Monthly Archives: September 2013

The challenge of seeing Lazarus

“Not to share one’s goods with the poor
is to rob them and to deprive them of life.
It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.”
St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Lazarus

 Luke’s Gospel is a major challenge for us who come from rich nations. In many ways we are like the nameless rich man who feasts while Lazarus stares, unseen, at our doorsteps. Today’s Gospel, Luke 16: 19-31, is hard to hear, if we are really open to God’s Word.

It is hard to see those who are poor and marginalized. We’d rather turn away. We find excuses not to look.

We prefer to have splendid churches – but how many of us really open our hearts to the poor?

I know that I am generalizing. I know many people devoted to sharing with the poor, to accompanying them.

But this is the challenge of a society where power and wealth are idolized, where the bottom line is all too important.

This is not new.

Amos saw this in his day, as he castigated those who lounged on their ivory-inlaid beds and ate the best of meats.

Isaiah (chapter 58) saw this as he castigated religious cults with out sharing with the poor.

St. John Chrysostom  spoke clearly against those who would neglect the poor to enrich the churches:

God does not want gold vessels but gold hearts….

What use is it for Christ to have golden cups if he is dying of hunger? First fill the hungry person; then adorn the table with what is left over.

Pope John Paul II, at a Mass in Edmonton, Ontario, Canada, bluntly challenged North Americans:

“In the light of Christ’s words, the poor South will judge the rich North. And the poor people and poor nations—poor in different way, not only lacking food, but also deprived of freedom and other human rights—will judge those who take these goods away from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others.”

So what are we to do?

As Pope Francis recently said

You can’t know Jesus in first class. You get to know Jesus out and about in your everyday, daily life.

And where is this?

As Pope Francis said in July:

…our life will only be changed when we touch Christ’s wounds present in the poor, sick and needy.

This is not easy. But, if we really see and touch the poor, we may be graced with love.


Poverty and Saint Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul was born into a poor family and, according to some stories, he hoped to escape poverty. Becoming a priest and a chaplain to the rich and the powerful seemed the way out.

But God has ways of getting through our defenses, and “Monsieur Vincent” became a priest who not only sought out the poor but founded a congregation of priests to care for the poor, to give missions, and to train seminarians. With St. Louise de Marillac, he founded the Daughters of Charity, whose many branches still serve the poor throughout the world.

In one of his letters (#2546) he explains, very directly his response to the poor:

We should not judge the poor by their outward dress and manner, or by their mental gifts, for the poor are often uneducated. If we look at the poor in the light of faith, we will see them to be the children of the God Who himself chose to be poor. When he was suffering, He had almost lost His human appearance and was a fool to the pagans, a stumbling block to the Jews. But He was also proving Himself God’s messenger to the poor: “He has sent me to proclaim the good news to the poor.” We ought to think and act like Christ by being concerned for the poor, consoling and helping them.

Christ willed to be born poor; He made poor men His disciples; He became the servant of the poor and shared their lot, so that whatever good or evil would be done to them, He would regard as done to Himself. God loves the poor and therefore those who love them; for if you hold someone dear, your affection reaches out to embrace all who are that person’s friends or servants. We hope, therefore, that for the sake of the poor, God will love us too.

We ought to embrace the service of the poor to all else and exercise it without delay. If in time of prayer there is a question of bringing medicine or help to a poor person, bring it! Go in peace and offer your actions to God as though you were deep in prayer. Allow yourself no anxiety of mind or trouble of conscience because you omitted prayer for the sake of the poor. God is not neglected if you “leave” Him for His own sake! You are simply doing one of His works instead of another. Let us, then, with renewed spirit serve the poor, especially the abandoned, even the ones who complain, for they are given to us as masters and patrons.

And so today, let us recommit ourselves to accompany the poor, becoming their servants.

Devil’s dung or fertilizer for the Kingdom

You cannot serve God and Mammon
Luke 16: 13

 This past Friday, Pope Francis, commenting on the reading from 1 Timothy 6: 10, said “Money is the devil’s dung.”  Today, in the Gospel, Jesus warns about unjust wealth.

Talking about money and material security from a faith perspective are challenges for all of us. As Pope Francis noted money can lead to idolatry, worshipping and giving all our time and energy to amassing money:

Money sickens our minds, poisons our thoughts, even poisons our faith, leading us down the path of jealousy, quarrels, suspicion and conflict. It drives to idle words and pointless discussions. It also corrupts the mind of some people that see religion as a source of profit. ‘I am Catholic, I go to Mass, everyone thinks well of me… But underneath I have my businesses. I worship money’. And here we have the word we usually find in newspapers: ‘Men of corrupted minds’. Money corrupts us! There’s no way out.

In many ways this parallels what the Latin American bishops wrote at Puebla in 1979 (¶ 494):

Turned into an absolute, wealth is an obstacle to authentic freedom. The cruel contrast between luxurious wealth and extreme poverty, which is so visible through out our continent and which is further aggravated by the corruption that often invades public and professional life, shows the great extent to which our nations are dominated by the power of wealth.

