Monthly Archives: September 2012

Faithful physicians

Today the Catholic liturgical calendar celebrates two twin brothers, Cosmas and Damian, who were physicians in the Near East.

In the Orthodox tradition they are called the “unmercenary” because they treated people without asking for money.

They were martyred about 287.

Not much more is known about them, though there are many legends.

Today I think about a number of friends who are medical workers – physicians, nurses, anesthetists, dentists, therapists, veterinarians. I particularly remember a number who have given their time – unmercenaries – in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Palestine, Africa.

Every medical worker has the opportunity to show the healing power of God to all their patients. Those who serve the poor and empower the poor to take care of their health are real missionaries – even when they do it in their own countries.

In the Gospel for today  (Luke 9: 1-6),

Jesus summoned the Twelve
and gave them power and authority
over all demons and to cure diseases,
and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God
and to heal the sick.

I do not have the gift of medical healing and admire those health workers who see their work as a vocation to heal. But I believe all of us are called to be healers – physically, emotionally, spiritually – so that we can live as signs of God’s reign.

Don’t be deaf to the poor

Whoever is deaf to the poor person’s cry will not be heard
when he himself cries out.
Proverbs 21: 13

 Listening to the stories of the poor is one of the blessings I have received here in Honduras.

Not only do they talk about their needs, but they often share their joys and their deep sense of God’s love in their lives.

I truly believe that a Christian life without direct contact with the poor, in some way, is very difficult, because we don’t have the opportunity to hear their joys as well as their sorrows. We miss how God is intervening in their lives and how we can be with them as they seek to respond to their needs.

Yes, help the poor, donate to groups that really help the poor, and see that government policies do not maintain the structures of injustice that keep so many poor and that governments respond to the needs of the poor.

But get to know the poor as persons.

If you visit a shelter and provide a meal, sit down and eat the meal with the people there. If you go and help on a project of building or repairing a house, sit down and talk with the persons. If you go on a “mission” trip, let yourself be evangelized by the poor by sitting with them and hearing about their lives.

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” So should we.


Giving to beggars

A dilemma which faces many of us, especially those who live in a poor country, is how to respond to beggars.

Today’s first reading (Proverbs 3:27-34) offers some advice:

 Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim
when it is in your power to do it for him.
Say not to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give,” when you can give at once.

The Christian Community Bible translation is a little more pointed:

 Do not hold back from those who ask your help,
when it is in your power to do so.
Do not say to your neighbor, “Go away! Come another time;
tomorrow I will give it to you!” when you can help him now.

The Jerusalem Bible seems to offer a middle position:

 Do not refuse a kindness to anyone who begs it,
if it is in your power to perform it.
Do not say to your neighbor, ‘ Go away! Come another time!
I will give it to you tomorrow’ if you can do it now.

So what do I do when some one comes up to me and puts out a hand for money?

I notice that most Hondurans will give a lempira (about 5.5 cents) to almost everyone who asks them. This can happen in the streets, on the busses, or even if they enter a business. Frankly, I’m surprised.

But recognizing that I might come to be known as the “hand-out” gringo, I usually tell the person: “I am sorry, but it is not my custom to give money.”

A few years ago when we had a lunch program for kids here in Santa Rosa, I would tell the kids who asked for one lempira that there was a lunch program where they could get a meal. (Sad to say the lunch program has not reopened.)

But what I try to do is to look directly at the person and say this, treating them as persons. There have been a few times I’ve offered someone a meal and went and bought it for him. (Most beggars I see are men.)

Also, recently a young man I know ran across me on the street one night. He said his father was in the hospital and needed 240 lempiras (about $12.50) for a prescription. He showed me the prescription. I know the guy – he’s thinking of priesthood and works at the radio – and so I was more open to help. I opened my wallet and found only 140 lempiras (since I had left more cash at home). I gave it all to him. Walking back home I discovered I had a small wad of bills in my pocket that I had forgotten.

I hadn’t really given him all I had, but what I could.

What is right when someone begs from us? What is he or she really due?

This is a difficult question for me but I really think the answer lies in whether we establish a relation with the person begging.

I think of Peter and John in Acts 3: 1-10, confronting the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate. “Gold and silver I have none,” Peter says, “but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up.”

Peter gave him what he had – the healing needed to bring the lame man into community with others. Peter and John “looked straight at” the beggar; they recognized their common humanity and common destiny as children of God.

So the next time someone asks you for money, do what you think best but at the very least look straight at the person, recognize him or her as a child of God, and address the person directly.

This may not be the best and most “Christian” response, but I think it is the starting point for us as we confront beggars, beginning to establish relationships.


Three saints and three spiritualities

September 17 is a day with many saints in the Catholic calendar.

For the Franciscans today is the feast of the stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1224, about this date, on Mount Alverno, Francis had a vision of Christ as a seraph and received the marks of the wounds of the crucified Christ in his body, the first recognized stigmatist in the history of the church. The wounds remind us of Francis’ great devotion to the Crucified Lord and his deep sense of a God who became incarnate as a poor man and suffered with and for us.

