Monthly Archives: August 2011

Bishop of the indigenous

Monseñor Leonidas Proaño, bishop of Riobamba, Ecuador, advocate of the indigenous peoples, died, on August 31, 1988. One of his first acts as bishops was distribution of the church’s land holdings to the indigenous. He also initiated a pastoral center as well as radio schools.

To express his faith he wrote this “creed”:

“Above all, I believe in God. I believe in God the Father. It is he who has given me life. He loves me infinitely. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. According to God’s plan, he became poor, lived among the poor and preached the Good News to the poor.

“I believe in the [person] that is within me and that is being saved by the Word of God. I believe in the person that is within all of my brothers and sisters because this same Word of God was sent to save all of us. Therefore, I can also say that I believe in hope. And for the same reason, I believe in justice. I believe in reconciliation, and I believe that we are walking toward the Kingdom of God.

“I believe in the poor and the oppressed. I believe that they are tremendously capable, especially in their ability to receive the salvation message, to understand it, and to put it into practice. It is true then that we are evangelized by the poor.

“I believe in the church of the poor because Christ became poor. He was born poor, he grew up in poverty, he found his disciples among the poor and he founded his Church with the poor.”

A tribute to Monseños Leonidas Proaño can be found here at Iglesia Descalza.

A short biography in Spanish is here.

Losing your head

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the beheading of St. John the Baptist, one of my favorite feasts.

John the Baptist was not afraid to speak the truth and stand up for justice – and so he alienated political and civil leaders, as well as people like Herodias, Herod’s “wife.”

For this, he lost his head.

Would that we had more prophets like John the Baptist, unafraid to speak up clearly.

As Albert Camus said in a speech to a group of Dominican friars in 1948:

“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face history has taken on today.”

sharing with the poor – how much?

If you read the writings of the early fathers of the church you will find a consistent concern for the poor. St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in north Africa and doctor of the church, whose feast is celebrated today, is no exception.

“Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder which you do not require is needed by others. The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. Those who retain what is superfluous possess the goods of others.”

Prayerful witnesses to justice and love

Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, Brazil, may not seem to be have much in common, but they were both faithful and prayerful witnesses of God’s care for the poor and marginalized.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity,  was born on August 27, 1910. To many she is a symbol of care for the poorest of the poor. Some, though, have questioned whether she realized the presence of structural injustice. But once she said:

 “Let us not use bombs and guns to overcome the world. Let us use love and compassion. Let us preach the peace of Christ as He did. He went about doing good. If everyone could see the image of God in his neighbor, do you think we should still need tanks and generals?”

On August 27, 1999, Dom Helder Câmara, retired bishop of Recife, Brazil, died. He was an outspoken advocate for the poor and against the injustices of the world, as well as a witness to Gospel nonviolence. One of his most quotes is:

“When I gave food to the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a communist.”

But this commitment to the justice was not separated from a deep spirituality:

 “Personally I have so many mysteries which I have not succeeded in understanding. . . . When I arrive at the House of the Father I will have a series of questions to ask the Lord. But that won’t be in the first moment, because I will be crazy with joy to contemplate the Lord face to face and encounter my brothers and sisters. But I’ll get to it in a few days… Naturally this is only a way of speaking, since I know that when I am face to face with the Lord, all the obscurities will blow away like smoke.”

It is so easy to try to separate and compartmentalize the works of charity, the struggle for justice, and a deep relationship to God. Both Dom Helder and Mother Teresa – as well as Dorothy Day – show us that we should strive to integrate all these aspects in our daily lives if we seek to follow Jesus.

St. Louis’ advice to rulers

Today the Catholic church celebrates the feast of St. Louis, king of France, who lived between 1214 and 1270. Though we should critique some of his policies, especially toward Jews and Moslems,  all those who govern should heed these words that he wrote in his spiritual testament to his son:

 “Be kindly disposed toward the poor, the wretched, and afflicted; help them as much as you can and console them. Thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed on you so that you may be worthy to receive greater ones. Be just toward your subjects; in matters of justice adhere to the line, departing neither to the right nor to the left. Incline to the side of the poor rather than to the rich until you are certain where the truth lies. Take care that all your subjects are safeguarded in justice and peace…”


“A single piece of bread
given to a hungry person
is enough to save a soul
— if it is given in the right way.”
Simone Weil

 Simone Weil, French philosopher, died of tuberculosis in England on August 24, 1943. Her life was one of solidarity with workers, with the poor, and with those suffering during the Second World War. As Robert Ellsberg writes, “Weil’s life was marked by many instances of her impulse to sacrifice and to share the sufferings of others.”

