Committing adultery in the heart

This Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 5: 17-37) is a challenge – even here in Honduras.

Jesus is warning us that it’s not only a sin to kill but we must recognize the ways we sin with our tongues and with our hearts.

That’s tough. There is so much polarization in our society that we despise those who think different from us and denigrate them.

But I think it is even more challenging to speak about another part of the Gospel, especially in the United States.

Jesus is also warning us that adultery, infidelity, is sinful, but even more “anyone who looks on a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery.” (Matthew 5: 28)

In light of the sex abuse crisis in the church and the blatant denigrating references to women by political leaders, these words are a challenge – and are likely to arouse strong emotions.

But, if I were to preach I would cite the example of a former president, Jimmy Carter. Though I think his foreign policy in relation to Iran and El Salvador were thoroughly flawed, he was a man of integrity.

During his presidential campaign in 1976 Jimmy Carter gave an interview to Playboy, the notorious light porn magazine. Maybe it was imprudent to do this but responding to one query, he said, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

Some were scandalized and predicted it would affect his chances of being elected.

But looking back – especially in light of the sexual exploits of some religious and political leaders, his candor is refreshing.

But even more, it calls us to examine how we men relate to women and to all others. Do we lust after them? Or do we treat them as our sisters and brothers?

In our highly-sexualized society, we could imitate former President Carter and examine our conscience – not just in regard to our attitude and actions with women but with our attitudes to violence and to those perceived as enemies.

It is so easy to hide behind legalisms – I never killed anyone; I never raped anyone; I never committed adultery.

But have we sought to have a pure heart, a heart filled with love and respect, filled with the love of a God who called us to love even our enemies?

That’s a challenge.

 

 

Guatemalan martyrs acknowledged

Today the Vatican announced the recognition of ten martyrs of Guatemala, including three Spanish Missionary of the Sacred Heart priest. They and seven lay Guatemalans were martyred in the midst of the terror of the early eighties. I am very glad that the Vatican is acknowledging a few of the thousands of lay Guatemalans martyred for their commitment to their faith.

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Many years ago I found a book on the priests. Here are a few quotes from them.

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Fr. José Maria Gran Cirera, MSC, Spanish priest, Missionary of the Sacred Heart, and Domingo Bats, sacristan, killed near Xiexojbitz, in the municipality of Chajul, El Quiche, Guatemala, 4 June, 1980.

“I am finding out what Christmas is. It is that God came among human beings to give meaning to all of them, principally the poorest and those disillusioned with life, to give them hope. This is what I am coming to understand more and more every year that I am in contact with the peoples of Quiché. They help me live the hope and joy which Jesus brings.”

Fr. Juan Alonso Fernández, MSC, Spanish priest, Missionary of the Sacred Heart, killed, in La Barranca, between Uspantán and Cunén, El Quiché, Guatemala, 15 February, 1981.

“In no way do I want anyone to kill me; but I am not at all ready, out of fear, to shrink from being present among these people. Once again I now think: ‘Who can separate us from the love of Christ?’” (in a letter to one of his brothers)

“One of the attitudes which most impresses me about the personality of Jesus Christ is his total availability to his Father and to all people. After that, his freedom in the face of the formalities, the ideologies of his time, the persons, the powers, the interests.”

Fr. Faustino Villanueva, MSC, Spanish priest, Missionary of the Sacred Heart, worked with the indigenous, martyred in Joyabaj, El Quiché, Guatemala, July 10, 1980.

 “We cannot leave the people abandoned. The situation is very bad.”

 

Martyrs of the Quiché, pray for us.

Epiphanies

Today the Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord (even though the official date is January 6.)

Though most think of the Epiphany as the manifestation of the baby Jesus to the Magi from afar, the liturgy actually speaks of two additional epiphanies, the manifestation of Jesus at the Jordan when John baptizes him and his manifestation at the Wedding of Cana.

The word epiphany has taken on wider meaning in our culture – almost any revelation of the transcendent, of the meaning of things which suddenly becomes apparent.

The most well-known use of the term “epiphany,” in my mind, is the Epiphany of Thomas Merton on the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, on March 18, 1958. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he wrote:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, 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 like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you.
… we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous.
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.”…
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.
I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.…
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way 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. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

This past year I have received three such gifts, when I have almost been close to tears.

78561792_162583658444578_6917570456895619072_n copyThe first was at the parish Christ the King celebration.