For Benedictines, today is the feast of St. Hildegaard of Bingen, a medieval nun who was recently declared a doctor of the church. This amazing woman wrote mystical treatises, based on visions she had since she was a child; she also composed hymns – both words and music – and wrote on herbal remedies and other topics. She is an example of the Benedictine charisms of contemplation and hospitality. Shortly before her death her convent gave sanctuary to a young man excommunicated by the church and buried him in their cemetery. For this the convent was placed under interdict which was finally lifted.

For Jesuits, today is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, also a doctor of the church. This early Jesuit taught and wrote in response to the controversies of his time, particularly in response to the Protestant Reformation. He sought God in all things and used his intellect to explain and defend the faith. But even after named a cardinal, he did not pull back from controversy. Much to the displeasure of  Pope Sixtus V, he held that the pope may not act regarding temporal matters except when they affect the spiritual order.

In a late work, The Art of Dying Well, he did not pull back from a pointed reflection on wealth, noting:

If anyone would contend that these superfluous goods are not to be given to the poor out of the rigor of the law, one cannot truly deny that they are to be given to them out of charity, for it matters little, God knows, whether one goes to hell for lack of justice or for lack of charity.

These three streams of spirituality have been a part of my life.

I spent several years in a Franciscan seminary in Callicoon, NY (high school and two years of college) and am now an associate of the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family (Dubuque). I studied at two Jesuit universities – finishing my undergraduate years at the University of Scranton and getting a Ph.D from Boston College. In addition, I have greatly profited from retreats with Jesuits, as well as from reading the work of the late Jesuit priest and friend Dean Brackley, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times. At one point in my life, in grad school in the early 1970s, my faith was renewed by retreats at Mount Saviour Monastery, near Elmira, NY, where the monks live a very simple form of Benedictine life.

These three traditions have helped me deepen my faith and for this I have to thank God.


The Cross and Father Guadalupe Carney

Take up the cross, Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Mark 8: 27-35).

Jesus had just told the apostles that he would suffer and be killed. Peter objected. Jesus is harsh in his reply, “Get behind me, Satan.”

But reading Gustavo Gutiérrez’s commentary (in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year) provides a way to see that this is not really that harsh – though it is not easy.

“Satan” means “the one who hinders.” To “get behind” can mean to follow, to be a disciple. So Jesus may be telling people – and us – to stop hindering God’s ways (which involves the cross) and follow him as a true disciple.

This is not easy – since we often look for an easy Christianity. We are afraid of the cost of discipleship.

It will mean suffering, because it means giving ourselves to God and in service to others. We will fail, at times. But as Gutiérrez notes,

The Lord will forgive our faults along the way, but he continues to call us to total fidelity which must be translated into solidarity with others, especially with the poor and forgotten.

About this date in 1983, Father James “Guadalupe” Carney, who had been a Jesuit missionary in northern Honduras, was killed by being thrown out of a helicopter by Honduran troops.

He had been stripped of his Honduran citizenship for his outspoken criticism of the injustice he saw among the campesinos where he worked in the departments of Colón and Yoro. (Sad to say this zone is still a place where injustice reigns.)

He went to Nicaragua and stayed there for several years. He connected up with a small Honduran guerrilla group and accompanied them as chaplain when they entered Honduras. They were captured and killed. Though I have problems with his connections with a violent group, I can see his point that government soldiers have chaplains and so should those who oppose the government.

But it is not his connection with the armed opposition that inspires me. Rather, his years of living with and serving the poor are an inspiration, a way of taking up the cross and following Christ.

As he once wrote:

To love Christ really is to try to live as He lived. If I love the poor as Christ did, I, too, freely choose  to become one with them, live with them, share their lives, besides trying to use my talents to help and teach them… He freely chose to become one of the masses of poor people of the world, of the eighty percent of the world who ‘have not,’ rejecting the comfortable life of the twenty percent who ‘have’ (even though he loved them too). And he tore into the system and those that held the masses in the bondage of ignorance and poverty….And he was killed for it. To be killed for my following of Christ would be my greatest joy too….

The joy comes not from suffering or being killed, I believe, but from following Christ with the poor. May we all find ways to do this – and rejoice in God’s love and solidarity with the poor, recognizing that faith without works is dead, as James writes in today’s second reading (James 2: 14-18)


Sharing sorrows – as Mary did

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates Our Lady of Sorrows, recalling how Mary shared in the sorrows of her Son, Jesus.

Here in Central America the feast is over-shrouded by the celebration of independence. There are parades and early morning firecrackers.

Some countries also celebrate Our Lady of Sorrows on the Friday before Palm Sunday. Here in Santa Rosa we have celebrated that feast with the diocesan Stations of the Cross where thousands come from all over the diocese (some traveling six or more hours in bus) to walk the streets and pray the stations.

The stations are most often related to the sufferings and injustices the people suffer. (You can read more about the Stations on my other blog here, here, here, and here.)

What strikes me is how the sufferings of Christ – and of Mary – are related to the sufferings of the people. Christ and Mary are in solidarity with the struggles of the poor.

Shouldn’t we also be in solidarity with them? Isn’t this what the first paragraph of the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” [Gaudium et Spes] calls us to be?

