Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ignatius and the treasure hidden in the field

The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matthew 13: 44

St. Ignatius death mask

A central aspect of the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola is finding God in all things.

I think the image of Jesus along with Ignatius’ spirituality can help us in our search for God.

What could that treasure buried in the field be?

The Reign of God, Jesus says.

Yes, but what does it look like?

Could it be the presence of God which we overlook as we float through our days?

Could it be the simple signs of God’s love that are there, just below the surface of our lives, if we would clear away the distractions?

Could it the Love of God at the center of all that is but which we forget as we let ourselves be overwhelmed by evil and injustice?

Could that treasure be God calling us to listen and respond with loving attention?

As Ignatius prayed:

May it please the supreme and abundant Goodness
to give us all abundant grace
ever to know His most holy will
and perfectly to fulfill it.

Finding what is the will of God in the midst of our daily lives is finding that treasure.

Our dignity and God’s devotion to us

Today’s saint, Peter Chrysologus, was bishop of Ravenna in the fifth century.

Ravenna is a city full of beautiful churches, adorned with shining mosaics. An imperial city the churches are often large and imposing, with shining mosaics that depicted an imperial Christ.

The three most impressive churches were built in the sixth century. San Vitale even has the emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora depicted, bearing a paten and a chalice. They are both crowned with a nimbus – a symbol, as one guidebook put it, of the divine origin of their power.

There is one little church, near San Vitale, the mausoleum of Galla Placida, originally dedicated to Saint Lawrence, that was built between 425 and 430. The ceiling is star-studded with a cross in the center. On one wall there is a beautiful mosaic of a beardless Christ, the Good Shepherd, seated among the sheep.

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

I wonder if this image of Jesus is one that inspired St. Peter Chrysologus.

In the midst of this imperial city Saint Peter was known for his preaching. There is one touching sermon on the Incarnation, which is used in Benedictine Daily Prayer, that I think provides a startling counterpoint to the grandeur of the imperial version of Christianity and seems more attuned to this image of the Good Shepherd, that he may have gazed on.

Imagine you are a simple worker – or even a slave – in Ravenna. You go to Mass and hear the bishop proclaim:

 “O human kind, why do you think so little of yourself when God thinks so highly of you? Why dishonor yourself when God so honors you? Why be so concerned with the stuff from which you are made? All visible creation is your home….

“More than this, the Creator made you his image and earthly representative. Then when he had made in you he took to himself and decided to make himself in human form. Humankind is no longer simply the Creator’s image but his very self.”

This is a message that speaks to my heart – the love of God gives us dignity.

It is also the message that so many of the people I work with in Honduras need to hear.

You have a dignity. God became flesh like you. God’s birth is, as St. Peter Chrysologus said in the same sermon, “a mystery of God’s devotion to us and of the renewal of humanity.”

In a world that despises the poor, in a society that looks down upon them, in a culture where the poor have taken on themselves a mindset of their powerlessness and worthlessness, this is the message that needs to be heard.

And it is also the message that those of us who have power and things that make us assume we are worthy need to hear so that we may see the dignity of the poor.

Our dignity comes from God – not from what we do or have, but from who we are, made on God’s image, and sisters and brothers, one in flesh, of the incarnate Word of God.

Love

July has been a difficult month for me. I am slowly recuperating from a bad case of bronchitis. My car has had numerous problems – brakes (twice), alternator (twice), clutch, and brake booster.

What’s almost worse is that the last week I have not gotten out to the countryside – which is what really gives me deep joy. Yesterday I did help with a workshop on Human Rights and Catholic Social Thought with campesinos from the rural areas of the Santa Rosa parish. But that’s different than being with the people where they live and work.

But this morning as I awoke – after sleeping in till 6:45 am – I had a sense that God was telling me:

I love you and I want you to share my Love with the world, with the poor.

In one way this reflects my experience in the chapel of the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi, before the San Damiano crucifix that spoke to Francis. As I knelt in prayer, I found myself asking God what I was to do.

Love. Love Me. Love My people. Love the poor.

All so simple – except when it comes to putting it into practice.

Crucified Christ in Santiago Atitlán Church

Crucified Christ in Santiago Atitlán Church

But then this morning, reading the entry for Father Stan Rother in Robert Ellsberg’s  All Saints,  I came across this request that Father Stan made to his friends, a few months before being killed on July 28, 1981, in his parish in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, a request that I make:

Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.

So today I need to remember God’s love for me and ask for the love to be a sign of Christ’s love.

As Father Stan did, so do I ask for your prayers.

We are in this together.

It’s all too simple.

 

Seeking and sent as apostle

I will seek him
whom my soul loves.
Song of Songs 3:4

Today is the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Her story has inspired many artists – from Donatello to Fra Angelico. But her life has often been confused with two other women in the Gospels, the woman who washed the feet of Jesus and Mary of Bethany. St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great are most responsible for this conflation of three women into one and thus the image of Mary Magdalen as a public sinner, a former prostitute.

But the image that today’s readings give is of a woman who loved the Lord, sought Him, and was sent by the Lord.

John’s Gospel (20: 1018) presents her as the first witness to the resurrection.

She went to the garden tomb weeping – especially when she saw the empty tomb. But the Lord appeared to he and she thought he was the gardener. He gives her a message – go and tell my brothers.

based on Fra Angelico's fresco

based on Fra Angelico’s fresco

She is sent – an apostle to the apostles – to tell them that the Lord is risen.

She who had followed Jesus during his life, even standing at the foot of the Cross, is – in John’s Gospel – the first to see the risen Lord and the one entrusted to carry the Good news of the resurrection to the apostles.

How can we be like Mary?

Seek the Lord.

