Monthly Archives: March 2012

Trash can rescuer

Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945), an Russian Orthodox nun, protector of Jews in Paris, was killed in the Appel [Ravensbruck] concentration camp, by the Nazis, on Holy Saturday, March 31, 1945. Canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, she is a sign of prayerful and effective resistance to evil.

She lived for many years in Paris. One delightful story of her ingenious efforts to save persecuted Jews in occupied France is detailed in Jim Forest’s book Silent as a Stone. She persuaded trash collectors to hide children about to be taken by the Nazis in trash cans so that they could be moved to safe locations.

Hers is a spirituality needed for our time – combining deep prayer and courageous and imaginative resistance to injustice.

In 1938, she wrote:

“Open your gates to homeless thieves, let the outside world sweep in to demolish your magnificent liturgical system, abase yourself, empty yourself, make yourself of no account… Accept the vow of poverty in all its devastating severity; destroy all comfort, even the monastic kind.

“Our times are firmly in tune with Christianity, in that suffering is part of their character….They help us genuinely and completely to accept the vow of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure but rather the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”

Reading history through the Cross

The Friday before Palm Sunday in the old liturgical calendar was the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, la virgen dolorosa, as we say here.

Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, witnessed the death of her Son and courageously followed Him to the foot of the Cross.

Today in the streets Santa Rosa de Copán we will celebrate the diocesan Way of the Cross. Thousands will come to pray, to witness their faith, to make confessions in the streets, and to recall how the reality of life for Hondurans is a Via Crucis, a Way of the Cross.

But they come with faith and hope, knowing the power of the crucified and risen Lord.

What the Stations here try to do is to read reality through the Cross.

In his book, A Vow of Conversation, Thomas Merton wrote:

“We have to see history as a book that is sealed and opened only by the Passion of Christ. But we prefer to read it from the viewpoint of the beast. We look at history in terms of hubris and power — in terms of the Beast and his power. Christ continues to suffer His passion in the poor, the defenseless, and His passion destroys the Beast. . . . Meanwhile, Christ is in agony until the end of time.”

Christ is in agony, but we will witness to His presence here still.

Looking at the crucified

Whenever a serpent bit anyone,
that person would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Numbers 21: 9 

When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
you will know that I AM.
John 8: 28 

 Praying over the lectionary readings this morning, with the help of a meditation of Megan McKenna in Tasting the Word of God. Volume 2: Commentaries on the Daily Lectionary, I began to think about the importance of gazing upon the crucified Lord.

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola recommends that we situate ourselves before the crucified Lord, gazing on Jesus suffering, and ask ourselves several questions:

Imagining Christ our Lord present and placed on the Cross, let me make a Colloquy, how from Creator He is come to making Himself man, and from life eternal is come to temporal death, and so to die for my sins.

Likewise, looking at myself, what I have done for Christ, what I am doing for Christ, what I ought to do for Christ.

Jon Sobrino, the Salvadoran Jesuit theologian, has rephrased these questions for us in light of Ignacio Ellacuría’s concept of the crucified peoples of the world:

 Let us place ourselves before the crucified peoples and ask ourselves:
“What have we done to put them on the cross?”
“What are we doing as we stand before their crosses?”
“What are we going to do to lower them from their cross?”

As we approach Holy Week, let us place ourselves in our imagination at the foot of the cross of Jesus and ask ourselves the questions that St. Ignatius suggests. But let us not forget to place ourselves with the crucified peoples of this world, seeing and experiencing their sufferings and deaths, and ask ourselves Sobrino’s questions.

Perhaps, looking on the crucified Jesus and the crucified peoples of this world, we shall live and not die of what we have done to put them on the cross.


A grain of wheat and the witness of Romero

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground
and dies,
it remains alone.
But if it dies, it produces much fruit.
John 12: 24

The evening he was killed at the altar of the Divine Providence cancer hospital in San Salvador, Monseñor Oscar Romero preached on this theme. Here are a few lines from that homily:

You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others, will live, live like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest….

