Complain or empty myself

DSC02907This morning, the feast of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, I prayed the readings for the feast of the Holy Cross, thinking these would be the readings for Mass today. I’ll be going to the 4 pm Mass in Bañaderos and will probably preach there on the readings in the booklet we use. But here are some thoughts on Numbers 21: 4-9, Philippians 2: 6-11, and John 3: 13-17 – readings that touch me deeply.

It’s so easy to complain. Something’s wrong and we are frustrated. So we complain. What does that do? Does it help resolve the problem? Or does it isolate us in our complaining?

Sure, there is a lot to complain about – the cold or a cold, racism or repression, poverty or poor roads.

But if we just complain, isn’t that like a snake bite, that poisons our bodies and our souls?

But what is the response of Jesus?

He empties himself, in the face of suffering and pain. He identifies with our suffering and with the suffering of the least among us. He does not pull back, holding on to his position as God. No, he becomes one of us, feeling our pain.

But even more he gives himself over in love.

Feeling pain for Jesus meant healing, touching the outcast, going where those in power dare not go. Even to death, where love leads him.

God so loves us that He comes among us, suffers with us, dies with and for us.

And what are we called to do?

Love, give ourselves, empty ourselves of all that keeps us from loving God and the least among us.

Lord, empty me, fill me with love, send me out to give myself for others.



Falling down, prostrate, in adoration

To enter the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem you have to bend over. The door allows only the little ones to pass through without bending down. The rest of us have to crouch to enter.


It is said that it was constructed so that men on horseback couldn’t enter the church. They would have to get down from their high horses.

In the Gospel the magi enter the house where they find Jesus and Mary. Falling down, they adore him. They fell down, to translate the Greek literally. They found themselves on the ground – perhaps the only place from which we can get a real perspective on God who became flesh of Mary.

And they adored him. Some suggest that the word is related to dogs licking the hand of their master. I don’t know about this, but I do think that we adore when we are close to the God who comes. I wonder if we really can adore a God whom we keep far away from us.


As I ponder this mystery, I recall the words of the martyred archbishop, Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero. In his December 24, 1978, homily he said:

…no one can celebrate an authentic Christmas unless they are truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud of heart, those who despise others because they do not possess the material goods of this earth, those who do not need or want God — for these people there is no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, and those who need someone to come to them because they have need of someone, someone who is God, someone who is Emmanuel, God-with-us — only these people are able to celebrate Christmas. Without the spirit of poverty one is unable to be filled with God.

Unless we fall down in awe, identifying with the poor, can we really encounter the Word made flesh?



The name of mercy

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a feast solemnly celebrated by the Franciscans and the Jesuits.


The name, Jesus, “Yahweh saves,” was given by the angel Gabriel, as a sign that God had come among us, born of the Virgin Mary.

DSC00827The devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus was spread by the Franciscan reformer, Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444). Reading one of his sermons this morning at Vigils, I was stopped by these words:

“Put aside, I beg you, any name implying political power, let there be no mention of vengeance, no mention of justice. Give us the name of mercy. Let the name of Jesus resound in my ears…”

The name of Jesus is not a word of power, of vengeance, even of political justice. It is the name of mercy. Our God, made flesh in a poor weak babe in an occupied land, brings mercy.

Each morning I begin my prayers with a form of the Jesus prayer, a prayer that is a mantra, repeated over and over.

The long form of the prayer, profoundly biblical, from the Orthodox monastic tradition, is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The shortest form is just repeating the name “Jesus.”

I have my own modified form, “Jesus, Lord, be merciful,” which I occasionally pray in Spanish, “Jesucristo, ten piedad.”

I don’t know when I began using this prayer, but it has accompanied me for decades. At times, I wake up praying the Jesus prayer. Many times, whether in church or just working, I find myself praying the prayer. I am not grateful enough for this gift.

But now what is important for me is the mercy of God. In the face of the violence and unrest here, in the fears of nuclear war and the abandonment of the poor in the US, the mercy of God should pervade us – and move us to be instruments of mercy.

Who are you?

In today’s Gospel (John 1: 19-28) John the Baptist is clear.

I am not the Christ, the Messiah, the savior. Neither am I Elijah or one of the prophets.

Who are you? Who am I?

When I first read Thomas Merton’s novel, My Argument with the Gestapo, I was moved by this passage:

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is…. I am all the time trying to make out the answer as I go on living. I live out the answer to my two questions myself and the answer may not be complete, even when my life is ended I may go on working out the answer for a long time after my death, but at least it will be resolved, and there will be no further question, for with God’s mercy, I shall possess not only the answer but the reality that the answer was about.”

But yesterday I read a short essay on Facebook by a friend, Rachel – a mother raising three precocious girls alone. I haven’t met the girls but I hope one day to meet these incredible young women.

In her essay Rachel mentions the importance of accompaniment in her life and notes, “Accompaniment is an act of resistance.”

This morning, asking who I am, I pondered how much accompaniment is a part of my life – or, at least, of my vision for my life.

A companion is one who shares bread with another. I hope and pray that I can grow into this. I tend to want to just sit at home and read and work on the computer. But I feel a call to accompany even more the people I live among, listening to them, accepting invitations to share a meal in their homes.

This is an act of resistance – to thinking and acting as if the world revolves around me, to the attitude of self-sufficiency – that I can do this by myself, to the blindness in the face of the suffering people at our door, to the principalities and powers of this world who want to ignore the weak and the vulnerable, to the forces that want to deny the possibility of the Beloved Community.

I did not make a New Year’s resolution yesterday, butI think I have one today:

May this year be a year of more accompanying, more sharing of tortillas at the table of the poor.