Accompany Him on the paths he walks..

Be with Him in His suffering and death.

Seek his Body.

Let oneself be surprised by the risen Lord.

Announce the Good News that He is risen – hope is born.

Welcome the stranger

Remember always to welcome strangers,
for through it some have
entertained angels unaware.
Hebrews 13: 2

In many Catholic churches today the homily will be on the Gospel story of Mary and Martha. It’s a shame that many will probably not reflect on today’s first reading from Genesis (8: 1-10), the beautiful story of Abraham, Sarah, and the three visitors.

The most famous image is Andrei Rublev’s icon The Trinity, but forty years ago I saw an icon in Athens with Abraham and Sarah in the background as the three visitors ate. About ten years ago I found a miniature in Jerusalem that I’ve placed at the entrance of my home here in Honduras.

abraham3visitors

But reading the text this morning something struck me that I had never noticed before.

Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent at the hottest time of day. He looked up and saw them standing there and then:

 When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them.

He did not wait for them to approach. He took the initiative to welcome them, offer them water to bathe their feet and food to eat.

Welcoming the stranger is not merely waiting for someone to come and ask for help. As Abraham took the initiative so should we.

Like the Good Samaritan of last Sunday’s Gospel, we are called to see, feel compassion, and draw near – making ourselves neighbor to those who are in need or are passing by.

Welcoming the stranger is not merely waiting for them to come; it’s a positive act of welcome.

Come. Sit here with me. Let me give you something to eat.

And so, we may welcome angels, the messengers of God in disguise.

Look up. See them standing there. Welcome them in.

It won’t always be easy. I’m reading Dorothy Day’s diaries, The Duty of Delight, which reveal the difficulties she experienced and the challenges she faced.  But, she persevered, with prayer and patience, and so entertained these messengers of God. Appropriately, a film about her is entitled Entertaining Angels, even though it was not always entertaining.

 

All who are burdened

Come to me,
all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11: 28

The last few days I have felt burdened. Last Saturday I gave a ride to the Santa Rosa hospital to a women who had been hacked with a machete by her husband. I found out yesterday that he had tried to harm her the day before. She has been transferred to a hospital in San Pedro Sula and that her lower arm and hand had been amputated.

I wish I could have helped more.

But I also feel burdened by the many types of violence that people experience here. This woman experienced domestic violence, which is not uncommon. Many people have not been raised with the skills of dealing with conflict and are all too easily frustrated. There is also the violence of revenge that is related to the lack of a justice system that responds to crimes. There is also the violence of poverty that leaves people without medical care, without a good educational system, with unemployment –  a violence that can be traced to massive inequality here and throughout the world and to structures of injustice.

Violence – all too much violence.

And so I bring this to Jesus – and seek to take upon myself His yoke of love, of compassion, of solidarity with the poor.

I also remember today the death of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in 1566. He was a sixteenth century Dominican who became a defender of the native peoples in the Americas.

He once wrote in a tract to the Spanish authorities:

All of us, therefore, great and small, educated, uneducated, ruler and ruled, public or private individual, all of us are bound unconditionally to help the oppressed, to help those suffering under violence, injury, any evil, with whatever power we have, official or personal. We are bound to free them, both by the law of nature and the law of charity.

We are bound, yoked to the poor of this world.

At times this feels like a heavy burden. But then I need to place this concern, and the people who suffer, in the arms of Jesus.

I do not leave them there but remember that I am called to be the arms of Jesus to those I meet.

As St. Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks out
with compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which he chooses
to go about doing good.
For as He is the Head of the Body,
so you are the members;
and we are all one in Christ.

Take off your shoes

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I read this stanza this morning in Daily Gospel 2013. Recalling today’s first reading, Exodus 3: 1-6, 9-12), we are called, like Moses, to take off our shoes because this is a holy place. We are called to remove what protects us from experiencing the presence of God.

All too often I just walk around and miss the presence of God and the marvels of creation and daily life. I am off to a meeting or driving out to a remote village.

I am blessed, though, that the countryside here, especially now that the rainy season is on us, is gorgeous, even if there is a lot of deforestation for the sake of cattle grazing.

My car has no radio and so I have the silence to reflect on the beauty.

The silence is a way of taking off my shoes, removing the noise and the protection.

But there is another source of wisdom that helps me see the presence of God: the poor.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 11: 25), Jesus reveals what theologians might call the hermeneutical privilege of the poor – the Gospel is understood better when we are poor or take the side of the poor:

Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to simple people.

The poor are those who are without protection from the vagaries of life. We who have money can use that to protect us from hunger, from natural disaster, from sickness, from violence.

But the poor often don’t have that type of protection and have to rely on others – God and the community around them. And so they often can see both the presence of evil and injustice and the presence of God.

I am often amazed at the deep sense of God’s presence in those I work with in the countryside. They have an almost palpable sense of the presence of God.

I have been blessed to be a part of their lives and to experience their witness to God’s presence. I have also been blessed to see the sin present there.

As Jon Sobrino has written in No Salvation Outside the Poor,

In [the poor] the mystery of reality breaks through [irrupts], and … in them the very reality of God breaks through.

God revealed God’s very self to Moses in the burning bush and God is revealed in Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, born a poor person in an occupied country.

God is in solidarity with the poor. God tells Moses that he has heard the cry of the people, oppressed in Egypt. Jesus tells us that God has given a special revelation to the simple ones, the poor.

And we, who are not poor, can open ourselves to that revelation of God when we are in solidarity with the poor.

What does that mean? As Jon Sobrino notes in Where is God?,

Solidarity means letting oneself be affected  by the suffering of other human beings, sharing their pain and tragedy.

Take off your shoes to walk among the poor. There God speaks to us.