truth might be a good guide for us as we long for the new.

Love one another

Today is Mothers Day not only in the US, but here in Honduras.

I was asked to share a reflection this morning at the Celebration of the Word in Plan Grande where I live. Padre German also asked me to share a reflection at the Mass this afternoon in El Zapote de Santa Rosa. Here are some of the thoughts that are running  through my heart.

The readings all point to God’s love – even the first reading where Peter, on encountering the Roman Cornelius, realizes that God makes no distinction.

We are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Not because it is an obligation but because it comes from our experience of being loved.

For, as John writes (1 John 4: 10):

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his Son…

If we are open to the experience of being loved by God we will be better prepared to love.

Often this experience of God’s love comes through our parents or others in our life. And so we are called to love so that others may experience, thought us, something of the love of God.

But this love is not sentimental.

For Jesus said in today’s Gospel (John 15: 12-13):

Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love for friends than to hand over one’s life for them.

Monseñor Romero

Monseñor Romero

We often look upon martyrdom as the ultimate sign of love. But I believe that one cannot give up one’s life at the moment of martyrdom if one has not been giving it up day after day.

As I prayed these words of the Gospel I remembered a quote of Monseñer Oscar Romero – soon to be beatified.

In his spiritual diary on February 25, 1980, less than four weeks before he was martyred, he wrote

My disposition is to give my life for God, whatever might be the end of my life. The circumstances [of the end of my life] which are unknown will be lived with the grace of God. He helped the martyrs and if it is necessary I will feel Him very close when I hand over my last breath. But worth more than the moment of death is handing over to Him all my life and living for Him.

It is not the moment of death that make a martyr a saint; it is the daily giving of oneself over to God and others that makes one able to be a martyr and a saint.

The message of Romero and the message of Jesus is not a one-time martyrdom but a daily dying to oneself and living for God and for others.

Romero did it by listening to the poor, visiting the people in their villages, welcoming the family members of victims of persecution, denouncing injustice from the pulpit, and living in a small house in a cancer hospital for the poor.

What would make us able to hand over our lives as martyrs? Or, better, how are we handing over our lives every day?