Calling the weak and the wounded

A few days ago, I came across this quote from Father Ron Rolheiser on his Facebook page:

“I’m convinced that God calls each of us to a vocation and to a special work here on earth more on the basis of our wounds than on the basis of our gifts. Our gifts are real and important; but they only grace others when they are shaped into a special kind of compassion by the uniqueness of our own wounds. Our unique, special wounds can help make each of us a unique, special healer.”

This morning, while reading the call of Peter in today’s Gospel (Matthew 4: 12-23), I began to realize how Jesus called the incompetent Peter to follow him and be “a fisher of people.”

Sometimes I’ve thought that Jesus calls us because of our competence, looking at our gifts. After all, he called Peter the fisherman to be a “fisher of people” in His Reign.

But I had forgotten that Peter in the Gospels comes across as an incompetent and unsuccessful fisherman – having fished all night, at least twice in the Gospel accounts, and not having gotten a single fish. (See Luke 5: 1-11 and John 21: 1-14). He’s only successful when Jesus tells him what to do! “Put out into the deep.” “Cast your nets on the right side of the boat.”

Jesus calls us even when we are incompetent and weak, helping us see where we need to go – both to catch fish and to follow him in his mission.

(Image by Cerezo Barredo)

Weakness, Paul, and Agnes

In the middle of a health challenge, it has been a blessing and a consolation this morning to remember Saint Agnes and to meditate on a few scripture passages.

I often read the readings from Vigils in Benedictine Daily Prayer. This morning I was surprised by this passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:22):

“To the weak I became weak, so that I may win the weak.”

As if this was not enough, the first of the Mass readings for the feast of Saint Agnes includes these words of Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 1:27):

“God has chosen … to weak of this world to put the strong to shame.”

It gets more complicated. The short reading for Morning Prayer is, again from Paul, Romans 12:16)

“Put away ambitious thoughts and associate with those who are lowly.”

And the prayer for the Mass of Saint Agnes reads:

“Almighty ever-living God, who choose what is weak in the world to confound the strong…”

I have been wondering if God might be calling me for something more. I am, after all 75 years old, and I’m feeling a call for “more” – the Ignatian “magis.”

Is embracing weakness – as a force for good – part of this call?

Who are you?

Reading this morning’s Gospel, I was struck by these words the Jewish leaders asked John the Baptist: “Who are you?”

John denies all the titles that some people wanted to give him: the Christ, Elijah, the Prophet. They are not who he is? He is but a voice crying in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

Deacon Greg Kendra, in his reflection for today in Give Us This Day, writes:

“But what about us? Encountering this passage, we might ask ourselves: “Who am I?” How do I fit into God’s plan? How do I see myself? Am I a voice? Am I a witness? Am I merely a spectator in the story of salvation? Or am I a disciple com­pelled to act—to give, to love, to proclaim, to sacrifice?”

But what about me?

Who am I?

As often happens when a passage speaks to my heart, I wrote in my journal:

A sinner, inadequate, but used by God, not so much to make the paths straight but to open spaces for grace. so that people can recognize the loving presence of God in their midst.

During a retreat in 2021, as I looked over my life and my ministry, I began to identify my mission as opening spaces for grace. I do this out of my vulnerability, my weaknesses, which open me to others in their joys and in their pains. But i think and pray that this is central to my diaconal ministry.

I have found Honduras full of contradictions and paradoxes. There are hard-working people, but the political and economic system make it difficult for them to thrive. They are a people with a deep piety, but it is all too often focused on sinfulness; I fear that this makes it hard for many to see the grace of God active among them, within them.

Most of all I see a people who have been put down so much in the past by the powerful that they don’t always recognize their dignity, their capabilities, and their capacity for good and for transformation.

Thus, this deacon comes and tries to open spaces for grace.

How? by listening, by calling out gifts, by noting the good, by giving thanks for what they do and who they are, by accompanying them, by being present with them.

I sometimes am surprised by what I do, but I think it is inspired by my desire to open a space for grace.

Yesterday, I accompanied the pastor at a funeral in a rural village, in the porch of a house. It was well-attended, with people from several villages in attendance. I was asked by the pastor to preach and tried to combine the feast of Mary, Mother of God, the new year, and the death of an older man who left behind a wife, several children, and about twenty-five grandkids.

After the Mass, as the family shared coffee and bread, a woman I recognized came up to me, just to get a hug. She was a daughter-in-law. I was touched by how she just approached me; we hugged and spoke briefly. I am surprised at her openness to me. What a grace for me – and I hope for her.

