Monthly Archives: May 2011

Joy, jokes, and following Christ

I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and that your joy may be complete.
John 15, 11

There’s a proverb, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God,” that reflects the spirituality of St. Philip Neri, the priest founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, who died on May 26, 1595.

Philip was a practical joker, given to buffoonery. One day he went to visit a rich widow who sought his advice with only one half of his face shaved. He walked through Rome carrying bouquets of flowers and even danced before a group of Cardinals while singing comic verses.

But he was also a major force in the evangelization of Rome, in times when the Papacy and the city had fallen into corruption and loose morals.

This incredible joker once said:

“Perfection does not consists in such outward things as shedding tears and the like, but in true and solid virtues, Tears are not a sign that a man is in the grace of God, neither must we infer that one who weeps when he speaks of holy and devout things necessarily lives a holy life. Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits. When a man is freed from a temptation or any other distress, let him take great care to show fitting gratitude to God for the benefit he has received.”

This spirit can also be found in the works of the twentieth century theologian Karl Rahner:

“Not everyone has a sense of humor. That calls for an altruistic detachment from oneself and a mysterious sympathy with others which is felt even before they open their mouths. . . . A good laugh is a sign of love; it may be said to give us a glimpse of, or a first lesson in, the love that God bears for every one of us. . . . God laughs, says the Bible. When the last piece of human folly makes the last burst of human laughter ring out crisp and clear in a doomed world, is it too much to imagine that this laugh will resemble that of God . . .  and seem to convey that, in spite of everything, all’s well?”

So today laugh, even in the face of the evil and injustice of our world. It will only confuse the oppressors and delight God.

Bede on presences of Christ

By the frequent occurrence of his bodily manifestations our Lord wished to show that he is present by  his divinity in every place to the desires of those who are good…. He appeared in the breaking of bread to those who, supposing that he was a stranger, invited him to share their table; he will also be present to us when we willingly bestow whatever goods we have on strangers and poor people; and he will be present  to us in the breaking of the bread, when we partake with a chaste and simple conscience, of the sacrament of his body, namely, the living bread.

So wrote St. Bede the Venerable, 673-735, English monk, historian of the British Church, who lived almost all his live in a Benedictine monastery. As with many contemplatives, they know that Christ is encountered in many ways – in the poor as well as in the Eucharist. So we must recognize and welcome Christ Jesus, coming to us in many ways.

Trappists martyrs of Algeria

Seven Trappists of the Monastery of Atlas, Tibhirine, Algeria, were kidnapped on March 27, 1996 by the Armed Islamic Group:  Fr. Christian Marie de Chergé, prior, Brothers Luc Dochier, Michel Fleury, and Paul Favre Miville, and Frs. Celestine Ringeard, Bruno Lemarchand, and Christophe Lebreton. They were killed on May 21 and their death was announced two days later. Recently a movie was released on their lives and death – “Of Gods and Men” – which has been acclaimed by many. I hope to get a copy and see it sometime.

Their prior, Fr. Christian Marie de Chergé, wrote a moving testament in 1993 that was not to be opened until his death. The text can be found here, but this extract reveals a spirituality of love, commitment, and forgiveness.

“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.”

Addressing his possible future executioner he wrote:

“And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS “A-DIEU”-—to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. . . AMEN!”

This is truly a message for troubled times in the Mid-East and in the world.


The full text of the prior’s letter can be found here.

God bless (and protect) farmers

Today is the feast of Saint Isidore the Farmer who lives near Madrid, Spain, from 1070 to 1130, with his wife Saint Maria.

He was a campesino and a day laborer, who worked and prayed, and was extremely generous to the poor and even to animals.

The life of the farmer is not easy – and never has been. But it has a great dignity, not only because without farmers we would not eat but because good farmers protect and guard the land. But the small farmers live precariously throughout the world – their dignity is not respected and their access to land is denied.

In 1988, the bishops of Guatemala wrote an incredible pastoral letter, The Cry of the Land, which spoke to these concerns. Here is a short extract:

“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.’”