After the Mass, a tradition is to carry the monstrance with the consecrated host through the crowd, while praying and singing. Many seek to touch the monstrance, seeking a tactile connection with Jesus. Padre German began the procession through the crowd and then invited me to carry the monstrance. As I walked through the crowd, many came close – women of all ages, men, children, young people, frail elderly women. I had a very strong sense that people were come in their pain, in their suffering, in their need and bringing them to the Lord – maybe seeking to tough Him as the woman with the flow of blood sought to touch the hem of his garment (Matthew 9: 20-22). Recognizing the pain of the people I was close to tears.

The second time was at the 9 pm Christmas Mass in the Dulce Nombre church. After Communion, Padre German had me take the image of the Baby Jesus and process down the main aisle of the church to place it in the manger scene at the back of the church. As I carried the infant, I did not focus on getting to the manger. I moved the image so that it could be seen, face on, by the people in the pews. Again, I had the sense of Jesus being present to the people there.

The third time was yesterday at the diocesan Mass for the World Day of Peace. As has happened several times when distributing Communion at diocesan Masses, I found myself moved as I placed Jesus on the tongue or in the hand of those who approached to receive. So much faith and so much desire for Jesus brought me, again, close to tears.

Were these my epiphanies, the ways that Jesus is showing Himself to me to encourage me and deepen my faith?

I don’t know. But something is happening.

What kind of king?

Meditating this morning on the feast of Christ the King, one question ran through my mind: “What kind of king is Jesus?”

The kings of this world rule by power, domination, and violence, with soldiers and weapons of war. They want their enemies to suffer – death or defeat. They thrive on vengeance. They are arrogant. They want their followers to serve them, to acquiesce to today idea or demand – to whatever Twitter they send out. They are arrogant and think they know it all and are the best in everything. Their thrones are of precious woods or of gold. Some even have gold toilets.

Our king, Jesus, rules from the wood of the cross. He suffers the violence of the powerful and is the brunt of violence and of mocking. But he is at the side of those who are cast aside, the marginalized, the wretched of the earth – and suffers with them. He pardons his enemies and even those who put him to death, putting an end to violence. He serves others, washing their feet. He hears the cry of the poor and even of the good thief. He has no weapons but love, tenderness, mercy, and forgiveness. He is humble and puts himself with those at the bottom of society.

DSCN4910As Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians (1: 13-14), “He delivered us from the power of dark­ness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Do we really want king Jesus – or do we want the kings of this world?

 

Saints of the Missions

October is the month of the missions in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis proclaimed that this year we would celebrate an extraordinary month of missions to recall the hundredth anniversary of an apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XV, Maximum Illud, which opened up a new understanding of mission.

What I found most refreshing in this one hundred year old letter is the way the pope sought to separate missionary activity from any type of nationalism or colonialism.

“the true missionary is always aware that he is not working as an agent of his country, but as an ambassador of Christ”

Pope Benedict XV praised the work of sisters in missionary countries and also called for others to collaborate in mission. In addition, the pope wanted to see the development of local clergy as an important part of missionary activity.

In our diocese, parishes sent out missionaries to other parishes in the deaneries. Our parish, Dulce Nombre de María, sent about fifty to the parish of Corquín, at the other end of our deanery. I had it easy and went to the US for the mission week.

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But, to help myself pray and reflect on the missionary vocation of every Christian I complied a calendar of saints, blessed, and holy persons who died or celebrated their feast day in October.

But what is most interesting is that the month begins and ends on the feast days of two persons who never went to the missions but are linked to mission.

October 1 is the feast of the cloistered Carmelite sister who died at the age of 24. Saint Thèrése of Lisieux is the patron saint of missions. She wanted to go to the Carmelite foundation in Indochina (Vietnam), but was unable. Yet she prayed for missionaries and had a missionary spirit.

October 31 is the feast of the Jesuit brother, Saint Alfonso Rodríguez, who spent forty years as the door-keeper of the Jesuit house of studies on the island of Majorca. During his time there he was a spiritual guide for Saint Pedro Claver, the Jesuit who spent forty years in Colombia especially serving the slaves brought by the Spaniards to the port city of Cartagena. He owed his mission to the inspiration and advice of Saint Alfonso.

Missionary activity is so often thought of as going to another place, especially exotic lands, to preach the Gospel and, at least today, to witness to the Good News of Jesus for the poor. But Saints Thérèse and Alfonso show us the importance of being a witness to the Gospel wherever we are.

As Pope Francis has often noted, in Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, 120

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization… The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.

The saints show us the way.

