Monthly Archives: June 2012

Three persecuted sainted doctors of the church

Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and John of Avila are three Spanish saints who have much in common besides knowing each other. Each one wrote treatises on mystical theology. All were involved in the reform of the Church in Spain – Teresa and John of the Cross being the great reformers of the Carmelites, founders of the Discalced Carmelites. John of Avila was one of Teresa’s spiritual advisors. And, this October, John of Avila will join these other two saints as a doctor of the church.

But there is more. Each of them had Jewish roots and each of them suffered at the hands of the church.

John of the Cross was imprisoned by fellow Carmelites who did not want his reform. He escaped the prison and went on with his work of reform.

Teresa of Avila was investigated by the Inquisition. She was suspected of being connected with the Alumbrados, a group of mystics suspected of heresy. Another possible reason is that her family roots were Jewish. The charges against her were dismissed.

John of Avila was not so fortunate. He was a great preacher who called the church in Spain to conversion and was very critical of the rich and the accumulation of wealth. His Jewish roots also brought suspicion on him. He spent almost a year in prison, courtesy of the Inquisition.

But all are canonized and, as of October, all will be recognized as doctors of the church.

It’s very interesting how these saints who were persecuted by members of the church are now honored as doctors and teachers of the church, examples for us to follow.

A friend of mine, Todd Flowerday, is beginning a fortnight of worthy women – an response to the US Bishops Fortnight of  Freedom. Catch his daily reflections at Catholic Sensibility – here.

Transformation and Eucharist

Over the past few months I been reading a book by Anselm Grün, OSB, Images of Jesus, with fifty short meditations on Jesus. At the end of the book he has a chapter entitled, “The eucharist as an encounter with Jesus.”

He includes a moving paragraph on the epiclesis of the Eucharist Prayer,  a meditation which speaks to my sense of the transformation which Christ wants for all of us, which begins with the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Two rites [in the eucharist] … affect me every day. One rite is the prayer before the transformation, the so-called epiclesis, in which with outstretched hands I call down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of read and wine, so that they become the body and blood of Jesus. For me that is the daily prayer that the Holy Spirit will transform my work, my conflicts, my longings and wishes, my disappointments and bitternesses, so that Jesus’ spirit shines out in them. I want Jesus to come not only in bread and wine but in all that I think, speak and do. Everything is to make Christ known. And through Christ everything is to become bread and wine for men and women, something that feeds them and gladdens their hearts. (p. 174)

May God transform me and all I do, all I long for, and all I love so that we may become hope for all and a sign of God’s reign.

Evangelizing as Jesus did

There’s a beautiful description of evangelization in Anselm Grün’s  “Jesus the Story Teller” in  Images of Jesus, p. 131:

The art of Jesus is that he doesn’t constantly utter the word God and proclaim every possible doctrine about God. Rather, he talks to people in such a way that God dawns in them. When Jesus tells stories, his hearers are as it were created anew. They find that they are transformed by God’s grace.

As I look at the way I try to “teach,” I try to find ways that God may dawn in the people – not talking at them, but exploring with them what God is doing with us.

Five years of mission

On June 13, 2007, I arrived in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, to begin my ministry with the diocese. Five years later, I can say that it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life.

It “happened” to me.

I did not plan to be here in Honduras, but God has a way of calling us out of our complacency and challenging us.

I was content with my ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames, Iowa. I loved working with students in campus ministry and with the whole parish in the social justice ministry. I had some connection with the poor and even with the third world poor, through yearly visits to El Salvador.

But a 2006 spring break trip to New Orleans with St. Thomas folks shook all that up.

We were cleaning out houses damaged by hurricane Katrina.

At one house we met the owner, Sondra, an African-American woman in her early sixties. She had raised her children and grandchildren in the house which had been under more than three feet of water for weeks. Everything was devastated by mold. As we brought all her possessions out to the curb to be hauled away, she stood there – serene, tranquil, sustained by her faith.

Later I reflected that as we emptied out her house, something was emptied out in me and I was opened to the possibility of a real change.

I returned from New Orleans and began looking into the possibilities of offering myself to the diocese of Santa Rosa, where a good friend – Sister Nancy Meyerhofer – was working.

A visit in May 2006 with the bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, opened up the possibilities and  within a  year I arrived here.

Since arriving what I’ve been doing keeps changing, but what really gives me life is my work with people in the countryside – visiting their villages, helping in the formation programs for the pastoral workers, praying and celebrating with them.

It has been a gift to me  and has given me great joy. I feel this is where God wants me.

I am often asked by people here how long I’ll be here. My response is “hasta que Dios quiera” which is my translation of “until God calls me somewhere else.”

And so I continue here – with joy, with a renewed sense of commitment, with hopes of being “good news to the poor.”

I came with the sense of being called to be of service to those most in need. May this vision sustain me and my I become even more a servant of the poor.

Friend of the Poor

Image of St. Anthony in San Antonio, Dolores

St. Anthony of Padua is a much beloved saint in all the world, especially here in Latin America. In the parish of Dulce Nombre where I help, nine of the 45 churches have him as their patron.

Anthony was a Franciscan priest and preacher, doctor of the church, and “Friend of the Poor,” who died on June 13, 1231.

He started his religious life as an Augustinian canon in Portugal but, seeing the witness of Franciscans martyred in Morocco, he joined the Franciscans. Prevented from going to Morocco, he ended up in Italy. For some time he served as a simple friar in a poor friary. One day, he was asked to preach at an ordination. Leaving the kitchen where he was washing dishes, he delivered an outstanding sermon and proceeded to preach throughout Italy.