This morning, on the way to the parish center, I gave a ride to a woman carrying a little baby and accompanied by a six-year-old. I got out of the car to help the woman get down out of the truck. I noticed that the other boy was looking at a puddle of water under the truck. He seemed concerned that something was leaking. I showed him that it was just a stream coming down the hill that passed under the car. I noted to him and to his mother that he was a very observant young man.

How important it is not only to accompany people in their sorrow but to help people, especially children, recognize their goodness and their gifts.

These people help make me who I am.

I am grateful to God and to them.

READING 2022 and beyond

What are some books that touched me this past year. I’ve done a lot of reading this year, 49 at this point.

The best books for me were:

  • Cathy Wright, LSJ, Saint Charles de Foucauld: His Life and Spirituality. Boston, MA: Pauline Books and Media, 2022 [This book made Saint Charles alive for me and helped me understand better my vocation as a deacon in Honduras.]
  • Scott P. Detisch, Being Claimed by the Eucharist We Celebrate: a spiritual narrative for priests and deacons. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2022. [One of the best books I’ve read this year, bringing meaning to the Eucharist and to my diaconal vocation.)
  • D. L. Mayfield, Unruly Saint: Dorothy Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Times. Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2022. [Dorothy Day as seen by a non-Catholic woman who lets Dorothy Day touch her life.]
  • Alicia Von Stamwitz, ed., Ronald Rolheiser: Essential Spiritual Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters). Maryknoll, NY:Orbis Books, 2021. [Selection from a master of the spiritual life.]
  • Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage: The Seventies. Edited by Robert Ellsberg. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2022. [Mostly writings of Dorothy Day from the Catholic Worker.]
  • Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., The God who gave you birth: a spirituality of kenosis. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2021.
  • Pontificio Consejo para la Promoción de la Nueva Evangelización, Directorio para la Catequesis. Bogotá, Colombia: CELAM, 2020.

Other books that touched me included:

  • Kelley Nikondeha, The First Advent in Palestine Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope. Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2022. [A provocative rereading of the Nativity accounts with reference to Palestine, then and now.]
  • Clarence Jordan, The Inconvenient Gospel: A Southern Prophet Tackles War, Wealth, Race, and Religion. Edited by Frederick L. Downing. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2022. [Great essays from a southern prophet]
  • Will D. Campbell, Writings on Reconciliation and Resistance. Edited by Richard C. Goode. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books (Wipf and Stock Publishers), 2010. [Writings of an unconventional Baptist from the South.]
  • Mary Catherine Hilkert, Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination.  New York: Continuum, 2006 (1997)
  • Sister Wendy Beckett and Robert Ellsberg, Dearest Sister Wendy . . . A Surprising Story of Faith and Friendship. Maryknoll, NY Orbis Books, 2022. [Delightful correspondence]
  • William T. Ditewig, Courageous Humility: Reflections on the Church, Diakonia, and Deacons. New York: Paulist Press, 2022. [A great book, illuminating aspects of the diaconate as a permanent state.]
  • Frederick Buechner, Buechner 101: Essays, Excerpts, Sermons and Friends. 2014.
  • Albert Nolan. Jesus Before Christianity: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition. Orbis Books, 2001.
  • Walter Brueggemann, Embracing the Transformation. Edited by K. C. Hanson. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.
  • Kirstin Valdez Quade, The Five Wounds: A Novel. New York: Norton, 2021. [A novel that opened my heart to compassion.]
  • Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon: Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. (Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition.) Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014.
  • Daniel Berrigan, SJ, The Trouble with Our State. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2021.
  • Erik Varden, Entering the Twofold Mystery: On Christian Conversion. London, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2022.
  • Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, The Love That Is God: An Invitation to Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2020.
  • Edward Foley, Capuchin, Preaching as Paying Attention: Theological Reflection in the Pulpit. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2021.
  • William H. Willimon, Preachers Dare: Speaking for God. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020.

