Monthly Archives: August 2012

Young prayerful peacemaker – John Leary

Thirty years ago a young man named John Leary died on the Boston Common while jogging home from work. But he was not an ordinary young man.

I met him a few times at Haley House, a Catholic Worker house, in Boston where he lived and worked among the poor. A bright young man – graduate of Harvard – he was a light in many ways to the darkness around the world in the early 1980s. He had a great spirit that you could experience meeting him.

His life was grounded in an active commitment to the poor, serving them, but he also a strong advocate for life. He co-founded and worked at the Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War.

He was a member of the Ailanthus Resistance Community and was arrested for protests against nuclear weapons at a local laboratory. He also was arrested several times protesting abortion.

He was a truly consistent advocate of life.

But there is another aspect of his life which intrigues me.

John Leary began to participate in the Melkite Catholic Church and was, I presume, influenced by Eastern Christian spirituality.

He used to run on his way to and from work at a center for Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War in Cambridge). Gordon Zahn, a co-founder of the center, asked John about his running, which seemed so mundane and boring. John replied that he prayer the Jesus prayer while running.  In all probability, on August  31, 1982, while running home to the Catholic Worker John died, praying the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus prayer comes from the Eastern Christian tradition, praying many times a  formula based on the prayer of the publican in the Gospels: “Have mercy on me a sinner.” The most common form is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I wrote a post on the prayer earlier this year here.

It is a prayer that nourishes me.

Today, remembering John Leary, I pray that like him my life may be a witness to the God of life who became poor for us, by living and working with the poor, rooted in God’s love. And may I die with the Jesus prayer on my lips.


The fruit of study

Finding God in the created world is one of the themes in Celtic spirituality.

According to Shirley Toulson, in The Celtic Year, St. Ninian – whose feast is celebrated today – was supposed to have said the the fruit of study was “To perceive the eternal word of God reflected in every plant and insect, every bird and animal, every man and woman.”

Such a God-present view of study would profit us today as study is often oriented to profit and sometimes results in treating nature and persons as mere commodities.

This is also the vision of the British poet and critic of industrialization, William Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

A worthy thought for today.



St. Louis the King and the option for the poor

St. Louis, the king of France, who died of dysentery on his second Crusade, on August 25, 1270, is an enigmatic figure.

Like many people of his age he harbored deep prejudices against Jews and Muslims, as well as against heretics and homosexuals. He also went into battle several times, sometimes to extend his kingdom, twice to “rescue” the Holy Land.

He was austere in his private life and extremely fair in his judgments. He even decreed during his first Crusade that opposing soldiers should be captured instead of being killed.

But in his spiritual testament to his son, he writes of  his great concern for the poor, a concern – somewhat paternalistic – that he showed in his life and that he share with many of the sainted royalty of the middle ages:

Be kindly disposed toward the poor, the wretched, and the afflicted; help them as much as you can and console them… Be just toward tour subjects; in matters of justice adhere to the line, departing neither to he right nor to the left. Incline to the poor person’s side 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…

Would that all government leaders and candidates for public office followed his advice.

The witness of Ignazio Silone

Ignazio Silone is a novelist who has inspired me. for many year. In his most famous novel,  Bread and Wine, he portrays the value of even one person saying no. I commented on this a year ago in this post.

When he died on August 22, 1978, he considered himself “a Christian without a church, a Socialist without a party.” He had left the church early, scandalized that the Italian hierarchy spoke more about sexual mores than about the fascism overtaking their country.

He later joined the Communist party and had to flee to Switzerland. His brother, meanwhile, was tortured and died in prison in Italy. He later left the Communist party because of the repression and deceit he found there, but he did not abandon his ideals.

His early novel, Fontamara, is an account of a struggle over water. It’s been a while since I last read but it again shows the importance of protesting when evil runs rampant.

Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, opens his reflection for today with these words of Silone, which reflect a saying of Jesus in the Gospel:

 In every period and in whatever society the supreme act is to give oneself, to lose oneself to find oneself. You have only what you give.

Can we do less?

We, the rich, have a problem

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:23) Jesus says, “It  will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Many have tried to soften this message saying that what Jesus is really saying to us is that he wants us to be detached from our possessions.

I would suggest that this reflects our middle class values – nothing so challenging that it might make us change our lives and stop pursuing upward mobility.

Being rich can really be a problem – and many of us who are middle class are really rich in terms of the world.

Being rich means that we don’t have to worry about tomorrow (except in terms of the stock market). Our needs are taken care of.

Being rich means that we don’t have to worry about today – whether we will have work in order to be able to feed the family.

Being rich means we can insulate ourselves from the suffering of the world, channel surfing and avoiding any news about poverty or injustice.

Being rich means we can attempt to salve our conscience by sending money.

Being rich means we can look down on those who are poor, claiming that they don’t work or don’t want to work and that they just want a handout, forgetting where our riches come from.

Being rich means we may be blinded to the sources of riches, the ways in which our wealth may be “filthy lucre,” gained at the price of the sweat of the poor.

Being rich means we forget that we are not God.

In today’s first lectionary reading (Ezekiel 28: 1-10), the prophet excoriates the prince of Tyre for thinking himself a god, thinking that “your wisdom and know-how have earned you a fortune, gold and silver flowed into your treasury. Clever in trade, you became wealthy and as your fortune increased, your heart became prouder.”

There is a problem with wealth as both Jesus and the prophet Ezekiel point out.


I think Luke Timothy Johnson puts it well in a book I’m now reading,  Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Life-Acts to Contemporary Christians:

 The good news announced by the prophet Jesus is that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor (see [Luke] 1:52; 6:20; 7:22; 16:19-31).

We better listen.