But this is not just a challenge to rich and wealthy people and nations. As the late Father John Kavanaugh, S.J., wrote. “Our attitudes to the poor and our attitudes about security are the best indications of our discipleship.”

As one who lives in relative security in a very poor country, Jesus challenges me.

What do I do with the wealth I have? Do I share it with others, or do I hoard it so that I can have a secure future, a very comfortable retirement?

I am also challenged because I know some fairly rich people. But these people don’t worship money. In fact, they give it away. This week I learned of a very generous donation from a family I know.

They understand that material goods are not ours to keep, but to share. The earth belongs to God, not to us.

All of us then are challenged by Jesus to be free with God and not slaves to wealth. As the bishops also wrote at Puebla, ¶ 1156:

The gospel demands for poverty, understood as solidarity with the poor and as a rejection of the situation in which most people on this continent live, frees the poor person from being individualistic in life, and from being attracted and seduced by the false ideals of a consumer society. In like manner, the witness of a poor Church can evangelize the rich whose hearts are attached to wealth, this converting and freeing them from this bondage and their own egoism.

What then should we do with money? As Segundo Galilea and Arturo Paoli wrote in  El Anuncio de la Esperanza: “Try to put it at the service of our salvation and the liberation of others.”

When we are poor in spirit, when we use money to serve the poor and the Reign of God, the devil’s dung becomes transformed into a fertilizer so that the Reign of God can grow and flourish in a world plagued with injustice and inequality.

And so we have a choice – God or Mammon, Devil’s dung or fertilizer for the Reign of God?


Matthew – sinner, disciple, evangelizer

St. Matthew, the tax-collector, is seated at this tables. A young wandering preacher is passing by and calls him, “Follow me.”

Surprisingly he gets up and follows.

Whatever could have moved him to do this? He abandoned what was a profitable career, even though he was despised and rejected by his follow Israelites?

Was it the sense that he needed to be in community, to be in union with God and others? Did his status as a collaborator with the Romans lead him to feel isolated, even as he had the power of the Roman Empire behind him?

We will never know, but I do think a lot might have to do with a sense of isolation. It is interesting that Matthew’s Gospel which is, at least inspired by the apostle, speaks very clearly about the Reign, the Kingdom, of Heaven.

But what he does next, I think, makes the case even more strongly.

What does he do? He invites Jesus to dinner with the outcasts, the sinners and the tax collectors.

The despised of the earth sit down at table with Jesus. What a scandal!

Matthew followed the Lord but it seems that he opened his table not only to Jesus, but also to others who were like him.

He was offering them the Good News, the Gospel, of a God “who desires mercy, not sacrifice,” who calls not the self-righteous, but the sinners.

Matthew was not content to just follow Jesus. He wanted others to follow and to share at the table with the Lord.

Sinner though he was, he called other sinners to experience the loving mercy of God.

So too we, sinners, called to follow the merciful Savior, are called to open the doors of mercy and sit down with those at the margin of society, showing them by our example the Good News.

That might be one of the most effective means of evangelization that we can offer, following the example of Matthew – sinner, disciple, evangelizer.


Pope Francis and the women who accompany Jesus

The big news in the Catholic world yesterday was Pope Francis’ interview with the Jesuit editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, translated and published in America magazine, here.

The mainline press has emphasized his remarks on issues on sexual issues, often without putting the pope’s remarks in context.

But his remarks on prayer and discernment, as well as his critical remarks on his past and his acknowledgement of himself as a sinner, are what ought to move us to conversion.

Pope Francis also remarked that “We must … investigate further the role of women in the church.”

Perhaps we should start with today’s Gospel, Luke 8: 1-3.

Jesus is going around preaching the Good News, accompanied by the apostles and some women – including Mary of Magdala and others. These provided for this traveling team from their own resources.

Mary and the women seem to be the same women who prepared Jesus’ body for burial and were the first witnesses to the resurrection when they went to the tomb on Easter morning.

These women show us the church as a community of sharing and of witnessing. They provide for Jesus and the apostles from their own resources. They show more courage than the apostles when they accompany Jesus at Calvary, help in burying him, and then go to the tomb on Easter morn.

They are women of courage, not afraid to accompany Christ, not afraid to put their lives in precarious places – as many women still do.

I think of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and the many groups of mothers of the disappeared throughout Latin America who faced repressive governments.

I think of the religious women who serve among the poorest and those on the margin.

Pope Francis noted in the interview that

Religious men and women are prophets…. In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up prophecy.… Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel.

The women in today’s Gospel and many women throughout the history of the church have been prophets, witness of the Reign of God.

Their lives challenge us to be witnesses to the risen Christ in the midst of human suffering and poverty – even as we care for each other out of our own resources.