Some books I want to read (or finish) in 2023:

  • José Gabriel Mesa Angulo, O.P., Diaconado: Orden y ministerio: Prospectiva teológia desde Lumen Gentium 29
  • Anna Rowlands, Towards a Politics of Communion: Catholic Social Teaching in Dark Times.
  • Loughlan Sofield, Carroll Juliano, and Rosine Hammett, Design for Wholeness: Dealing with Anger, Learning to Forgive, Building Self-Esteem
  • Hosffman Ospino, El Credo: Un encuentro con la fe de la Iglesia.
  • Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms
  • Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables.
  • Monika K. Hellwig, The Eucharist and the Hungers of the World.
  • Ana María Pineda, R.S.M., Rutilio Grande: Memory and Legacy of a Jesuit Martyr.
  • Michael Casey,  Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
  • Helena López de Mézerville, Sacerdocio y Celibato: Reflexiones sobre la vida celebataria.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but…

“The powers in the heavens will be shaken”

Sometimes we think Jesus is speaking about the sun, the stars, the moon, and the planets. That might be so, but might he be talking about those who set themselves up as powers on earth. After all, many peoples have made the sun, the moon, the planets into gods, into powers that control the fortunes of people.

Might Jesus be saying that the kingdoms of this world will pass away – and that is not a bad thing. But what must replace them?

The coming of the Son of Man to establish a different Reign, a different kingdom.

Perhaps it’s the vision of the prophet Daniel,

““But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”

May we be those who lead the many to justice and shine like stars forever.

Praying with Saint Peter Claver

Today the church celebrates the Jesuit priest, Pedro Claver, who ministered to slaves in Cartegena for many years. He is a patron of social justice and of racial justice.

As I sat down to pray this morning, I found that the current missal has no proper readings for Saint Pedro Claver. I have an old Saint Andrew Daily Missal with Franciscan Supplement, from 1962, here with me in Honduras. In the “Proper Feat of the U.S.A.”, there is a complete special Mass, with the epistle from Isaias 58. 6-9, 10 and the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10.29-37.

The first lines of the epistle are particularly appropriate:

“Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundle that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden.”

The Introit is Psalm 106 (107). 9-10, 8:

“The Lord hath satisfied the empty soul: such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death: bound in want and iron.”

How appropriate for Saint Pedro Claver who went down into the holds of the slave ships when they arrived in Cartagena to serve those bound in iron with fruit, brandy, tobacco, and medicine – and, also, to preach and baptize them (as was the sacramental understanding of his time.)

But as I prayed the official US Collect for St. Peter Claver, the prayer seemed all too bland:

“…grant, through his intercession, that, seeking the things of Jesus Christ, we may love our neighbor in deeds and in truth.”

But then I looked at the prayers in Misal Romano Diario, published in 2015 by Midwest Theological Forum, the Oración Colecta for the United States is much more pointed:

“…fortalécenos, por el ejemplo y las oraciones de San Pedro Claver, para vencer todo odio racial y amarnos como hermanos y hermanas.”

“…strengthen us, by the example and prayers of Saint Peter Claver, to conquer all racial hatred and love each other as brothers and sisters.” (my translation)

The Oración Colecta of Colombia (where he lived and died) is also more pointed:

…”concédenos por su intercesión y ejemplo, que superadas todas las discriminaciones raciales, amemos a todos los hombres con sincero corazón.”

“…grant us, by his intercession and prayers, that, overcoming all racial discriminations, we may love all persons with a sincere heart.” (my loose translation)

I don’t think there is any agenda here, but I prefer the older collect and the one from Colombia, especially in light of the problems of racism in our world – and in the US.

May we conquer all racial hatred and overcome all racial discrimination, through the intercession of St. Peter Claver.

As I wrote this I looked for an image of St. Peter Claver in the ships with the slaves. I found this one:

I also found one on the website of St. Mary’s Press. It is copyrighted but you can go to the web page here.

The ministry of powerlessness

Last Sunday was a very hard day for me.

Before Mass in San Agustín, I sat on the side steps of the church and was near tears. During Mass, I felt a heaviness. But, most of all, I felt helpless, powerless.

In the past few weeks, I have been sent by the pastor on two occasions to baptize kids – one four years old and one six years old, who were leaving the next day with their fathers on the long and treacherous trek to the United States.

In the last week, I heard of two cases of relatives of people in the parish who have been kidnapped in Mexico and were being held for an outrageous ransom. At one point, I embraced, prayed, and cried with the parents, wife, and sister of one of the men.

In the last few weeks, I also came into contact with family members of migrants who had died in the US and whose bodies were being returned for burial here. One was a 16 year old who drowned, the other was a man in his late twenties who was shot and killed.