Bishops of Guatemala, The Cry of the Land

Little Brothers of Jesus

René Voillaume (1905-2003), priest, founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, died, on May 13, 2003.

The Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Brothers of the Gospel are inspired by the witness of Blessed Charles de Foucauld who sought to live the spirituality of Jesus in Nazareth, a poor working man.  The Little Brothers and Sisters live and work among the poor, seeking to evangelize by their presence in the world of the poor. Charles de Foucauld died with no followers. But in the 1930s René Voillaume and others formed the community of Little Brothers.  The Little Sisters were formed later by Little Sister Magdeleine de Jesus. A branch of the Little Brothers, the Little Brothers of the Gospel, was formed later.

In the early 1970s in grad school in New York City, I encountered the Little Brothers and often went to Sunday Mass in their apartment. Their witness and the spirituality of  Charles de Foucauld have inspired me –  a contemplative life, lived and worked among the poor, sharing their lives and their struggles. This life has at times been costly: a number of Little Brothers have been killed in Latin America because of their identification with the poor.

Here is a Christmas meditation by René Voillaume which sums up, for me, their spirituality.

Christmas will take place, in the depths of our heart, between Jesus and ourselves. Provided that, of course, we are totally committed to it.

The world suffers in anguish, and waits for peace among men. It is first and foremost about this reality that we shall be inclined to think. But Jesus invites us today to reflect on a peace of another kind, a peace that should exist in the deep roots of the heart of each human being. Pride, the craving for power, for supremacy and wealth are the attitudes which are at the base of projects of war and blind destruction.

In Jesus is born the one who alone can render hearts peaceful, if we know how to welcome him.

Extraits Lettre aux fraternités II, pp. 158-159

The blood of the poor

The lives of the saints are often marked by a deep love of God and a commitment to the poor. But occasionally – more often than one might imagine – this care for the poor is accompanied by a deep sense of justice.

Today the Franciscans celebrate St. Ignatius of Laconi, Sardinia, who lived between 1701 and 1781, spending 60 years as a Capuchin Franciscan brother. For forty years he was the community’s quaestor who begged for alms for the needs of the community and the poor.

As a Franciscan he embraced Holy Poverty and lived simply, but Dorothy Day, in the May 1952 issue of The Catholic Worker, reveals another side of this saint.

 Ignatius used to go from his monastery with a sack to beg from the people of the town, but he would never go to a merchant who had built up a fortune by defrauding the poor. Franchino, the rich man, fumed every time the saint passed his door. His concern, however, was not the loss of the opportunity to give alms, but fear of public opinion. He complained at the friary, whereupon the Father Guardian ordered St. Ignatius to beg from the merchant the next time he went out.

“Very well,” said Ignatius obediently. “It you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins done on the blood of the poor.”

The merchant received Ignatius with great flattery and gave him generous alms, asking him to come again in the future. But hardly had Ignatius left the house with the sack on his shoulder when drops of blood began oozing from the sack. They trickled down on Franchino’s doorstep and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went, a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet. “What is this?” gasped the Guardian. “This, St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.”

What some may dismiss as a pious tale is full of the wisdom of God and a challenge to all of us, especially the church, to never let almsgiving substitute for failing to do justice. Almsgiving should lead to solidarity with the poor and a life of justice.

Martyr in the struggle for land

On May 10, 1986, thirty-three year old Fr. Josimo Morais Tavares was killed in Imperatriz, Brazil. The parish priest of São Sebastião, he was the diocesan coordinator of martyr of the Pastoral of the Land. He himself came from a  poor family, raised by a single mother, and worked with the poor and the landless in their struggles to obtain land.