Known as the saint who helps you find lost items, he was also the saint who loved and served the poor (and castigated the rich), as he followed the poor Christ as a Franciscan.

As he once preached:

“For you [Lord], we have left everything and have become poor. But since you are rich, we have followed you that you might enrich us… We have followed you as the creature follows the Creator, like sons of the Father, as children follow their mother, as the starving their bread, as the sick their doctor, as the weary their bed, as exiles their homeland…”

Elijah and the widow

For about ten days the first weekday lectionary readings for Catholics will be about Elijah, the prophet. For many years these stories have inspired me.

Today’s story (1 Kings 17: 7-16) is about the widow of Zarephath, who in her poverty responds to Elijah’s request for water and bread.

She has only enough for one meal of bread and water for her son and herself.  “I am just now gathering some sticks so that I may go in and prepare something for myself and my son to eat – and then die.”

But she shares, after hearing the word of Elijah, “Do not fear.” And there was enough flour and oil for a year!

She risks her life – her food – for a foreign prophet whose only promise is the loving providence of God which he had experienced for several months at the Wadi Cherith, where the water flowed and where crows brought him bread and meat twice a day.

How many times have I seen this generosity, this trust in God, especially from women.

Today a friend, Sister Pat Farrell, and others from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious are in Rome speaking to Vatican officials. I pray that her generosity and her devotion to the God of the Poor – lived out in San Antonio, Chile, El Salvador, and Omaha – may open the way for God to work and multiply the good works of God in this world.

The Body of Christ

Today the Catholic world celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.

The feast originated in the thirteenth century but expresses the faith of the Church in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Here in Honduras there will be processions in the streets, as an expression of their deep devotion to the Eucharist. I’m going out to the village of Dolores where people will be walking in from neighboring villages for Mass and procession.

It is important, though, to remember that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the only place we encounter Christ.

In The Word Encountered, Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J., quotes C. S. Lewis, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Last year I was in El Zapote de Santa Rosa for Mass and procession, a chance to encounter some of the holiest objects – the Eucharist and the poor – as you can see in this photo.

May Christ touch us today, in the Eucharist and in the people we meet, especially the poor.




Ephrem the Syrian

Syria is being torn apart these days as the people rise up to remove a leader they find oppressive., whose forces have been involved in the killing of many innocent protestors.  And so it is good to remember today Saint Ephrem the Syrian, a deacon and doctor of the church, who lived in Edessa and died in 373.

He is known especially for the many hymns he wrote which are still used in the Syrian Church. A few months before his death he was asked by the people to distribute grain to people devastated by a winter famine. They would trust no one else with the task.

One of the prayers he wrote is prayed in the Orthodox Lenten liturgies. It is worth praying today, remembering the suffering people of Syria.

Lord and master of my life,
take from me the spirit of laziness,
of dejection, of domination, of empty words;
grant to me your servant
a spirit of chastity,
of humility, of patience and love;
Yes, Lord, permit me to see my sins
and not to judge my brother,
for you are blessed, world without end.


Cheap joy

Though I love to smile, enjoy a good joke, and have an ironic sense of humor,  I am somewhat suspicious about what I might call “cheap joy.”

I occasionally run into people of faith who have a really bouncy approach to their faith and seem to be always on a high. They sometimes make me uncomfortable, especially when they expect me to have the same type of cheerfulness, especially when they expect everybody to clap and shout for joy in meetings.

I sense the need for a different joy.

Today is the anniversary of the death of the Jesuit priest and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in 1889.

His poetry speaks often of the glory of God in creation:

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”

But, he seems to have been a soul that experienced deep desolation:

 I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste:

Yet, as Robert Ellsberg notes in  All Saints, his final words were “I am so happy.”

True to the Ignatian tradition, Hopkins experienced the joy, the consolation, that is deeper than surface happiness, the joy that can be lived in the midst of pain and consolation, the joy of the Cross and Resurrection.

And so today I pray for real joy – but a joy that allows me to be with the suffering – and live within my own suffering – perhaps showing that Joy that comes, not from me, but from a God who doesn’t look at us from afar but has come among us and suffered with us.

That’s not a cheap joy.

Fear, joy, and a disarming God

I live in the second poorest country in the Americas with the highest homicide rate in the world.

But why do I find myself full of joy and at peace here?

This morning’s psalm 46 from Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours may provide a clue.

As I prayed it – first in Spanish and then in English – I noted that the three strophes have different but related themes. Here are some initial thoughts, that will be my day-long meditation.

 1. God is our refuge, our helper – therefore, “we do not fear.”

Fear is so debilitating; it isolates us and keeps us from really living. It turns the other person into a threat to my existence.

There are lots of things to fear – crime, being rejected, death, sickness, bugs. These paralyze us and keep us from seeing the goodness of people and of God’s creation. But God is our refuge.

 2. God’s stream of water “gives joy.”

God is so gracious and the source of joy. I have been blessed with a smile and have inherited a hearty sense of humor from my Dad. Even in the midst of pain and injustice, God has let me see the marvels of God’s love – the beauty of creation, the holiness and love of the poor I work with.

3. God is a disarming God

“Consider the works of the Lord…. He puts an end to wars over all the earth; the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps; he burns the shields with fire.”

God not only dismantles the weapons of offense – the bow, the spear, the bomb, the machine gun; God burns with fire our defenses: shields, locked gates, barbed wire fences.

God calls us to be vulnerable, to be open. It’s not easy – and I always want some protection, some “security” precautions.

But how?

The end of the third strophe makes it clear:

 “Be still, and know that I am God.”

In stillness we can learn that God is, that I, John, am not god, that God is our strength – even in our weaknesses.

And that brings me joy.