Monthly Archives: February 2013

Pope Benedict and the rich man and Lazarus

Today’s Gospel, from Luke 16: 19-31, is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Some translations call the rich man “Dives,” but that is only the Latin word for “rich.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy will include his concern for the poor and his critique of the Western economic system. But it is rooted in his concern for the poor and their dignity.

In his 2012 Lenten message he wrote these words about today’s parable:

In [the parable] of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of the poverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Lk 16:19). Both parables [the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man and Lazarus] show examples of the opposite of “being concerned”, of looking upon others with love and compassion. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of “showing mercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy. “The upright understands the cause of the weak, the wicked has not the wit to understand it” (Prov 29:7). We can then understand the beatitude of “those who mourn” (Mt 5:5), those who in effect are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness.

May we learn to see the poor as our sisters and brothers, to not hold on to our possessions and power, but to share in “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…” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 1)

That perhaps would be the best way we could remember and honor Pope Benedict XVI.


Remembering the Way of the Cross of the massacred

On February 28 thirty years ago, hundreds of campesinos, fleeing the Salvadoran army, were killed in and near Tenango and Guadalupe in the municipality of Suchitoto, El Salvador.

tenango poster

1999 poster commemorating the massacre

This was but one of the massacres experienced by the Salvadoran people during and before the civil war, a war in which Salvadoran government forces were aided by the US government, up to one million dollars a day during the 1980s.

I have spoken with some of the survivors of the massacre, people I knew when I worked with and visiting the parish of Suchitoto.

What stuck me was one story that shows the faith of the people and helps us connect their suffering with the suffering of Christ, something we might do during this Lent.

In the evening before the massacre, there were, according to one eyewitness, about 900 people gathered together for a celebration of the Word. They had come fleeing from Palo Grande, Platanares, and Chaparral and were quite afraid. As they met, they reflected that Christ had struggled and suffered. “He had to flee from one place to another because he was being persecuted. So we too have to walk here afflicted, persecuted. If not, we’ll all have to die and the revolution will not go forward.” With these words they felt comforted.

The next morning as they were fleeing up a hill the army attacked them. The hill was covered with people, suffering, as a witness said, their Way of the Cross.

As we live this Lent, in prayer, repentance, and fasting, let’s remember all those who have suffered from oppressive regimes, especially those regimes which have received aid from the US.

Lord, have mercy on us and our nation.


True greatness

If you want to be first,
make yourself the servant of all.
Matthew 20: 27

Today’s Gospel, Matthew 20: 20-28, with its parallel in Mark 10: 35-45, is one of my favorite Gospel passages, especially in light of Martin Luther King, Jr., sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” available here.

But instead of commenting on this again, as I did here and here, I’d like to share my translation of a prayer by Madre Francisca Pascual Domenech, founder of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. Five of them live down the street from me here in Santa Rosa de Copán. Sor María Jesús shared this last night on her Facebook page.

Father, full of mercy,
You who have shown us
that the only way to live humanly is love.

Teach us to leave behind egoism,
to not fear to say “YES”
to all the needs we encounter on our paths.

Teach us, Lord,to give you thanks for your mercy,
and to ask you pardon for our hardness of heart
and lack of confidence facing our sisters and brothers.

Teach us, merciful Jesus,
to form the community of love and hope,
that you want us to be.

We trust you and we believe in you,
merciful God,
Father, full of kindness,
who have made Christ our brother
and have given us the Spirit
who gives us life and hope.

Here is the Spanish original:

Padre, lleno de misericordia Tu que nos has mostrado,
que el único camino para vivir humanamente es el amor.

ENSEÑANOS a salir del egoismo,
a no tener miedo a decir “SI” a todas las necesidades
que encontramos a nuestro paso,

las gracias por tu misericordia
Y a pedirte perdón por nuestras durezas
y desconfianzas frente a nuestros hermanos.

ENSEÑANOS, Jesús misericordioso,
a formar la comunidad de amor y esperanza,
que tu quieres que seamos

Confiamos en Ti y creemos en Ti, Dios misericordioso,
Padre lleno de bondad,
Que has hecho de Cristo, nuestro hermano
Y nos has dado el Espíritu
Que nos da la vida y esperanza.