My calendar of October saints with quotes can be found here: OCTOBER saints

Banqueting with the poor

When you give a banquet, invite the poor.
Luke 14:13

When I was working in campus ministry and social ministry in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, one of our ministries was to bring meals on Fridays to the local homeless shelter. Parishioners and students would go to cook meals at the shelter and I would join them a few times a year.

In the 1990s we began a student service and justice team to lead various service activities in Ames and nearby communities. They met each week to prepare upcoming activities, but also to reflect on their experiences in the light of their faith. It was probably the closest I’ve ever come to a base community in the US – combining prayer, reflection of scripture, fellowship, and service to the poor.

Many of them loved to lead the groups of students preparing meals at the shelter. Some of them began activities with the kids at the shelter. They were extraordinary young people – and they are now extraordinary adults.

I insisted that they went to eat with the poor, not merely prepare food for them. They would meet at the student center, decide on a menu, go to buy what was needed at a grocery store, and then go to the shelter and prepare it in the kitchen. Then they would sit down and eat with the residents

I am convinced that this changed the lives of many of them, as they sat around the table with the men, mostly homeless wanderers, and shared stories.

One of our service and justice team members, Maria Lux, painted her memory of one of those meals. The painting hangs at the Emergency Resident Project in Ames.

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What strikes me is that these students had an opportunity to meet the homeless as real persons, with stories of joys and sorrows, of success and failure. The poor were not a group; they were Joe, Harry, Marty. Eating beside these men, the students could recognize the bonds between them.

So many people I know are very generous – but from a distance. A few people I know are advocates of the poor – but from a distance. Very few, but many from groups like the Catholic Workers, know the poor by name and sit down with them at table. They know that we are one.

This is a hard message for me, and for many of us. We prefer a disembodied charity and an advocacy of justice from above. Getting our hands dirty with the poor, eating and speaking with them are hard. But I think this is what God wants.

I write this on Saturday, August 31, the anniversary of the death of John Leary in 1982 at age 24. I met John a few times at Haley House, the Catholic Worker House in Boston. He came to Boston to study at Harvard, but he found himself working with the poor, sometimes sharing his room with them. He was an advocate for peace, protesting and being arrested two times at a Boston weapons lab. He lived the seamless garment, also being arrested once at an abortion clinic. He worked at the Pax Christi Center for Conscience and War with Gordon Zahn. He embodied the love of the poor, the advocacy of a seamless garment of life, and a nonviolent life. But he was also a man of God. One of his prayer was praying the Jesus prayer as he jogged. He died, jogging home from the Pax Christi Center to Haley House – probably with the words of the Jesus prayer on his lips.

He had given his life, as a banquet for the poor.

May we find ways to eat at the table with the poor, making ourselves friends with the poor. As Paul wrote to the Romans (12:16):

“do not be haughty but associate with the lowly”

 

San Roque

Today is the feast of San Roque who cared for victims of the plague. He is known among Italians as San Rocco (Rocky) and in English as Saint Roch. But I invoke his intercession as San Roque.

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Statue in the Cloisters Museum, MMA, NYC

I use his Spanish name because my first experience of pastoral work in Latin America was in the church of San Roque in San Salvador, accompanying the pastor, Padre Pedro Cortes, for two months in 1987. The parish was in an area of San Salvador which was deeply affected by the October 10, 1986, earthquake.

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The church of San Roque, San Salvador, about 1987

San Roque was, in my mind, a fitting name for this parish.

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Heading out on an excursion with the youth of the parish of San Roque, 1987

San Roque was born in the fourteenth century, in Montpellier, France, of wealthy parents, who died when he was ten. When he was twenty, he sold his goods and went on pilgrimage to Rome. There he began to care for victims of the plague. He contracted the plague and went to the forest to die peacefully. There a dog came, bringing him food and licking his wounds. He was cured and returned to caring for the sick.

There are two versions of his death. He is said to have returned to his native city of Montpelier and continued his care for the victims of the plague, dying when he was about thirty-two years of age. The other version is that on his way back to France he was arrested by soldiers in northern Italy and accused of being a spied. He was jailed and died in prison.

Though little is known of his life, what we learn from him is commitment to the poor, to those at the margins of society, even to the point of becoming one of them.

These past two weeks I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal, which he published in 1983. It is a book full of wisdom for anyone in ministry and especially for us in missionary countries. He noted that

Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.

That is what San Roque was for the victims of the plague. That is what I experienced at San Roque in El Salvador. That is what I hope I do here in Honduras.