Monthly Archives: August 2011

Chilean Saint of Justice and Charity

Today is the feast of Saint Alberto Hurtado, S.J., (1901-1952), Chilean apostle of the poor. His father died when he was four years old and he grew up poor. Though he thought of entering the Jesuits, he put this off to aid his mother and brother, working and studying law. Finishing his law degree and having arranged for his family, he entered the Jesuits in 1923.

He was involved with Catholic Action but because of his outspoken critique of Chilean society in a book Is Chile a Catholic Country? he was relieved of that duty.

One day after meeting a homeless man he spoke with some rich women who helped him found the Hogar de Cristo, the Home (Hearth) of Christ, which took in children and the homeless and provided them skills to live.

But Padre Alberto Hurtado was also a tireless critic of the structures of injustice and an advocate of Catholic social teaching. For him it was not enough to give alms. One must work for justice. He once stated this very blatantly:

“Marx said that religion was the opium of the people. But I also know that charity can be the opium of the rich.”

Tireless in his care for the poor and for justice which he promoted in many ways, even through a periodical he founded, he died at the age of 51 of pancreatic cancer.

Lawyer and priest, advocate for justice and friend of the poor, a “contemplative in action,” he is a good model for us of a follower of Christ who combined justice, accompaniment of the poor, and a deep spirituality. And so his life and his words challenge us:

“Christ stumbles through our streets in the person of so many poor who are hungry, thrown out of their miserable lodgings because of sickness or destitution. Christ has no home! And we who have the good fortune to have one and have food to satisfy our hunger, what are we doing about it?”

There is a short article on St. Alberto Hurtado by Father James Martin in the America  Magazine blog here.


Workers in the vineyard

Today’s Gospel, Matthew 20: 1-16, is one of the most paradoxical of Jesus’ parables. It is often interpreted in spiritual terms: God’s salvation is given to all, even those who repent at the last moment. But I believe there is also another message hidden in the parable.

The owner of the vineyard needs workers. He goes out early in the morning and contracts workers for a denarius, a day’s wage. He needs more workers and goes out at 9 am, noon, and 3 am. He still needs more workers and goes out at 5 pm, an hour before quitting time and contracts more.

Then he pays everyone of the workers the same – a denarius, a day’s wage.

I never really understood this parable until I spent a few days in Houston in 1990. Several times a day I passed a corner where a number of Central American men were standing around. At first I thought this was just a hangout. But then I saw a pickup stop and the men ran up, seeking a job for the day. This happened several times, at different times of the day.

At that point I realized that these men were dependent on a job to pay for the day’s expenses for their families. If they didn’t get employment and didn’t get a day’s wage their families would suffer.

Thus the owner’s generosity is a response to the injustice these men are suffering. In fact, a key phrase, which is often overlooked, is the men’s response to the owner’s question, “Why do you stand the whole day idle?” They respond, “Because no one has hired us..”

In these days of massive unemployment, so many could respond the same. They are suffering because they have no work.

And so the generosity of the owner of the vineyard is a sign of God’s deep care for all God’s creatures.  God desires that all have a enough, enough to provide for their families. Our economic and social policies ought to reflect this – and not just reward those who have the luck or the connections to get jobs early in the day.

The justice of God – that all be fed and have enough – is different from the justice of the marketplace.  How will we make the marketplace more like the kingdom of God?


The rich and the Kingdom of Heaven

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 19: 24 

 How often people try to soften this harsh saying of Jesus. Those who are rich have a extremely difficult time entering into the Kingdom of justice, love, and peace which Jesus lived and proclaimed, the Kingdom which we followers of Christ as supposed to show in our everyday lives.

I am re-reading Néstor Jaén’s Toward a Liberation Spirituality (Loyola University Press, 1991, p. 37), preparing for a retreat I will be facilitating next month.  Jesuit Father Jaén notes that Jesus has a special place in his heart and teachings for the poor. This does not mean that Jesus does not love the rich. As Jaén notes:

“Those who work for liberation also work to prevent Jesus’ harsh statement…from being fulfilled in rich people, who are after all, their brothers and sisters…. very often, even with the most sympathetic possible pastoral approach, the rich do not cede even an inch in their positions and in their striving to amass wealth. In that case, given the harm to society that they cause with both their attitude and the actions which flow from it, we must go on to denunciation and to appropriate action. That is what Jesus did, and we must do the same. In his kindness Jesus never rejected any rich person who came to him with an open heart (Zaccheus, the rich young man, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus), but he railed at the rich as a social class, as a way of life, and as an attitude. No one can say that the Lord did not love the rich. He most certainly loved them, but for that very reason he castigated them and demanded that they become detached from their wealth.”