Truncated readings

The Catholic lectionary, to emphasize a point, often leaves out verses for a reading, as in today’s first reading from Isaiah 1.

The emphasis of today’s lectionary reading (Isaiah 1: 10, 16-20) is on caring for the poor and the mercy of God who calls us to conversion.

But what was left out?

Isaiah castigates the people for their lack of justice while they continue to offer sacrifices in the temple.

I am sated with burnt offerings…
Bringing oblations is futile,
Incense is offensive to Me….
Though you pray at length,
I will not listen.

But why?

Your hands are stained with blood.

And the response called for?

Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.
Devote yourself to justice…
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Isaiah’s call to care for the poor and marginalized is decontextualized if we fail to see his disgust at worship that does not call for us to put away violence and injustice.

All too often the advocates of good liturgy and those of social justice are at odds. But it is not an either/or; it’s both/and.

I attribute part of my concern for social justice to the liturgical movement in the US in the early 1960s when justice and worship were seen as two integral parts of life as a Catholic Christian. Going back to the Benedictine Dom Virgil Michel of St. John’s in Minnesota, liturgy needs to be connected to life and to lead us to living the liturgy in what we do in our daily lives.

If we want to share in the Body of Christ in the Eucharist we should also share with Christ in the poor. If we share with Christ in the poor, we ought to turn to the source of Love and partake of the Eucharist.

That’s the message of Isaiah – and of Jesus and of many saints and witnesses – that we need to live today, in a world full of poverty and divisions.


A Cuban priest philosopher

On February 25, 1853, Padre Feliz Varela died in Saint Augustine, Florida, at the age of sixty-five.

Padre Varela was born in Havana, Cuba, and became a priest there. His studies in philosophy led him to teach at San Carlos College.

He was so well esteemed that he was chosen as a delegate to the Spanish Cortes in Madrid in 1821. But he didn’t stay there long.

He proposed independence for Cuba and the abolition of slavery, both causes that did not please the Spanish Cortes. He had to flee in 1823 and wound up in New York  City.

In New York he ministered to the poor Irish immigrants but also founded a newspaper in Spanish that advocated Cuban independence. His efforts did not please the Spanish government and an assassin was hired.

Padre Varela earned a doctorate in theology and wrote on liberty and religion, including a two volume work Letters to Elpidio.

He was a priest ahead of his times – advocating liberty, calling for independence of his Latin American homeland, and being the first Hispanic theologian in the US.

He was buried in Florida but his remains were later moved to Habana, where they rest, venerated by people of all political and religious persuasions as a Cuban patriot.

I have not read his work but it might be good to see what was said about religion and liberty more than 160 years ago. One quote of Padre Varela is

I have always concluded that Christianity and liberty are inseparable.



Transfiguration of Jesus and the poor

In the Catholic lectionary the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is the Transfiguration of Jesus, this year from Luke 9: 28-36.

Back in Honduras, after a pilgrimage to Italy, I realize how much my experience with the poor in the countryside influences my reading of scripture.

This morning I read the reflection on the readings in The Word Engaged, by the late Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J. It is a great reflection and you can read it here. But I realized that it is meant especially for North American readers.

Here in Honduras, I see the readings today as signs of hope for the poor.

This was reinforced by my reading of sections of St. Leo the Great’s Sermon 51, as found in Benedictine Daily Prayer:

 The Transfiguration showed that the members of Christ’s Body could expect to share in the glory, revealed in their Head.

Jesus, St. Leo went on to explain:

…took upon Himself the full burden of our lowliness…

Yesterday I went out with Father German to two remote villages in the parish of Dulce Nombre de Copán where he celebrated Mass. The poverty of the people is clear, as is their faith.

In the second village he remarked that in a capitalistic society, where people are valued by what they produce and consume, the poor are nothing, without value. But, he said, you have a great worth and dignity, made in the image and likeness of God.

This reinforced my concern that the people we serve have to recover their dignity, which the Honduran society, economy, and culture often deny them.

They have to realize that they are beloved sons and daughters of God, followers of a lowly God who became flesh among the poor, of a God who transfigures us.

In Philippians 3:21, from today’s second reading, Paul tells the people

The Lord Jesus Christ will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body.