This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when justice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us…. Of course, we must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be found in the labor that we have done here on earth….

Dear brothers and sisters, let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy….

[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace, and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Such labor does not remain here below but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.

The holy Mass, now, this Eucharist, is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain — like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer….

As he finished these words, a shot rang out from the back of the chapel and Monseñor Romero, the voice of the voiceless, was killed instantly. But his death has brought life and inspiration to many – from poor shacks in Central America to churches throughout the world.

His message is a challenge for all of us, to live out our mission as the people of God.


Thanks to Whispers in the Loggia for reminding us of this powerful quote from a martyr and saint of our time.

Monseñor Romero and prayer

The guarantee of one’s prayer
is not in saying a lot of words.
The guarantee of one’s petition is very easy to know:
how do I treat the poor?
The degree to which you approach them,
and the love with which you approach them,
or the scorn with which you approach them –
that is how you approach your God.
What you do to them, you do to God.
The way you look at them is the way you look at God.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador, was martyred at the altar of the Divina Providencia hospital for poor cancer patients on March 24, 1980. He spoke these words in a homily on February 5, 1978.

The faith of Dutch journalists

On March 19, 1982, thirty years ago, Jacobus Andreas Koster (“Koos”) and several other Dutch journalists were killed in El Salvador.

Their experience opened them to faith as mine has here in Central America, first in El Salvador and now in Honduras. Being with the poor opens up a way to Christ and to conversion.

Koos Koster wrote of his experience:

“If you want to see Christ in the world, you must go to Latin America.”

“Of all the friends I have lost in Latin America, Monseñor Romero was the most mourned for. Jesus did what he said and Romero was cut from the same cloth. Two weeks before his death, I heard him talking in the cathedral about the politics of the Kingdom. This has completely worn me out in this dark hour…. It seems as though the God of history has removed his hands from El Salvador … over us hangs a kind of darkness of God which from time to time throws me into the abyss.”

But I have found in the midst of suffering and even killing, there are signs of the resurrection and signs of hope.

The other day in the remote village of Las Delicias, Concepción, Copán, an eighty three year man showed me, with great pride, an image of Archbishop Romero on his house altar. He mentioned that he once met him in El Salvador. But his pride showed me the hope Romero’s death has given millions here in Latin America.

Rutilio Grande – martyr

Thirty five years ago, on March 12, 1977, Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J., was martyred in El Salvador, between Aguilares and El Paisnal, with the two people in the jeep with him, Manuel Solorzano and Nelson Rutilio Lemus.

Rutilio Grande had been a rather timid and scrupulous man but his work with the poor, forming them in base communities, visiting them in their poor homes, helping train them to be catechists and delegates of the word, and proving them opportunities to train health promoters, moved him to become a simple and straightforward defender of the Word of God and the poor.

A month before he was killed he preached the homily at a public Mass in protest of the forced exile of a priest. At the homily he preached these prophetic words:

“All of us have the same Father. We are all children of this Father, although we were born of different mothers. All of us are brothers and sisters. We are equal. But Cain is an abortion in God’s plan, and groups of Cain do exist.

“The Lord God, in this plan, gave us a material world, like this material bread and this material cup which we lift up in offering to Christ the Lord. It is a material world for everyone, without borders. This what Genesis tells us. It is not something I make up.

“ ‘I bought half of El Salvador with my money and I have a right to it.’ There is no right to discuss this! It is a negation of God! There are no rights for the majority!

“But the material world is for everyone, without borders. A common table with a tablecloth big enough for everyone, like this Eucharist. Each one with a seat, so that each one comes to the table to eat.”

Sad to say, land is still being held in the hands of the few and the many campesino farmers, especially here in Honduras, do not have land to grow the corn and beans they eat. Some rent land, others work as day laborers. The Catholic social teaching principle of the universal destination of the goods of the earth is ignored.

St. John of God, the rich man, and Lazarus

Part of my morning prayer, when I am home, is to read several short biographies of the saint of the day. Today I was struck by the story of St. John of God, 1495-1550.