Living in a  world of massive inequity between the few very rich and the majority very poor, we are called to love the rich but not leave them complacent, wallowing in their wealth, not seeing the poor at their gates, not willing to share.

That is a challenge to those of us who are rich.

For those who do not share are not participating in the Kingdom of God.


Mary’s assumption and the body

“Mary’s Assumption restores and reintegrates women’s bodiliness into the very mystery of God.”

Ivone Gebara & Maria Clara Bingemer

Lady Poverty and Saint Clare

St. Clare of Assisi, virgin, follower of Francis and founder of the contemplative Franciscan order of nuns, the Poor Clares, died on August 11, 1253.

During her life as abbess of the convent of the “Poor Ladies” at the church of San Damiano, just outside of Assisi, she sought to live a life of poverty. Many tried to persuade her to receive property but she insisted on following Lady Poverty. When a pope offered to absolve her of her strict vow of poverty she wrote, “Absolve me from my sins, Holy Father, but not from my wish to follow Christ.”  Her efforts to preserve the poverty of the Poor Clares were successful when she received the approved Rule two days before her death.

Despite the fact that she never left San Damiano after Francis appointed her abbess in 1215, the order spread throughout Europe. She was in contact with many f them, especially Blessed Agnes of Prague, to whom she once wrote:

“Since the great and good Lord, on entering the Virgin’s womb, chose to look despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people in dire poverty and deprivation and in absolute need of heavenly nourishment might become rich in him by possessing the kingdom of heaven, then you who have chosen poverty should rejoice and be glad.”


The grain that dies and bears fruit

August 10 is the feast  of St. Lawrence, a deacon of the church of Rome. It is said that the emperor demanded that he bring the wealth of the Church. Lawrence arrived with the poor – here is the wealth of the church.

Today’s feast uses the Gospel of John 12: 24-26, a passage that has often moved me deeply.

… unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

The commentary that Salvadoran archbishop Monseñor Oscar Romero gave in his April 1, 1979 homily is profound. I would like it to be read at my funeral – after communion. Today I’d like to share it with you:

“Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives —
that is, those who want to get along,
who don’t want commitments,
who want to stay outside
what demands the involvement of all of us —
they will lose their lives.

What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably,
with no suffering, not getting involved in problems,
quite tranquil, quite settled,
with good connections
— politically, economically, socially —
lacking nothing, having everything.

To what good?
They will lose their lives.
But those who for love of Me uproot themselves
and accompany the poor in their suffering
and become incarnated
and feel as their own the pain and the abuse —
they will secure their lives,
because my Father will reward them.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s word calls us to this today.
Let me tell you with all the conviction I can muster:
it is worthwhile to be a Christian.

To each of us Christ is saying:
If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine,
do as I do.
Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.
Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid.

Those who shun suffering will remain alone.
No one is more alone than the selfish.
But if you give your life out of love for others,
as I give mine for all,
you will reap a great harvest.
You will have the deepest satisfaction.

Do not fear death threats;
the Lord goes with you.

What can one person do?

On August 9, 1943, Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, Austrian Catholic peasant, husband and father of three girls, conscientious objector to the Nazi army, was executed in Berlin, Germany. His witness would probably have gone unnoticed if Gordon Zahn, US pacifist and sociologist, had not come upon his story and written In Solitary Witness.

His writings are simple and straightforward, reflecting his peasant background and his deep faith. What is extraordinary is his recognition of the evil of Nazism and his willingness to give his life rather than cooperate with evil. Would that more Christians were like him.

