Monthly Archives: June 2013

Calling down judgment – or not

You do not know of what spirit you are.
The Son of Man came not to destroy lives,
but to save them.
Luke 9: 55-56

 Catholics will not hear these words when they listen to today’s Gospel, Luke 9: 51-62. These words are found in various manuscripts and have largely been excluded from most mainstream Bibles, though they are found in a footnote in the Jerusalem Bible as well as in the text in the Douay-Rheims translation.

Yet I think they should be heard, loud and clear.

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and has to pass through Samaritan territory – a land of people despised by many. He sends some folks ahead to prepare to visit a Samaritan village, but they are rejected.

James and John , the “Sons of Thunder” object and suggest that they call down fire against them to consume them. Various manuscripts add, “as Elijah did.”  They want a punitive God, who strikes down the foe.

Does this sound a bit like our situation today where some are so willing to condemn others to hell or other punishment?

But Jesus rebukes them. At this point the other manuscripts add, “You do not know of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy live, but to save them.”

I first noted the significance of these phrases about 1980 when the country was debating issues of the use of nuclear weapons. Today, the use of terror tactics and killer drones suggests that the phrases are still relevant.

It is also relevant in light of the divisiveness and harsh language used in political and religious discourse – what America editor Fr. Matt Malone, S,J., called “the toxin of ideological partisanship.”

But this is not not just about political and military policies. It is about our spirits.

Are we people who seek to conquer our enemies by destroying them? Or do we respond as Jesus does, who calls us to “love our enemies”?


Peter’s jailbreak and our fears

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34: 5

Today’s first reading (Acts 12: 1-11) is one of several major jailbreaks found in the Acts of the Apostles. After the apostle James had been killed, Peter was arrested.

Waiting in jail, bound by chains and with four squads of four soldiers each, Peter is awaiting trial and death. But God has other plans.

An angel enters Peter’s cell, filling it with light, but the two guards at his side don’t wake up or notice anything. The angel tells him to get up and as he rises the chains fall off. He walks right past the guards and passes through the prison gates.

There is a beautiful portrayal by Rafael of this scene in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

Rafael's Deliverance of Peter (detail)

Rafael’s Deliverance of Peter (detail)

Paul and Silas are also rescued from jail, but by an earthquake (Acts 16: 23-40).

And so Paul writes (in Romans 8: 38-39):

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The message of Christ is a message that casts out fear.

For many of us our lives are ruled by fear – fear of loss, fear of risks, fear of and fear of death. Thus tyrants, criminals, and dictators rule by fear.

We want security – and so risks are what frighten us. We become afraid of the Other and demonize those who are different from us.

But when we encounter a person free from fear, we have a glimpse of the power of God to overcome evil and death – not by the sword but by the gift of one’s life.

That’s why saints Peter and Paul should inspire us today – their courage, their freedom from fear enabled them to go beyond their weaknesses and let the power of Christ work in them. It enabled them to die – but, first of all, to live lives of commitment, love, and testimony to God’s saving power.

St. Paul outside the Wall, Rome

St. Paul outside the Wall, Rome

The glory of God

Today is the feast of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, who was both a peacemaker and a defender of the faith.

One of the major challenges of his time was Gnosticism, a belief in the absolute separation of matter, which is bad, and spirit, which is good. Thus, with a secret knowledge (gnosis) one should struggle to free oneself from the body. Thus Gnosticism had little use for the Incarnation, God becoming flesh.

In his treatise Against Heresies, he wrote:

For the glory of God is a living human being; and the life of a human consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.

The Incarnation thus is the revelation of God’s life and God’s desire for us to behold Him and live.

In his address at the University of Louvain in 1980, weeks before his martyrdom, Archbishop Oscar Romero closed his address on The Political Dimension of Faith with a rephrasing of the words of St. Irenaeus.

The Christians of old used to say: “Gloria Dei, vivens homo.” (The Glory of God is the human person who is alive.) We could make this concrete saying: “Gloria Dei, vivens pauper.” (The Glory of God is the poor person who is alive.) We believe that from the transcended of the Gospel we can judge in what consists in truth the life of the poor; and we also believe that by putting ourselves on the side of the poor and trying to give them life we will in what consists the eternal truth of the Gospel.