Meditating with Mary

Mary is a juggler who reveals the face of God.DSC06035

After hearing the report of the shepherds who had come to worship her Son, she treasures her experiences and throws them together in her heart. (Luke 2: 19)

The usual translation is that Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. But the Greek συμβαλλειν means to “throw together.” But I think it’s more like juggling – continuing to keep things together while keeping them moving.

Sometimes when I sit down and pray over the Gospel of the day, I find myself throwing together the words of the scripture, the events happening in the world, and my personal feelings.

This morning I find myself contemplating the “face,” the Rostro, of God. God wishes to shine his face upon us – with love (Numbers 6: 22-27).

It is not the face of domination, of power, of violence, of control. It is the face of the vulnerable, the weak, the face of a child – revealed to the outcasts, the shepherds – lying in a feed trough.

When I allow myself to contemplate the face of the poor, the outcast, to listen to them – to accompany them – then I can see the face of God and recognize the presence of the vulnerable God, Jesus, in our midst.

This happened one day this past year.

It was a busy day. In the course of the day our pastor asked me to sit in while he spoke to a couple whose adolescent son had been abused. Later, listening to a woman concerned about her son who seemed to be suffering severe depression, I heard her speak of the abuse she received at home. I felt helpless before such pain, such violence. Later that night, back home, I dropped in to the Holy Hour. Sitting in the back, ignoring all the words, I could only place all that I had heard that day in the hands of a vulnerable God, who had made Himself present to me in the suffering and who was present in the Host – how vulnerable is a piece of bread. God shined his face on me and gave me peace – even though, or maybe because, I felt weak and helpless.

I pray that this year I may recognize the face of God shining on me, offering me peace, and calling me to share these marvels to those I meet.

This will require some juggling.


The photo is a close-up of the Icon of Mary, Virgin of Tenderness, in St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Ames, Iowa, written by Yaroslava Sumach Mills.

Merton, Barth, and Mozart

Thomas Merton and Karl Barth died on the same day, December 10, 1968. I remember picking up the New York Times on December 11 and seeing their photos and obituaries on opposite sides of the bottom of the first page.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, author of The Seven Storey Mountain and many other books, advocate of peace and racial justice, has been an inspiration for me for decades. I know much less about Karl Barth, a Reformed Church pastor and theologian. But he was a member of the Confessing Church in Germany and one of those responsible for the Barmen Declaration that opposed the Reich Church that professed allegiance to the Nazis.

Many years before their deaths, Thomas Merton wrote about Barth and Mozart in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.

Barth played Mozart each day before beginning to write. One night Barth had a dream in which he interrogates Mozart on his theology (which was very critical of Protestantism). Mozart said nothing in response.

Merton suggested that Barth listened to Mozart

unconsciously seeking to awaken, perhaps, the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself, the central wisdom that comes in tune with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, yes, even by eros. While the other, theological self, seemingly more concerned with love, grasps at a more stern, more cerebral agape: a love that, after all, is not in our own heart but only in God and revealed only to our head.
Barth says, also significantly, that “it is a child, even a ‘divine’ child, who speaks in Mozart’s music to us.”

Merton concludes his short meditation on Barth, commending Barth (and himself) to the mercy of God:

Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation.

I wonder what Merton and Barth are now discussing in heaven.

Holy porters

Saturday, November 18, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey will be beatified in Detroit, Michigan. A Wisconsin native he became a Capuchin and was ordained a priest. But, for various reasons, he was not allowed to preach or hear confessions.


Reading about his life, I found out that he had been at St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Indiana, from 1946 until 1956. I taught high school part-time for two years in Huntington and often worshipped at the Friary. I did not know I was praying where a saint had lived.

After several assignments, he ended up in Detroit, where he served as porter, door-keeper for Saint Bonaventure Monastery. There he opened the door, counseled many, and saw that the poor were fed. He showed holiness in simple acts of love of God and of all who came his way. As he once said, “We must be faithful to the present moment or we will frustrate the plan of God for our lives.”

A friend of mine, David Nantais, wrote an article on Father Solanus for America magazine nine years ago. It’s worth reading as well as a more recent article on the Francican Media website.

There are other holy porters. One of the most notable is Saint André Bessette, a Holy Cross brother, who served in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The poor and sick flocked to him, seeking healing and love. He was very devoted to Saint Joseph and now you can visit a shrine to the foster father of Jesus on the hill where St. André lived and prayed.

You can read more about these two holy door keepers in an article by Fr. Thomas Rosica.

There are other porters, at least two I know of.

St. Juan Macias was a Dominican lay brother, porter of the Dominican convent of Santa María Magdalena in Lima, Perú. His generosity brought him the epithet “Father of the Poor.”

St. Alfonso Rodriguez was a Jesuit brother who entered the Jesuits later in life. He was the porter of the Jesuit college on the island of Majorca. He influenced the missionary vocation of St. Peter Claver to go to Colombia and work with slaves. When he was canonized, the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a beautiful poem in his honor. The second stanza reads:

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

What moves me in the lives of these door keepers is their attention to those whom they welcomed at their door. Their hospitality moved minds and hearts; their attention to the needs of others brought healing. They recognized Christ in everyone who knocked at the door.

They truly practiced the virtue of hospitality.

I pray that I can learn that virtue from them an I ask their intercession for this grace. I am all too prone to consider people who knock at the door as interruptions, rather than as calls to live out my vocation as a Christian and, now, as a deacon.

They serve to remind me of the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews 13, 2:

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have entertained angels unaware.