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.

This is for me the meaning of this feast. Sorrows are real but there is hope since Jesus and Mary are with us in our suffering and in the struggle for life and justice.

The folly of the Cross

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross.

In many ways, in the eyes of the world, the triumph of the cross is an oxymoron. Crucifixion was one of the most cruel ways to execute criminals that the Romans used, since it was often a slow death by asphyxiation. To call it a triumph seems stupid – pure folly.

And so it is.

That is also the message of the second reading for today’s Mass, Philippians 2: 6-11:

[Jesus] emptied himself,
talking the form of a slave,
…he humbled himself
becoming obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.

Jesus showed us the way of downward mobility and solidarity with the despised of the world.

This is a way that can bring joy – now and in eternity.

Last night as I read the First Vespers of the Feast I remembered the day when St. Thomas gave me a mission cross. It is a large cross which had belonged to Msgr. James Supple, the founder of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center, who spent many years there, first as pastor, than as  retiree (though he hardly retired until he died.)

Father Ev Hemann, the pastor in 2007 who died this year, gave me the cross at the weekend Masses. On the back are inscribed these words of St. Thomas Aquinas:

If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way.

So today I feel a desire to recommit myself to my mission, to take Christ, walking the way with him in the byways of rural Honduras, sharing the cross of the impoverished and oppressed.

ADDENDUM: This morning I got a call to bring the Eucharist with me when I go out to a meeting of one of the zones of Dulce Nombre parish – sharing Christ with God’s people.

Love even your enemies

Twice in today’s Gospel (Luke 6: 27-38) Jesus tells us to “love your enemies.”

In light of the anniversary of the events of September 11 and the killings in Libya, some may say this is unrealistic. But Jesus says this – and St. Paul calls us to “bless those who persecute you” (Romans 12: 14).

This is not easy, especially since we often reduce loving to sentimentality.

But love is not mere sentimentality. Love means, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, willing the good of the other person. We want the other person’s welfare. We seek the others’ conversion to the good.

Blessed John Duns Scotus says that love is wishing the other person to be. Recognizing the other as a person we wish that person be, exist.

Such philosophic definitions are useful in helping us see that God wants life for all, wants us to seek the good of the other, even the enemy – which means, respecting that person’s life.

This does not mean that we overlook the evil actions of other but that we recognize that all of us humans are connected as children of God, with all our faults. At times we must speak the truth, as did today’s saint, John Chrysostom, who did not stop castigating the empress and others for their luxurious life styles and their neglect of the poor. But we must learn to do it with love.

And so today, I ask God to help me love all, to do good to all, even those who oppose me.

It’s not easy. Dorothy Day knew this as she often quoted this line from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams.


Stephen Biko – prophet

Thirty five years ago, on September 12, 1977, Stephen Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa, died in detention.

He had been beaten and suffered from inadequate – almost non-existent – medical attention. After being taken, naked and in chains, on a 705 mile ride in a Land Rover to a prison hospital (instead of going to the local hospital), he died, a victim of the apartheid system.

Last year I wrote here on his concern that the table of life in South Africa be set by the people, not the outsiders, an insight that has affected me since I read it about thirty years ago.

But today I’d like to share a quote on Black Consciousness that Robert Ellsberg uses in  All Saints.

The sense of defeat is what we are fighting against. People must not just give in to the hardship of life. People must develop a hope. People must develop some form of security to be together to look a their problems, and people must, in this way, buildup their humanity.

This is what Biko and others tried to do in the Black Consciousness movement. And this is what I hope happens among the people I serve, perhaps in a small way through my ministry.

The world and the political and economic power structures here in Honduras (and in many other places) treat the poor as if they are worthless and nothing which often reinforces (and, at times, causes) low self-esteem.

What a difference from what Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:20):

Fortunate are you who are poor, for yours is the Reign of God.

Would that we remembered the poor – not as victims – but as God’s chosen people who have a mission and a dignity that so many would deny.





Day of remembrance

September 11, 2011, is a day that many people will not forget.

But I think it would be good to remember any number of other events that happened on this date:

2001: attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and another airplane

2001: Father Michal Judge, OFM, Franciscan friar, New York Fire Department chaplain, killed at the World Trade Center while ministering to the victims.

1999: Father Karl Albrecht, S.J., German Jesuit missionary, killed in East Timor.

1993: Assassination of Antoine Izmery, Haitian businessman and friend of the poor.

1990: Assassination of Myrna Mack, Guatemalan anthropologist and human rights advocate, in Guatemala City.

1988: Attack on the church of Saint Jean Bosco in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which left between 13 and 50 dead and 80 wounded.

1981: Sebastiana Mendoza, indigenous catechist, promoter of Caritas in El Quiche, abducted from the Guatemala City cathedral.

1973: US supported coup against elected Chilean president Salvador Allende which resulted in deaths, abductions, and years of terror and repression.

1919: US marines invade Honduras

1649: Cromwell’s forces kill 3000 at Drogheda, Ireland

So much death and injustice cries out to God for justice, peace, and life.