The incarnation of Christ as a poor man in a poor and oppressed land is what gives us the inspiration and the challenge to be with the poor, to be on their side, so that the glory of God may be revealed in us. It is what will give life, in a world torn apart by poverty and radical inequity.



prophets like John the Baptist


St. John, Chartres Cathedral

Today is the feast of the birthday of St. John the Baptist, one of only three births that the Catholic Church celebrates (the others being Christmas and Mary’s Nativity).

One of my favorite meditations on the Baptist was written in a Nazi prison by Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, as one of his Advent and Christmas meditations, in 1944.

He poignantly calls for real prophets like John for every age:

…where are the voices that should ring out in protest and accusation? There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period; brave [people] inspired by the dynamic compulsion of the mission to which they are dedicated, true witnesses following the lead of their hearts and endowed with clear vision and unerring judgment.… Such [people] proclaim the message of healing and salvation. They warn [people] of [their] chance, because they already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet, feel the beams cracking and the great mountains shuddering inwardly and the stars swinging in space. They cry out to [people], urging [them] to save [themselves] by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm [them].

In the midst of crisis we need such people who quietly are lights to the nations, proclaiming a message of conversion and love, as did St. John.

Looking on the pierced

…they shall look on him whom they have pierced
Zechariah 12: 10 

 Most Christians, following the lead of John 19: 37, read this passage as a reference to Christ on the cross.

This is especially easy way to read the passage when an alternative reading translates it as “they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced,” in the Douay Rheims translation.

It is critical that we look upon the crucified Christ. Indeed, this is one of the important meditations in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.

But Tanakh, a Jewish translation of the scriptures, is different and divides the text in a unique way, placing it with verse 9:

In that day I will all but annihilate all the nations that came up against Jerusalem. But I will fill the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem with a spirit of pity and compassion; ands they shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them as over a favorite son and showing bitter grief as over a first-born.

When I read it I wondered if this compassion and weeping were meant not just for the fallen of Jerusalem but for the nations annihilated as they attacked the Holy City.

No matter what the intentions of the writer of this text, I think it can open for us the importance to look on those who are pierced in this world.

Or, as the Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino put it:

Concluding his meditation on sin [in the Spiritual Exercises], St. Ignatius Loyola asks us to look at the crucified Christ and ask ourselves what have we done to him, what are we doing for him, and what are we going to do for him. Ignacio Ellacuría. . . asks us to place ourselves before the crucified people [of the world] and answer the same three questions: What have I done to crucify them? What am I doing to take them down from the cross? what should I do to ensure their resurrection?

Today, let us look upon the pierced of the world – those pierced by poverty and injustice, those pierced by the arms of war, those pierced by violence and discrimination.

And thus may “a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1)  be opened up for all of us.


Last night I slept at Dulce Nombre, because the Parish Council meeting lasted until about 9:00 pm.

It’s not uncommon for me to stay there for a night – in a nice room with a good bed.

But last night I had trouble sleeping – and I woke up early, serenaded by the roosters and chickens right outside the window.

In a dream I recall seeing the face of a little girl. As she got closer to my face, she had such a beautiful smile – and I smiled in return.

At that point I woke up, but with a deep sense of peace and joy. I realized that I’d been blessed with joy – and the smile of the little girl opened up my heart to the joy that was already there.

How often do we fail to see the joy and peace in our hearts. Sometimes it takes a dream – but more often it takes the smile of a child, the hand on the shoulder from a friend, a word.

Help me, Lord, see that joy and peace that are offered to me every day.




A priggish saint

Sometimes I wonder about some of the saints. Today’s saint, the Jesuit Aloysius Gonzaga, who died at the age of twenty-two in 1591. Though I prayed at his tomb in Rome earlier this year, I have some reservations about his life.