Alberto Hurtado, saint of the poor

Today Chile and the Jesuits celebrate Father Alberto Hurtado, who is revered as a great advocate of the poor who lived from 1901 to 1952.

He knew poverty from his youth and though he had the fortune to get a scholarship at a Jesuit school he continued to spend Sunday afternoons in a poor barrio. He had thought of joining the Jesuits but put it off, studying law at the Catholic University in the mornings and working in the afternoons and evenings; but he still found time on Sundays to work with the poor.

He entered the Jesuits and was ordained in 1933.  He continued to work among the poor and soon, with the help of some women, founded the Hogar de Cristo, the Hearth of Christ, for children.

As Father James Martin, S.J., notes in a blog entry on him, he told the women who helped him:

Christ roams through our streets in the person of so many of the suffering poor, sick and dispossessed, and people thrown out of their miserable slums; Christ huddled under bridges, in the person of so many children who lack someone to call father, who have been deprived for many years without a mother’s kiss on their foreheads…Christ is without a home! Shouldn’t we want to give him one, those of us who have the joy of a comfortable home, plenty of good food, the means to educate and assure the future of our children? “What you do to the least of me, you do to me,” Jesus said. 

But helping the children was not enough for him. He insisted on the necessity of social change and justice. Charity is not enough:

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

He established a publication that promoted Catholic Social Teaching, Mensaje.

He died at the age of 51, of pancreatic cancer.

In 1941 he had published a provocative work,  Is Chile a Catholic Country? As José Comblin noted,

“Padre Hurtado asked himself how it [Chile] could be a Catholic country which leaves the masses of the people – campesinos and workers – in misery.”

A good question for all of us.


The little child and the kingdom of God

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” the disciples ask Jesus in today’s Gospel (Matthew 18: 1-5).

In a world intent on success, on power, on being the best, Jesus presents an alternative, the child.

“Whoever becomes lowly like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

In Jesus’ time, the child was of little worth.

In some parts of the world, today the child is protected and treated like royalty. The child gets whatever she or he wants.

But in other parts of the world the child is overlooked. He or she is another mouth to feed until the child can start working.

How often I see young children working here – carrying wood, making tortillas, helping push wheelbarrows of sand in a construction project, weeding the corn field with a machete, feeding a younger sister or brother.

This is not just the work that we expect that children learn from their parents. It’s often hard and demeaning work – and the children are sometimes yelled at because they don’t do the work well.

These are the children I think Jesus refers to – ones who suffer being marginalized.

Unless we become one with them, in some way sharing in their suffering and joy, we may not be able to understand what the kingdom of heaven is.

For a few years we had a lunch program for kids here in Santa Rosa. I loved to go there once a week and got to know a number of kids. One stuck out for me, but I cannot remember his name. (It was an unusual name which reminded me of a French writer, but I can’t remember which one.) He was a mischievous nine year old kid who was not in school. One day the cook shared that he had been in the jail overnight because he had “borrowed” a bicycle.

I wonder if he would have been the child that Jesus called and put in the midst of the disciples when they asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Grieving the Holy Spirit

I was astonished to read the first sentence of today’s second reading in the Catholic lectionary, Ephesians 2: 30 – 5:2: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”

And how do we grieve the Holy Spirit?

with bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice
(in the New American Bible translation)


with bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice
(in the New Revised Standard Version)

No matter what translation you read, this is a significant challenge. Sadly, I think groups in the Catholic Church as well as politicians and their followers – in the US and in Honduras – are grieving the Holy Spirit. The abusive language I see in the press and the internet make me grieve.

The advice that Paul gives is what I’d give to anyone commenting publicly on someone with whom they disagree:

“Be kind to one another, compassionate/tenderhearted,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

That might significantly change the climate in politics and within the church.

For that I pray.

Joy in the midst of suffering

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Dominic Guzman, the Spaniard who founded the Order of Friars Preachers, better known as the  Dominicans.

There is much to admire in Dominic. As a student he sold his books and furniture to feed the poor in a time of famine. As a missionary preacher among the Albigensians in southern France, he admonished the warrior Bishop Fulk that the weapons to convert these heretics should be prayer and humility, not the sword and fine clothes. As a preacher among the Albigensians he lived austerely,  traveling on foot, begging for sustenance in contrast to the papal legates who arrived in fine clothes and were aligned with the political powers of the day. As a traveling preacher he had more success with the austere and inspiring Albigensians.

But what struck me as I read about him this morning was his joy in the midst of suffering. As Blessed Jordan of Saxony, one his early followers, wrote:

 Nothing disturbed his equanimity except a lively sympathy with any suffering. A person’s face shows whether he or she is really happy. Dominic was friendly and joyful. You could easily see his inward peace.

This reminded me of a chapter in an inspiring and challenging book by Mary Jo Leddy, The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home, that I’m reading.

She writes, reflecting on her life with refugees in Romero House in Toronto. “To discern the presence of Christ we need to look for that mysterious gospel sign of joy in the midst of suffering.”

Reflecting on “The Smiling Christ” in Xavier, in the Basque region of Spain, she notes that the crucifix was fashioned in the midst of the Black Death and church corruption of the fourteenth century, “a time of great suffering and spiritual confusion.”

 And yet. And yet. Christ is smiling in the midst of his own suffering and the suffering of the dark age of Europe. When we can smile like that. we know we are where we are meant to be.

The spiritual life is not joy or suffering. It’s joy in the midst of suffering, allowing the suffering and the joy of the poor and marginalized we meet – Maria, José, Samara, Omin – to touch our hearts and reveal the joy that God has placed deep within us that can be unveiled in the often disconcerting presence of the other person whose suffering we share.

That is the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection – not joy alone, not suffering alone, but joy in the midst of suffering.

And I have been blessed with this grace here in Honduras.