Though she was deeply moved by the Catholic faith she kept herself, to the end of her life, on the threshold of the Church. She was in some sense a mystic at the church’s doorstep.

 The Need for Roots is a book that I first read in the early 1970s that exerted a deep influence on my thought. Her identification with the poor and with the working class, as well as her mystic bent, show her as a woman searching to God.

In 1938, spending Holy Week at the Benedictine monastery of Solesmes, France, she was moved while praying the poem “Love” by George Herbert. You can find that poem at my March 1, 2011 entry here.

St. Rose of Lima

When we serve the poor and the sick,
we serve Jesus.
We must not fail to help our neighbors,
because in them we serve Jesus.
St. Rose of Lima

Today is the feast of St. Rose of Lima, the first American saint. She is known for her life of contemplation and poverty, as well as for a number of ascetical practices we might find disturbing today. But she was also known for her care for the poor, the sick, and the suffering. She, like many contemplatives, realized that love of God must include love of the poor.

She is the patron of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, where I serve, though her feast is celebrated in most of Latin America on August 30.

Saying “NO!”

Ignazio Silone, Italian novelist, author of Bread and Wine and Fontamara, died on August 22, 1978. His novels are profound narratives of peasant life in rural Italy.

Silone’s novel Bread and Wine was a favorite of Dorothy Day. Part of it is also quoted in A. J. Muste’s On Holy Disobedience.

Bread and Wine is set in pre-World War II Italy, under Mussolini, around the time of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). A communist disguised as a priest goes in hiding to a poor village in the Abruzzi region of Italy. One night anti-war and anti-Fascist slogans are painted around town. Subsequently a young woman, Blanchina, speaks with Don Paulo.

Bianchina tells Don Paolo she can’t understand why there was such a lot of fuss about a few inscriptions on the wall. Don Paolo is surprised, too. He tries to explain it.

“The Land of Propaganda is built on unanimity,” he said. “If one man says, ‘No,’ the spell is broken and public order is endangered. The rebel voice must be stifled.”

“Even if the voice is that of a poor, solitary sick man?”

“Even then.”

“Even if it belongs to a peaceful man who thinks in his own way, but does nothing evil apart from that?”

“Even then.” …

“In the Land of Propaganda,” he said, “a man, any man, any little man who goes on thinking with his own head, imperils public order. Tons of printed paper repeat the government slogans; thousands of loud-speakers, hundreds of thousands of manifestoes and leaflets, legions of orators in the squares and at the crossroads, thousands of priests from the pulpit repeat these slogans ad nauseam, to the point of collective stupefaction.
But it is enough for one little man to say ‘No!’ in his neighbor’s ear, or write ‘No!’ on the wall at night, and public order is endangered.”…

“And if they catch him and kill him?” the girl asked.

“Killing a man who says ‘No!’ is a risky business,” the priest replied, “because even a corpse can go on whispering ‘NO! NO! NO!’ with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of. And how can you silence a corpse?”

Fight hatred with love

Benigno Aquino, Filipino leader, was assassinated at the Manila, Phillippines, airport on his return from exile, on August 21, 1983.  A few months before he was killed he made this statement before a US House of Representatives subcommittee hearing:

“One can fight hatred with greater hatred, but [former Filipino president Ramón] Magsaysay proved that it is more effective to fight hatred with greater Christian love. . . .

“I have decided to pursue my freedom struggle through the path of nonviolence, fully cognizant that this may be the longer and the more arduous road. If I have made the wrong decision, only I, and maybe my family , will suffer. . . .But by taking the road of revolution, how many lives, other than mine, will have to be sacrificed? . . .

“I refuse to believe that it is necessary for a nation to build its foundations on the bones of its young. . . Filipinos are still killing each other in ever increasing numbers. This blood-letting must cease. This madness must cease.

“I think it can be stopped if all Filipinos can get together as true brothers and sisters and search for a healing solution in a genuine spirit of give and take. We must transcend our petty selves, forget our hurts and bitterness, cast aside thoughts of revenge, and let sanity, reason, and, above all, love of country prevail during our gravest hour.”

Losing self-righteousness

Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian, who was killed on August 20, 1965, while participating in a civil rights campaign in Alabama. This remark of his reveals a deep faith as well as his recognition of the dangers of “mission” work, even if it is tied to justice.

“I lost fear. . . when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one’s motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it.”