The Lord truly raises up the lowly, as Mary sang in the Magnificat (Luke1:58) – something that our culture and economic systems fail to understand, worshiping the god that fills up our bellies (Philippians 3:19).

But this is the message that we need to hear this Lent, a time for conversion, for recognizing that our glory comes from a God who sees us as His beloved sons and daughters.

And it is a message that the poor, the marginalized, and the abandoned of the world especially need to hear and that we who are among the rich and comfortable need to take seriously, especially in our relation to the lowly of this world.

Love (and feed) your enemies

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father…”
Mathew 5: 43-45

 These words from today’s Gospel are among the most challenging of Jesus’ sayings, because it is so easy to confine our love to those we know and like. It is difficult to love those who hate us, who persecute us, or who even just rub us the wrong way.

But that was what Jesus did, even forgiving those who nailed Him to the cross.

Today the churches celebrate the early apostolic father Polycarp who was killed for his faith. There is much that Polycarp can teach us, not only in his rejection of Gnosticism which would propose an otherworldly God and Marcionism which rejected the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament). He also went to Rome and had an amicable disagreement with the Bishop of Rome over the date of Easter; though he did not convince the Bishop of Rome, the Eastern Church was enabled to continue its practices and Polycarp celebrated a Mass in Rome.

But the account of his martyrdom, written shortly after his death, presents his death as a “martyrdom conformable to the Gospel,” suggesting parallels between the death of Jesus and that of Polycarp.

But what struck me, in light of today’s Gospel, is that, when the government forces found Polycarp on a farm, he not only refused to escape but invited those who would kill him to a meal while he prayed:

 His pursuers … went forth at supper-time…, with their usual weapons, as if going out against a robber. And arriving about evening, they found him lying down in the upper room of a certain little house, from which he might have escaped into another place.  So when he heard that they had come, he went down and spoke with them…. Immediately… he ordered that something to eat and drink should be set before them, as much indeed as they cared for, while he asked them to allow him an hour to pray without disturbance. And when they let him, he stood and prayed, being full of the grace of God, so that he could not cease for two full hours…
                                    Martyrdom of Polycarp, chapter 7

He invited them to eat and amazed them so much that they almost decided to let him go.

Would that we would find ways to prepare a meal for our enemies and that nations would also do the same.

I am reminded of a campaign of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the 1950s when a famine was ravaging communist China. They had members send in bags of grain to the White House with the simple, biblical message, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.”

The US did not send grain to China but when the cabinet was considering bombing China in reaction to attacks on the islands of Quemoy and Matsu, President Eisenhower asked one cabinet member how many bags of grain had arrived. That probably prevented an attack on China which could have had devastating results.

And so, today, let us pray that, like Jesus and Polycarp, we can love our enemies.


Saved by beauty

I believe it was Dostoevsky who said that we will be saved by beauty.

Today is the feast of Fra Angelico, famous for his frescoes in the Dominican friary of San Marco in Florence, which has been one of the highlightts of my trip to Italy.

What impressed me in San Marco is how he brought to each room an event in the life of Christ, as well as some reminder of the saints, especially those of the Order of Preachers.

He also, at least in the Annunciation fresco, added elements that the friars would encounter in their daily lives.

Our call is read the scriptures in the light of our lives, illuminated by the lives of the witnesses of faith who haves gone before us.

Fra Angelico has done this for me.

Surrounded by witnesses

I have been writing little this last week or so, since I am on a pilgrimage/vacation in Italy until this coming Thursday morning.

It has been for me a deeply moving spiritual experience, full of discoveries, personal and other.

An important aspect of the places I’ve visited is how much they reveal that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).

The sites, especially in Assisi and Rome, are where saints and other witnesses to the God of love and justice had walked.

I have also experienced a call to pray for specific persons at particular places – Franciscan friends in Assisi,, Jesuit friends in the chapel where Ignatius died, a friend who mother is ill in several places.

We are not only surrounded by witnesses; we are called to intercede for those who also surround us.

I’ll have to return to this later, but wanted to note that you are in my prayers as I experience the cloud of witnesses in an special way.


Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter. (Mark 6:25) John lost his head because he spoke up to those in power. He offended Herodias because she condemned Herod’s taking her from his brother. I’m in Florence … Continue reading