Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Glory of God

Today the church celebrates St. Irenaeus of Lyons, bishop and martyr, who died about 202 AD. He wrote a famous treatise, Against Heresies, refuting the Gnostic sects which proposed a dualism which despised the material world. A famous quote from Book 4, chapter 20, 7 of the treatise reads.

For the glory of God is a living human being; and the life of a human consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.

In a speech at Louvain in Belgium on February 2, 1980, less than two months before he was martyred, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero ended his acceptance speech of an honorary degree with these words, reinterpreting Irenaeus:

The ancient Christians used to say, “Gloria Dei, vivens homo” – “The glory of God is the person who is alive.” We could concretize this saying, “Gloria Dei, vivens pauper” – “The glory of God is the poor person who is alive.” We believe that from the transcendence of the Gospel we can judge in what consists truly the live of the poor; and we also believe that putting oneself at the side of the poor and trying to give them life we will know in what consists the eternal truth of the Gospel.

Honduras martyrs, 1975

On June 25, 1975, Fr. Jerome Casimir Michael Cypher, O.F.M. Conv., U.S. missionary, and Fr. Ivan Betancur, S.J., Colombian missionary, and six others, martyrs of Los Horcones, were killed in Juticalpa, Department of Olancho, Honduras. Father Ivan was involved with the poor in the area and many of the campesinos involved were involved in organizations. Father Michael Cypher was probably killed because he happened to be a priest who just happened to be in Juticalpa at the time. The deaths unleashed a series of actions against the church in the department of Olancho. (Interestingly, the US bishop, a Franciscan who had a price of $10,000 on his head, happened to be out of the country or he might have been a  victim of the attacks.)

A few years ago I read this meditation of Father Michael Cypher:

 “What is important is not that we wait for a revelation in some book or in some saying, but take the revelation we have in our everyday life. And the revelation in our everyday life is to use the talents God gave us. Lazarus had no ‘talents’ — but what he was, he was. And that was all.

“There is beauty in life if we only worry about living completely and just being truly what God meant us to be. We miss it when we worry about not being really great, about accomplishing things we cannot accomplish. When we want God to make us greater than we are, we become smaller, because we neglect what we have and what we are already.

“Remember this Gospel. It is a sort of warning: Don’t look too far into the future. When you look into eternity, don’t look on forever; you will stumble over your own life. Look for eternity in those who are near you right now. For eternity begins today; it begins this moment. It begins right NOW!”

A voice in the wilderness

Today the church celebrates the birthday of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Lord. Quite the eccentric character – eating locusts and wild honey, living in the desert – he is a great saint to have as my patron.

One of the best meditations I have read about him was written in a Nazi prison by Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, who was eventually killed by the Nazis.

“The man crying in the wilderness. We live in an age that has every right to consider itself no wilderness. But woe to any age in which the voice crying in the wilderness can no longer be heard because the noises of everyday life drown it — or restrictions forbid it — or it is simply stifled by authority, misled by fear and cowardice. Then the destructive weeds will spread so suddenly and rapidly that the word ‘wilderness’ will recur to [people]’s minds willy-nilly. I believe we are no strangers to this discovery.

“Yet for all this, where are the voices that should ring out in protest and accusation? There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period; brave [people] inspired by the dynamic compulsion of the mission to which they are dedicated, true witnesses following the lead of their hearts and endowed with clear vision and unerring judgment. Such [people] do not cry out for the sake of making a noise or the pleasure of hearing their own voices, or because they envy other[s] the good things which have not come their way in account of their singular attitude towards life. They are above envy and have a solace known only to those who have crossed both the inner and outer borders of existence. Such [people] proclaim the message of healing and salvation. They warn [people] of [their] chance, because they already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet, feel the beams cracking and the great mountains shuddering inwardly and the stars swinging in space. They cry out to [people], urging [them] to save [themselves] by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm [them].

“Oh God, surely enough people nowadays know what it means to clear away bomb dust and rubble of destruction, making the rough places smooth again. They will know it for many years to come with this labor weighing on them. Oh, may the arresting voices of the wilderness ring out warning [hu]mankind in good time that ruin and devastation actually spread from within. May the Advent figure of St. John the Baptist, the incorruptible herald and teacher in God’s name, be no longer a stranger in our own wilderness. Much depends on such symbolic figures in our lives. For how shall we hear if there are none to cry out, none whose voice can rise above the tumult of violence and destruction, the false clamor that deafens us to reality?”

Where are the prophets like John the Baptist and Alfred Delp today? Or maybe we’re called to be those prophets!