On Sunday morning, I went for a Celebration of the Word with Communion in a distant village. I had brought Communion to several people there and asked about one of them. They told me he had died ten days before – just three months short of his hundredth birthday. I had visited him and his wife, who died not too long ago. I also had a scare a few months ago when I went to visit him and found him outside on the patio. He didn’t seem to be breathing and I feared he had died. Some relatives came and we got him to bed. He recovered a bit but was still very weak. Yet he died after collapsing while walking just outside his house.

After the Celebration, I visited a man in his early thirties who needs some serious treatment for some brain injuries; he had a drainage valve inserted years ago, but he needs another operation soon. The costs are astronomic for a poor family but people in his village and others raised about $400. But one day a man came and stole the money.

Just last week, another young man in another village, also with serious brain damage, died in a hospital in San Pedro Sula.

All this weighed heavily on me as I waited for Mass.

I realized that I felt powerless, impotent, useless. But I also remembered that St. Paul speaks about God’s strength being made perfect in our weakness.

As a gringo, I want to always solve things, to get things done (usually in the way I want to get them done.) But so many times here I’ve found myself powerless.

But then I remembered the powerlessness of the people and the powerful words of Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford, who was martyred in El Salvador in 1980:

“Am I willing to suffer with the people here, the suffering of the powerless, the feeling impotent. Can I say to my neighbors — I have no solutions to the situation, I don’t know the answers, but I will walk with you, be with you. Can I let myself be evangelized by this opportunity? Can I look at and accept my own poorness and learn from other poor ones?”

My heart was heavy as I drove home from San Agustín after Mass. A few hours later, I called Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, a good friend who serves here in Gracias, Lempira (and has served God’s people in Chile, El Salvador, the US, and as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious when they were experiencing pressure and possible censure from the Vatican). We talked. Sharing what I was feeling and listening to her words of encouragement helped me to recognize that being here, even when feeling totally powerless and useless, is what God wants from me.

As I reflect on this tonight, the vigil of the Transfiguration of the Lord, there are two thoughts.

I like Dove dark chocolate pieces, partly because they are good dark chocolate and are the right size for a quick snack. The wrapper has a short saying on the inside. A few years ago, the wrapper said, “You are where you are meant to be.” That made sense to me and I have it on a small white board I have in the kitchen.

A few years later, I came across this quote from the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Blessed Miguel (Michal) Tomaszek, who was martyred in Peru on August 9, 1991.

“You are not where you are now to understand the world, but to understand what the will of God is for you. It is a matter of being where you are supposed to be.”

I am where I am supposed to be.

But being here is a way that God can purge me, humble me, empty me.

A few days after arriving in Honduras in 2007, I came across this passage from Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who was for many years superior general of the Jesuits and had to suffer powerlessness after a stroke. (It is found in Pedro Arrupe: Selected Writings, p. 85.)

…what a missionary must be ready to undergo in a foreign country is highly instructive. To find oneself alone in a great city, without a single friend or acquaintance, without provision of any kind, whether it be physical equipment or the support and security one derives from ordinary human relationships; to be poor even as far as language is concerned, unable to express oneself, to tell people what one is, what one knows; always to be in a position of inferiority, a child just learning to speak, contemptuously dismissed in every discussion, painfully aware of the poor impression one is always making, and of the pity, or else the hostility, with which one is regarded – all this brings home to a person better than empty theorizing what poverty, in the radical sense of dis-possession, really means. Not only does it take away external attachments, it makes one truly humble of heart; for to be poor is to be humiliated, and it is from being humiliated that one learns humility.

But I can do this because we have a God whose strength is in his weakness, who, “being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be held onto; instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.… He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 6-8).

Humility is a hard lesson to learn, especially for someone as hard-headed and privileged as I am. But Jesus opens the way for us, by taking on the way himself and putting in our path the poor who teach us the wealth of a poverty that calls us to empty ourselves, to let ourselves be broken open by the poor and to sit and cry with them – crying out to this God who hears the cries of the poor.

Kathe Kollwitz

The discipline of giving thanks

Tomorrow I return home – to Honduras. I’ve been in the United States since May 19. This may have been the longest time I’ve been in the US since 2007.

I came, first of all, to renew my Iowa driver’s license. I looked at my license in April and realized it expired June 1. I have a Honduran driver’s license, but that won’t work when I visit the US or other countries.

When I decided to go back to the US (and found the airfares very inexpensive), I considered getting the Corona virus vaccine. Knowing that I’d probably have to spend three or four weeks between doses, I originally thought of flying back to Honduras and then returning for the shot. A good friend dissuaded me from this idea and suggested I take a retreat.