As in much of Latin America, the struggle for the land is ongoing and the stakes are high, as those who seek a little land to grow what they need face large powerful land-owners who often are connected with political and military leaders. Father Josimo survived an attempt on his life in April 1986 but continued his ministry. He shared his thoughts after this at the diocesan assembly:

“I understand that this attempt on my life must be understood within the social context of the region and the struggle for possession of the land….Large landowners and their vigilantes in the region, considering the real possibility of a distribution of the land in favor of the squatters, led by the Federal Government, are arming themselves with high caliber weapons and [are] trying to destroy the rural workers’ movement….so this is simply an attempt at carrying out one of the numerous death threats I have received in the last several months. These threats have come from the large landowners and politicians by word of mouth and even in magazine articles, meetings, and public speeches. In spite of everything, I want to and will continue to struggle, trying to bring together the need for peace and the Christian mission of creating a fraternal and just world, moving from the situation of the impoverished and oppressed. May my faith be penetrated by political clarity and impregnated by that courage which is a witness of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.”

So too here in Honduras the campesinos, the people from the campo, the those countryside, continue to live without sufficient land and the struggle for land continues. Pray and struggle that those who work the land have sufficient land and resources to live their lives as children of God.

Dan Berrigan, US prophet, turns 90

On May 9, 1921, Jesuit priest, poet, and prophet, Daniel Berrigan was born. Father Dan is known for his outspoken – and poetic – resistance to war and oppression. Exiled from New York to Latin America for a short period, he returned and became involved in opposition to the US War in Vietnam and later in opposition to the US nuclear arsenal. He has spent time in prison for burning draft files and pouring blood on nuclear-related weaponry.

I have met him and heard him speak several times. What I most appreciate about him is his poetic approach which is humble, yet cuts to the heart. Here’s one thing he wrote which speaks to me, especially since I love to bake bread.

 Sometime in your life,
hope that you might see one starved man,
the look on his face when the bread finally arrives.

Hope that you might have baked it
or bought it or even kneaded it yourself.
For that look on his face,
for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread,
you might be willing to lose a lot,
or suffer a lot,
or die a little.

Wisdom of a French peasant in the US

Peter Maurin, a French peasant and wandering scholar of the twentieth century, was born, in the  Languedoc region of France, on May 8, 1876. After working in Canada and Europe he ran into Dorothy Day in New York City. Together they started the Catholic Worker, a movement that has spread throughout the world, living with the poor and witnessing to the Gospel of Peace. He died in 1949. Peter Maurin wrote and “preached” in the style of his Easy Essays:

People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’ sake.
Modern society calls the beggar
bum and panhandler and gives him the bum’s rush.
But the Greeks used to say
that people in need
are ambassadors of the gods.
Although you may be called
bums and panhandlers
you are in fact the ambassadors of God.
As God’s ambassadors
you should be given
food, clothing and shelter
by those who are able to give it.
Mohammedan teachers tell us
that God commands hospitality.
And hospitality is still practiced
in Mohammedan countries.
But the duty of hospitality
is neither taught nor practiced
in Christian countries.

Peter Maurin, Easy Essays, in The Catholic Worker, October 1933

Five barley loaves and two fish

“What good are these for so many?”
John 6: 9

 The account of the feeding of the multitudes is found in all four Gospels, though each has a little different slant on the account. In John’s Gospel, Philip notes that the amount of food needed would cost 200 days’ wages. But then Andrew notes the presence of a kid with 5 barley loaves – the bread of the poor – and two fish. But he adds, “What good are these for so many?”

In a world best by poverty, in the midst of increasing hunger here in Honduras, it’s easy to feel hopeless. There is so much suffering. What can one person do?

But what strikes me in John’s Gospel is that it’s a kid who comes forward with a little food.

Dorothy Day, a woman who witnessed poverty daily, once wrote in February 1940:

“What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little that we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did He fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the see fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest.
“And why must we see the results? Our work is to sow. Another generation will be reaping the harvest.”

Sure we must change the structures that keep people poor and hunger, but we do this while feeding our neighbors in need. That’s why I love to help out once a week at the diocese’s comedor de niños – a lunch program for kids – that provides a small meal for between 50 and 60 kids here in Santa Rosa de Copán Monday through Friday.