Born in Portugal, he seems to have been abducted at an early age to Spain. He got involved in the army and its vices, but had a conversion experience.

At one point he heard St. John of Avila and began to public reproach himself for his sinfulness. He took this to such extremes that he was confined to an asylum. But John of Avila visited him and told him to serve those around him – and John of God immediately found himself in sound mind and began to serve the poor in the asylum and other sick. St. John of Avila seemed to know that one way to deal with minor depression is to move out of oneself and care for others. (Of course, clinical depression and mental illness are different and need professional care.)

John of God then founded a small hospital in a house he rented which proved too small. He founded a larger hospital and others soon followed him. The hygienic practices of his hospital were unusual for his time.

Always concerned for the poor, John was once seeking firewood for a poor family during a flood. While doing this, he tried to save someone with him who was drowning. His health deteriorated and he died, kneeling at an alter in his room, on March 8, 1550.

Unlike the rich man in today’s Gospel (Luke 16: 19-31), St. John of God saw the poor man Lazarus around him and responded in love in very practical ways.

I have found that working with children here and visiting the poor villages gives me a deep joy, even as I lament the poverty. Somehow I see God there – and God gives me the joy I need to go forward.

St. John of God is the patron of nurses and hospitals.

The drum major instinct

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 20: 17-28) the mother of James and John asks Jesus to give them a privileged position in his Reign. The other apostles get upset. Jesus responds by calling them to be servants, not like the rulers of this world who love to lord it over others.

On February 4, 1968, two months before he was killed, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave an incredible sermon on the parallel passage in Mark (10: 35-45), on “The Drum Major Instinct.” It is well worth reading, or listening to, and can be found here.

I have loved this sermon since I first heard it because it acknowledges that all people are called to be servants and we don’t need to be doctors or Ph.D.s or big shots. What is important is to serve.

Today looking at the sermon I found that King also had strong words for the US. Since I have been rather disturbed by the US vice-president’s visit here as you can read on my other blog here, I decided to share King’s very strong words:

I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy….

But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme.” “Our nation must rule the world.” … And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now….God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.

But God has a way of even putting nations in their place…. The God that I worship has a way of saying, “Don’t play with me.”… He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, “Don’t play with me, Israel. Don’t play with me, Babylon.… Be still and know that I’m God. And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.” … And that can happen to America. …

And thus, for these and other words, and for his prophetic words against racism and militarism,  people plotted against Martin Luther King, Jr., as they did against Jeremiah (18:18).

Will we listen to the prophets and to Jesus and serve, or will we seek to lord it over others?

That’s a critical question for us and for our country this Lent.


Last year I also wrote a blog entry on this text and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech. You can read it here.


Rescue the oppressed

learn to do good
seek justice
rescue the oppressed
defend the orphan
plead for the widow
Isaiah 1: 17

 Today’s reading from the first chapter of Isaiah points to what the Lord desires: justice, which is more important than sacrifices.

Isaiah calls the people of God to care for those at the margin and to oppose oppression.

On March 6, 1984, the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller died. He had been a decorated navy commander in the First World War but later became an opponent of the Nazis and a member of the Confessing Church. After the Second World War he became an ardent pacifist, opposing war.

He is most famous for a quote which is usually  cited as:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

But I found a much more theological version of this – seeing Christ in the oppressed:

“If we had recognized that in the communists who were thrown into concentration camps, the Lord Jesus Christ himself lay imprisoned and looked for our love and help, if we had seen that at the beginning of the persecution of the Jews it was the Lord Jesus Christ in the person of the least of our human brethren who was being persecuted, and beaten and killed, if we had stood by him and identified ourselves with him, I do not know whether God would not then have stood by us and whether the whole thing would not then have had to take a different course.”

In a world where oppression continues the followers of Christ need to identify ourselves with the victims, as Jesus did, and speak up with them.

That’s the call of Jesus  – and the call of Isaiah in today’s first reading.