With another friend’s help, I got an appointment to get a new driver’s license and the new card has arrived before i leave. I was able to get an appointment for the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine two days after arriving here and got the second dose last Friday. I also found that my debit card had expired last year and was able to update it.

I also had time to go back and visit at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and the Iowa State campus.

I stayed with friends who were kind enough to lend me a car for the whole time. I also enjoyed a beautiful sunset one night from their back porch.

I served as deacon twice at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, where I had served as a campus minister for almost 24 years. The first Sunday (Pentecost), the twin daughters of some dear friends were baptized during Mass.

I had time to visit with some friends, eat some great meals (including asparagus and rhubarb which are treats this time of year.) I’ve put on a few pounds but decided on an exercise regimen when I get back home.

I’ve had some really great conversations, especially with a friend as he showed me a just planted grove of trees on his farm that will be a place of prayer. Returning from my retreat, I had a great morning and afternoon with a friend and his family; he had stayed with me while studying English and is now living in Perry. It was great to see him, especially since he had suffered a severe case of COVID-19. Last night, I had a great evening with another family who have five girls, including twins who will be one year old in a week.

I also was able to go through some of the stuff I have stored in Ames. I managed to give away almost five boxes of books. I also found some photos that I didn’t know I had and was able to send them to cousins. I found two photos of my cousin in her habit; she is a St. Joseph Sister and hasn’t worn the habit for decades. Talking with her, she told me she had not seen these photos.

I also came across some memorabilia from the month I left for Honduras in 2007, including this interesting (and humbling) acrostic of my name.

But, in many ways, the greatest gift was the retreat.

I found an eight-day retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. It was arranged by Creighton’s Christian Spirituality Program and the directors were advanced students in their program. Eight days of silence with personal spiritual direction session each day were what I needed. I also happened to pick up Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, which I highly recommend. I also did a lot of walking on the beautiful grounds of the center.

The retreat was intense, after the months of seclusion during the early pandemic and feels of being isolated and being out of the loop. Sometimes my ruminations continued after I tried to get to sleep (which wasn’t easy since the sun doesn’t go down here until after 9 pm during this time of the year.)

 One night, May 31, the day before my birthday. I decided I needed to do something different than go over my life and try to figure things out. Nouwen suggests that the way to go through the resentment of the older son in the parable is the double road of thanksgiving and trust. So, obviously inspired, I decided to name people in my life and give thanks to God for them.

I don’t know how much time I did this before I fell asleep, but when I woke up twice during the night, I returned to the practice and added more names. When I got up, more people came to mind. During my hour of spiritual direction, I remembered more. I still find myself adding people, even those I have been in conflict with or who have caused me pain.

Before noon, on June 1, I spent some time in the chapel and went through my life chronologically, remembering people.

This remembering of persons in my life and giving thanks for them was a gift that was healing.

I have a great devotion to the saints and rejoice in being surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses – from Mary to Saint Oscar Romero, from Saints Francis and Clare to Saint Benedict the Black.

A few years ago, I began to write the names of people in need or who have died in a book in my prayer room at home, so that I am surrounded by the people in need.

But now I have a new circle that I am aware of – and grateful for: the people I have come across in my life. Their presence has enriched me, has helped me become who I am.

I remember with joy people like Fr. Regis Duffy, OFM, who was a high teacher, and with whom I stayed in contact until a year or two before his death. (Going through stored files, I found a few notes he had sent me.)

I even remember a painful situation when I was working in Ames which led me to seek spiritual direction and a short period of therapy; any resentment I had against those responsible for my pain at that time is fading away.

I even reconnected with some folks. A woman who as a teenager had been part of the St. Thomas Charity, Justice and Peace commission, came up to me after Mass last. A friend whom I haven’t heard from in years sent me an e-mail (which I still have to respond to).

We are surrounded by people who are gifts of God to us, even if they cause us grief.

As I close this reflection, I call to mind the famous epiphany of Thomas Merton at Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, which he writes about in his diaries as well as in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. As he wrote in the latter:

“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….

“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….”

It is not easy to maintain this, in the midst of the hassles of daily life, but I now have another discipline to add to my spiritual life – remembering the people who have been part of my life. I need to recall that “they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

May we all shine – grateful for life, grateful for friends, grateful to God for life.

As Mercedes Sosa sings, “Gracias a la vida”.