I’m not the only one. Even his spiritual director, St. Robert Bellarmine, thought he was too extreme an example to follow. He is variously described as being priggish, scrupulous, almost masochistic in his mortifications of the body, afraid of women, and obsessed with the hope of an early death – though he seemed to grow out of the last in the last months of his short life and the Jesuits seem to have moderated his ascetic practices. A letter to his mother in the Benedictine Daily Prayer seems morbid in his desire to “escape” earthly existence.

But one writer suggests that this may be a reaction to his upbringing in great wealth. The oldest son of the Marquis of Castigilione, he grew up among guns and military parades. He even spent time at the Medici court in Florence. His father tried to prevent him from entering the Jesuits, giving him a tour of Europe. But he persisted in his dream.

Faced with exorbitant wealth, he wanted to turn away from this world. He could have lived in splendor and comfort, but it offered him no satisfaction.

In today’s first reading St. Paul boasts of his life – not of comfort but of suffering. The closing line (2 Corinthians 11:30)  might also be referred to St. Aloysius:

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Aloysius took to heart today’s Gospel, Matthew 6: 20-21

…store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

And where was his heart? In heaven, but also with the suffering.

Shortly before he died he worked in a Jesuit-founded hospital with plague victims. He caught the plague, recuperated, but then after a relapse died.

Today’s prayer in Spanish speaks to me,

…though we may have failed to follow Aloysius in innocence, may we follow him in charity.

This appeals to me a bit more than the English version

though we have failed to follow him in innocence, may we imitate him in penitence

Though we need to be penitent, charity covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4: 8). Perhaps that’s what Aloysius learned in the last months of his short life. He put his heart with the suffering – and so opened himself to heaven.


Becoming one with the poor

…you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that for your sake he became poor although he was rich,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8: 9

God became poor.

It’s as simple and challenging as that.

God gave up power and identified with the poor.

This passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and the hymn to the God who emptied self (Philippians 2: 5-22) continue to challenge me, even as I minister here in Honduras among the poor. For i continue to live a rather middle class life.

And so, how am I called to follow Christ’s incarnation among the poor?

The Brazilian theologian Silvia Regina De Lima Silva posits a first step: contact with the poor.

I see the option for the poor as a change in our social position. You choose to begin to think about things from the perspective of the poor. Often this becomes a change not just in social place, but in geographic place. That is, if you want to opt for the poor you must at least have contact with these poor persons. Sometimes, not always, you also have to live with these poor persons, share in their lives.

I have a lot of contact with the poor, though not as much as I would like. But is that enough?

I think a second step is needed: recognition of the dignity of the poor, that I am not superior to them.

As retired bishop Dom Pedro Casadaliga said:

When I begin to understand that every other person, every poor person is an equal to myself, I can no longer retain my privileges, because to do that would be robbery. I cannot merely give donations, I must pay back what I owe. There’s a difference.

In my ministry with the poor, I try to remember that I am not above them, beter than them. Even when I’m leading a training of catechists, I try to reveal to them and to me that this is a joint process of learning, of finding God and sharing God’s love.

That will mean a change of life, The late US Jesuit, Dean Brackley, who served many years in El Salvador puts it well:

In the [United] States, the great challenge for Christianity is now downward mobility, if that makes sense. The challenge is not to help the poor to join the rich; it’s to help the rich join the poor. That’s where our salvation is. Remember what St. Ignatius called the dangerous road: the road of riches, honor and pride. Its converse is Christ’s road: the road of poverty, humiliation, persecution, humility. That’s where we find life.

This downward mobility will mean for some a change of place, a change of career. But fundamentally it requires of us a change of heart, putting our heart with the poor, as Jesus did.

As Brazilian theologian Clodovis Boff put it:

…it is not possible for a rich person, as a rich person, to be a Christian unless he puts his riches, his position, his strength at the service of the poor — which is extremely rare. It’s like a personal death.

As for the middle class, normally they don’t have such a firm class position, they blow with the wind, revolutionary or reactionary. The option for the poor demands a decision, a definition of class. It doesn’t matter what class or profession you are. The important thing is what side you’re on. In what direction do you put your strength as a professor, a doctor, a landowner, a business person.