Cardinal Sin

Cardinal Jaime Sin was the archbishop of Manila, the Philippines. He is noted for his commitment to the poor and to standing up to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and for participating in the nonviolent overthrow of President Marcos.. He died on June 21, 2005.

He once wrote:

Strength without compassion is violence.
Compassion without justice is sentiment.
Justice without love is Marxism.
And… love without justice is baloney!

Salvadoran martyr

On June 20, 1979, Father Rafael Palacios was killed in Santa Tecla, one of more than twenty priests killed in El Salvador.

A native of Suchitoto, he studied for the priesthood for the neighboring diocese of San Vicente, but was suspended by the bishop for his liberating style of pastoral work. He was, however, accepted by the San Salvador archdiocese where he worked with base communities in several poor barrios in Santa Tecla and the city of San Salvador.

He was very critical of the government and allied with the progressive priests in the dioceses. Members of the parish of El Calvario in Santa Tecla where he was working, presented a Passion  Play on Holy Thursday, 1979, in which they interpreted Jesus’ imprisonment and death in the light of the exploitation they experienced in their lives. That may have been the last straw. The White Warriors Union death squad took responsibility for his death.

He is buried in the Sacred Heart chapel in the church in Suchitoto. When I was there in 1992 and the following years daily Mass was celebrated in that chapel and the moveable altar was directly over his tomb. How fitting to celebrate over the tombs of the martyrs.

A hymn composed in his memory has the following refrain:

The truth of the Gospel you announced, ever faithful
For following Christ, they martyred you, Rafael.

But this verse is, for me, the most fitting, for his work with base communities:

“Nuestro Dios no está en el templo
sino en la comunidad.
Our God is not in the church building
but lives in the community.”

Today is also the anniversary of the following deaths:

  • In 1923, Mexican revolutionary hero, Pancho Villa (born Doroteo Arango), was assassinated.
  • In 1979, Salvadoran Marist brother Mariano Blanco, Salvadoran, was killed in a burst of gunfire by the National Guard, Estelí, Nicaragua.
  • In 1998, Fr. Leo Commissari, an Italian missionary priest, was killed near São Paulo, Brazil.
  • In 2001, Fr. Martin J. Royackers, S.J., waskilled in the parish of St. Theresa, Annotto Bay, Jamaica. Father Martin was a advocate of land reform.

When I am weak…

Reading today’s lectionary readings (2 Corinthians 12: 1-10 and Matthew 6: 24-34) we should be struck at how counter-cultural the message of Christ is, especially for us who are from the US.

“When I am weak, then I am strong.” – But we must be strong, armed to the teeth.

“You cannot serve God and money.” – But we strive to accumulate, to have more and more.

“You are worth more than many sparrows.” – But I have to prove myself or I am worth nothing.

“Set your hearts first on the Reign of God and God’s justice…” – But I am an ‘American.’

We all have a value that is not dependent on what we have or what we do. We all have our weaknesses, as Paul noted, but God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

The Providence of God, God’s care for us, is not dependent on what we do – on our strengths. God uses both our strengths and our weaknesses if we set our hearts on the justice of God.

As one friend once said, “God loves us as we are but loves us to much to let us stay where we are.”

God calls us to be “more.”

Northern Ireland peacemaker

On June 16, 1980, a British Quaker pacifist, Will Warren died. He lived and worked for a time in Northern Ireland and was known for his direct peacemaking efforts, at times preventing violence by speaking directly to the para military factions on all sides. He spent six years in the Bogside, a very conflictive area of Belfast.

Here is a quote that sums up his life and work.

“One of my fundamental beliefs is that there is something of God in everybody. Everything else springs from this. I am not nonviolent by nature. I do believe that nonviolence must come if you try to follow the way of Christ. I also believe that if you see anything wrong, you shouldn’t be a democrat and call a meeting and elect a committee to do something about it, and then forget to do it; but you should do something yourself, or try to do something yourself about it. This is followed by one other thing. I do not believe that you can effect reconciliation unless you can speak to the people you’re trying to reconcile.”


“God loves a cheerful giver,” writes St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (9:7), who were not always that generous. Indeed, the first letter he wrote to them castigates their gatherings where the rich ate to the full and the poor were left with little (1 Corinthians 10: 17-32). But Paul reminds them of the generosity of Christ and remind them that “those who show generously will reap generously (2 Corinthians 9: 6)

A few years ago I read an article that noted how the poor were often more generous than the rich. The rich, also, often are generous to institutions that benefit themselves and their class – libraries, universities, symphonies, etc. There are exceptions but the general trend was that the rich were less generous than the poor and more generous to their own class than to the poor. Also, I might note, many of the rich put their names on the buildings and projects they support; Carnegie libraries are an example, but how many universities have buildings and endowed chairs named after the donors.