Paschal Baylon: the Eucharist and the poor

I learned of Saint Paschal Baylon, a Franciscan brother, when I was in grade school. His great devotion to the Eucharist impressed me. But I didn’t know one part of holiness until recently.

He was the porter and cook of his friary, He attended those who came to the door and was especially attentive to the poor who came for help.

Fr. Elgar Mindorff wrote this about him:

Towards the poor and lowly he felt a special compassion. He aided them in many ways – comforting them in their trials, instructing them in their religion, and dispensing material alms. A superior once warned him against being too generous to loafers who came to the monastery door; Paschal answered: “I give the alms for the love of God, and who knows whether Christ Himself might not be found among these needy brethren?”

He is another of the holy porters who found Christ in those who came to the door. I wrote about them in a previous post. They included the US Capuchin priest Blessed Solanus Casey, the Canadian Holy Cross Brother Saint André Bessette, the Dominican Saint Juan Macias, and the Spanish Jesuit brother Saint Alfonso Rodríguez.

Their holy hospitality embraced the poor as Christ. They lived the admonition in the Letter to the Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have entertained angels unaware.”

There is a story I read long ago. I don’t know if it was about Saint Paschal, but it seems to fit his character. One day he was praying in his cell and Christ appeared to him. But someone rang the doorbell. He was reluctant to leave Jesus but went. When he returned he found Jesus there. The Lord told him that He would have left if the saint had not gone to see the poor person at the door.

This story reminds me that not only is hospitality an important virtue for us deacons – and for all followers of Christ. We are also called to be available, ready to respond to the needs of those around us. Their calls are not interruptions but the call of God.

Christ is found in the Eucharist but also in the poor at our doorsteps.

That’s a hard message but all too important and saints like Paschal Baylon provide us examples.

May we be like Saint Paschal and all the other holy porters, attentive to the Eucharist and the poor where we can find Christ the Lord.

(Image of art work of Hank and Karen Schlau, found at this site.)

A saint for young workers

Saint Nunzio Sulprizio, pray for us.

I had the blessing of being able to attend the Mass for the canonization of Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero and to serve as one of the deacons at the Papal Mass. There were several others canonized at the same time, including Pope Paul VI and Mother Nazaria Ignacia March y Mesa who founded a religious congregation in Bolivia as well as the first women’s labor union in Latin America. But learning of the life of Nunzio Sulprizio, one of the others canonized, stirred me.

As we were preparing the murals in the Dulce Nombre Church we had decided to put Saints Isidore and Maria, patrons of farmers, on one part of the wall of the south chapel but had not decided what saint we wanted on the other part. One day I thought of Saint Nunzio, a young man, who suffered abuse as well as physical illness and who worked in a smithy. He seemd a logical choice.

Image of Saint Nunzio at his canonization

He was a young man who endured hard work. He also suffered from abuse, violence, and illness, I thought of the children who suffer violence and abuse in much of Honduras as well as the children who endure the suffering of cancer and other diseases. I recalled the blacksmiths who abound in Dulce Nombre de Copán.

 Saint Nunzio Sulprizio seemed a logical choice for the empty wall I mentioned this to the pastor and he agreed. He now appears opposite Saint Isidor and María in what might now be called the chapel of holy workers.

Mural of Saint Nunzio in the church of Dulce Nombre de María

Nunzio Sulprizio died at 19, his body devastated by gangrene (and, as some sources note, from bone cancer).

Born in Abruzzo, Italy, his parents died when he was six years old. His grandmother raised him and nurtured a profound faith in Nujnzio, but she died three years later.  An uncle, who was a blacksmith, took him in and forced him to work in his smithy, even though Nunzio was only nine. His uncle also beat him A wound in his foot developed gangrene.

He was hospitalized for a time; there he was a great comfort to other patients. Yet another uncle learned of Nunzio’s condition and presented him to Félix Wochinger, a military official in Naples, who secured some treatment for his wound. His health improved and he moved from a clinic to the house of Colonel Wochinger. But his health worsened, and he was found to be suffering bone cancer.

He experienced high fevers and intense suffering but maintained his faith. “Jesus suffered much for me. Why can’t I suffer for him?”

He died on May 5, 1836.

He is an apt patron of blacksmiths. But,  more than this, I consider him a patron of young people, especially young workers, young people mistreated and abused, and young people suffering from cancer and other serious diseases.

Chapel of the holy workers – Maria, Isidore, Nunzio