His witness might seem to some to have been useless, but, from prison, Franz wrote:

“Today one hears it said repeatedly that there is nothing any more that an individual can do. If someone were to speak out, it would mean only imprisonment and death.
True, there is not much that can be done anymore to change the course of world events. I believe that should have begun a hundred or even more years ago. But as long as we live in this world, I believe it is never too late to save ourselves and perhaps some other soul for Christ.
One really has no cause to be astonished that there are those who can no longer find their way in the great confusion  of our day. People we think we can trust, who ought to be leading the way and setting a good example, are running along with the crowd. No one gives enlightenment, whether in word or in writing. Or, to be more exact, it may not be given. And the thoughtless race goes on, always closer to eternity. As long as conditions are still half good, we don’t see things quite right, or that we could or should do otherwise….
“If the road signs were stuck ever so loosely in the earth that every wind could break them off or blow them about, would anyone who did not know the road be able to find his way? And how much worse is it if those to whom one turns for information refuse to give him an answer or, at most, give him the wrong direction just to be rid of him as quickly as possible?”

In 2009 Orbis Books published a translation of  Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, edited by Erna Putz.

Today is also the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. Nagasaki had a very large Catholic population, some of whom could trace their faith back to the arrival of the first missionaries and who preserved their faith  underground for centuries. Many Catholics died while at prayer in the cathedral. One Catholic who survived and became a voice for peace was Dr. Takashi Nagai. He wrote:

“Men and women of the world, never again plan war! With this atomic bomb, war can only mean suicide for the human race. From this atomic waste the people of Nagasaki confront the world and cry out: No more war! Let us follow the commandment of love and work together. The people of Nagasaki prostrate themselves before God and pray: Grant that Nagasaki may be the last atomic wilderness in the history of the world.”

May we realize our calling and raise our voices for peace and justice, knowing that there is much that one can do – and that the Lord uses our little efforts.

Dead and living skins

Today is the feast of St. Dominic, friar, founder of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, who died on August 6, 1221.

When asked why he sold all his possessions, including his parchment manuscripts, to aid plague victims in Palenares, he said:

“I will not study on dead skins while living skins are dying of hunger.”

Today’s first reading from Deuteronomy (10: 17-19) shares this concern for the poor, that moved people like Dominic to care for the poor:

“[God] shows no favor and takes no bribes,
but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow,
and befriends the stranger,
providing them with food and clothing.
You too must befriend the stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”


FInding God

“In the oratory we serve God in worship.
In our hospital we actually find Him.”
St. Cajetan

St. Cajetan, whose feast is celebrated August 7, lived from 1480 to 1557, founded the Theatine priests and was instrumental in the reform of the Catholic Church in light of the abuses that plagued the Church about the time of the Reformation.

Transformation, deformation, and the Glory of God

Today the church celebrates the Transformation of the Lord, when he revealed His divinity, the glory of God, shining through his humanity to Peter, James, and John.

Apropos to this, Monseñor Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, closed his talk at Louvain on February 2, 1980, with these words:

“Early Christians used to say Gloria Dei, vivens homo (‘The glory of God is the living person’). We could make this more concrete by saying Gloria Dei, vivens pauper  (‘The glory of God is the living poor person’). From the perspective of the transcendence of the Gospel, I believe we can determine what the life of the poor truly is. And I also believe that by putting ourselves alongside the poor and trying to bring life to them we shall come to know the eternal truth of the Gospel.”

Today is also the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, a day of deformation.

Bishop Maurice Dingman of Des Moines, Iowa, was a blessed man, an advocate of peace, who loved the poor and worked for the preservation of family farmers. In 1978 he wrote,

“The very existence of the human race is in jeopardy. We must halt the arms race in the spirit of Tabor or proceed with the armaments race and face annihilation in the spirit of Hiroshima.”

That same year, on August 6, Death of Pope Paul VI, died. He inaugurated the current Catholic tradition of designating January 1 as the World Day of Peace. In his message for 1976, he wrote:

“If the consciousness of universal brotherhood truly penetrates into the hearts of [humans], will they still need to arm themselves to the point of becoming blind and fanatic killers of their brethren who in themselves are innocent, and of perpetrating, as a contribution to peace, butchery of untold magnitude, as at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945? In fact has not our own time had an example of what can be done by a weak man, Gandhi — armed only with the principle of nonviolence — to vindicate for a nation of hundreds of millions of human beings the freedom and dignity of a new people?”