What side am I on?

Jesus identified with the side of the poor.

Do I?

All the quotations, except for Dean Brackley’s, come from Mev Puleo’s The Struggle Is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation.

The nonviolent imagination of Jesus

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn the other to him as well.
Matthew 5: 39

 For many years I have thought that violence is a symptom of our lack of imagination.

 And so it was reaffirming to read John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, where he writes:

Transcending violence is forged by the capacity to generate, mobilize, and build the moral imagination.… Stated simply, the moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships that includes our enemies; the ability to sustain a paradoxical curiosity that embraces complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity; the fundamental belief in and pursuit of the creative act; and the acceptance of the inherent risk of stepping into the mystery of the unknown that lies beyond the far too familiar landscape of violence.

We followers of Christ have been so taken in by the redemptive myth of violence that we fail to see the imaginative power of today’s lectionary reading from Matthew 5: 38 – 42. We take it as a mere private morality, with no political or social intent.

But it was blacks facing fire hoses and more in the south who mobilized the nation against segregation. It was Christians in Chile who also faced fire hoses as they stood before places of torture who prepared the war for the fall of a dictator. It is the young people of Turkey who faced tear gas and fire hoses who may, I pray open up the way to justice and democracy there.

Walter Wink wrote of the power of Jesus’ examples in the Gospels. See especially his small book Jesus and Nonviolence: a Third Way.  There he offers these aspects of that third way that we might practice – in our personal lives as well as in our struggles for justice, truly imaginative responses and initiatives:

  • Seize the moral initiative.
  • Find a creative alternative to violence.
  • Asset your own humanity and dignity as a person.
  • Meet force with ridicule or humor.
  • Break the cycle of humiliation.
  • Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position.
  • Expose the injustice of the system.
  • Take control of the power dynamic.
  • Shame the oppressor into repentance.
  • Stand your ground.
  • Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared.
  • Recognize your own power.
  • Be wiling to suffer rather than to retaliate.
  • Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light.
  • Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective.
  • Be willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws.
  • Die to fear of the old order and its rules.

I think theologian Diana L. Hayes sums it up well in her reflection for today in Give Us This Day:

Turning one’s cheek does not mean surrendering to bullies. It means learning how to stand, strong in faith, and overcome anger and hatred with love and compassion.

Confronting and forgiving sinners

When I first read the first reading in today’s lectionary (2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13), I didn’t see its relation to the Gospel – the public sinner who washes the feet of Jesus to the consternation of the Pharisee (Luke 7: 36-50).

The prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin – impregnating Bathsheba, having her husband Uriah killed, and then taking her as another one of his wives.

In one way, both readings talk of God’s mercy and forgiveness. “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.” Nathan tells David. “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace,” Jesus tells the woman.

God’s forgiveness is a crucial message today.

As Gustavo Gutiérrez commented (Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year, p. 167) :

In the context of our violent and vindictive society, we should reflect more creatively on the effectiveness of pardon granted not as a sign of weakness and impotence but as an expression of a love which can generate new behaviors that respect the dignity of [persons] and build up authentic peace and justice.

But something else struck me.

Nathan clearly tells David that he has sinned in killing Uriah and taking his wife as his. But Jesus does not ever mention the particular sin of the woman who washed and anointed his feet.

David did not recognize his sinfulness, but the woman’s tears reveal her recognition of her sinfulness.

But there is something else.

David is a man of power, whereas the woman is an outsider, despised by the Pharisee and others. The outsider is received with mercy and compassion and is sent away with a sense of her dignity” “Your faith has saved you.”

Often, the powerful need strong and direct words so that they might change.

God seeks the conversion of all – but is more direct with the powerful. The weak are treated with mercy and compassion – and understanding.

So too in our speaking of sin we should probably be more critical of the powerful than the weak.

But it is easy to demean the poor for their supposed laziness and sinfulness. How often do we neglect to speak forcibly to the rich and the powerful. We want to get on their good side, to get some benefits – financial or other.

But God loves the poor, the sinful, the outsiders with a special love.

Should we do any less?