For me, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel might be a warning to them, “Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness” (Matthew 6:1).

This is not just something in the US. I see something similar.

Government projects often have plaques designating who obtained the funds for the street or school or whatever, mostly the political leaders. I have even seen a sign go up for a project that was delayed for years; at a meeting a government official had promised it would be started in earnest in February. A sign was put up two weeks after the meetings but the project has still not been re-started. The sign, however, has been torn down. Poetic justice?

Private groups are no different. The local branch of an international group helped build a children’s park here in Santa Rosa de Copán. In the middle of the park is a huge concrete image of their symbol.

But the poor are different. I find many of them extremely generous. Here is one example.

A seminarian from the US is here with me to get an experience of the church in Latin America. We went to Mass on Sunday at a church up the street. At the greeting of peace Jesús asked me if he was my son. (All gringo young people are, by association, my children, I guess.) I told him that he was a seminarian here for a short period.

After Mass Jesús’ wife came up to Kevin and talked with him and gave him about 30 lempiras ($1.50). Kevin was astonished. But for me that is how many of the poor are – generous to a fault, capable of reaching out.

Oh, that we might imitate the poor!

They kill Christians, don’t they?

Love your enemies;
pray for those who persecute you.
Matthew 5: 44

Father Cosme Spessotto, OFM, an Italian Franciscan missionary, was killed while praying before Mass in the church of San Juan Nonualco, El Salvador, on June 14, 1980, by members of the Treasury Police. He had been pastor of that parish for 27 years. He is noted to have introduced the cultivation of grapes in his parish and written a manual on their cultivation.

He was one of the many church leaders, men and women, killed in El Salvador and Latin America, and the tens of thousands of women and men who were killed because they worked for justice, sided with the poor, or just happened to be poor or to work with them. As far as I can tell Father Cosme was not very political.  But, like many priests then, he denounced the injustices the Salvadoran Armed Forces committed; he buried the partially decomposed bodies of those killed and left by the side of the road by death squads. And he visited the sick, helped poor campesinos construct their homes, and tried to serve his parish. well.

After his death a letter “to be opened in the case of a sudden death” was found in his belongings:

“I have a feeling that at one time or another fanatical persons can take away my life. I ask the Lord that at the opportune moment he give me the strength to defend the rights of Christ and his Church. To die a martyr would be a grace I don’t deserve. To wash away with the blood, poured out by Christ, all my sins, defects, and weaknesses of my past life would be a gracious and gratuitous gift of God.

“Beforehand I pardon the authors of my death and ask God for their conversion. I thank all my parishioners who by their prayers and their demonstrations of appreciation have encouraged me to give them the ultimate witness of my life – that they may be good soldiers of Christ.

“I hope to continue helping them from heaven.”

A touching testimony of a simple follower of St. Francis who followed Jesus, even to praying for his assassins.


Finding St. Anthony

June 13 is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, the Franciscan priest and preacher who died on this day in 1231. Many Catholics of my generation remember him as the one we invoked to find objects:

St. Anthony St. Anthony,
please come around.
Something was lost
and something was found.
Jesus was lost
and Jesus was found.
Dear St. Anthony,
please come around.

This Franciscan, born in Portugal, wanted to convert the Muslims in Morocco, but God had other plans for him. First he got sick in Morocco and had to leave. Then his ship was sent off course and ended in Sicily rather than Portugal.Then he ended up is a friary for lay brothers, but his gift for preaching was discovered when he was drafted at the last moment to preach the sermon at an ordination.

He ended up preaching throughout Italy and southern France. He was called “the hammer of heretics” for his eloquence in the face of the Cathari, a group in southern France whose Gnostic-like theology despised the body.

But he would be better called “the hammer of the rich,” for his strong preaching against greed and usury, especially in the last years of his life in Padua.

Commenting on Proverbs 30: 14 he said:

“These symbolize the greedy and usurers whose teeth are swords and knifes which they use to devour the poor and steal their meager possessions. All of them are children of this world who consider the children of light to be stupid and believe themselves to be the prudent ones. Their prudence is their death.”

He is known, like many saints, for his generosity to the poor and many Franciscan churches, like St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, distribute “St. Anthony’s Bread,” to the poor.

Today’s first reading from St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 6: 1-10, ends with these words, “We have nothing, but we possess everything.”

They reveal the wisdom of St. Anthony, so much needed in these times of injustice and poverty, where the goal of many is to amass more, forgetting that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be found.”