Despising the young

The other day I was at a meeting of one of the parish zones at which they were choosing representatives to send to the parish council.

Except for the general coordinator who was elected by the whole group, they were supposed to meet with the representatives of their ministry from the sectors of the zone.

Some groups had no problems – especially the catechists and the treasurers. But one group, the representatives of the prophetic ministry (celebrators of the word, leaders of base communities) had an awful time, which was actually worse than I had imagined. (I won’t go into all the details.)

The three met and at first they chose the young man who had just begun to serve in that ministry in his village. The guy was reluctant, but I tried to encourage him. But the general coordinator came by and said that the pastor didn’t want inexperienced people in positions for the parish council. This is not what the pastor really said. But, based on this mistaken advice, another person was chosen.

I was taken aback, thinking of today’s first reading (1 Timothy 4: 12):

Let no one have contempt for your youth…

The Spanish from La Biblia Latinoamericana is more to the point:

No dejes que te critiquen por ser joven.
Don’t let them criticize you for being young.

The Greek word used – καταφρονέω – means «despise, treat with contempt, look down on.»

It is so easy to avoid listening to the young – or to deny them the chance to take on major responsibilities in the church and the world.

My work in campus ministry for 24 years taught me that we need them, for God calls the young to open new possibilities for us.

Can we deny them? Should we not, instead, encourage them?

Isn’t this what God said to Jeremiah (1:7-8):

Do not say, “I am too young.”
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you…


The flying saint

Today Franciscans celebrate St. Joseph Cupertino, an Italian Conventual Franciscan friar of the seventeenth century, who died on September 18, 1663 – three hundred and fifty years ago today.

He is known as the flying saint because he often levitated when he experienced a deep sense of God’s presence, which was often. He is thus the patron saint of aviators.

But his levitation was not a gift he sought and it caused him suffering, at the hands of his own friars who forbade him to say Mass in public for many years and at the hands of the Inquisition who, at one point, forced him to live in near solitude for four years with the Capuchins, another branch of the Franciscans.

Whoever wrote the prayer for his Mass must have had a sense of humor, since it begins with a reference to John 12:32:

God, our Father, your wisdom disposed that your only-begotten Son, when lifted above the earth, should draw all things to himself…

But what is extraordinary about St. Joseph was how God worked in him. He seems to have been absent-minded as a child and youth and was nicknamed the gaper, the open mouthed – Boccaperto.

He also had great difficulty with his studies. He only passed one examination on his way to the priesthood because the exam question was on one of the few scriptural quotations he knew. He only got ordained when the bishop suspended the final examination for all the candidates for priesthood. St. Joseph Cupertino is thus the patron saint of students.

St. Joseph Cupertino shows us that God chooses the most unlikely people to manifest his love to the world.

So we need not worry, God chooses the weak of the world to confound the strong, so that God’s power may be shown (1 Corinthians 1: 27).

Bearing the marks of Jesus

May I never boast in anything,
except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world…
I bear the marks [stigmata] of Jesus on my body.
Galatians 6: 14, 17

Today the Franciscans celebrate the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi.

DSC01712In 1224, sometime around the feast of the Holy Cross (September 14), Francis was praying and fast on Mount Alverna. He witnessed a seraph, with the crucified Lord. After this his body was marked with the five wounds of Christ.

Much has been written about this first manifestation of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. The discussion on Francis’s stigmata in Andre Vauchez’s Francis of Assisi: the life and afterlife of a medieval saint is very informative.

It is easy to get fixated on the physicality of Francis’ wounds or on the way that these make him into “another Christ.” But as St. Bonaventure  wrote, “it was not the martyrdom of his body but the love burning in his soul that was going to transform him into the likeness of Christ crucified.” It was the love of the incarnate and crucified Lord that transformed Francis.

In trying to understand Francis and the Stigmata, I have found Lawrence Cunningham’s Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel of Life extremely helpful.

He sees Francis as “more a performer of the Word of God than a commentator upon it… It would not be too audacious to say that the stigmata were a kind of writing on the body of Francis – a kind of reversal or mirror image of the passion story.”

Cunningham situates the imprinting of the stigmata on Francis in relation to the Christmas celebration of the previous December where Francis enacted the birth of the Lord in a cave at Greccio, seeing these as “two parentheses that summed up the evangelical vision of Francis.” These events reveal the deeply incarnational vision of Francis, as he sought to live out the life of his Savior.

The Pauline emphasis of identification with Christ [Galatians 6:17] as well as the gospel theme of the following of Christ [Matthew 16: 24] is evident in the life of Francis through his desire to follow the poverty of Christ from his poor birth in a stable through his desolation on the cross.

In contrast to the debates about literal poverty among the early Franciscans, Cunningham suggests that we look at how Francis saw poverty:

as a self-emptying whose meaning had to be anchored in the reality of the gospel message whose center is the cross. That self-emptying began, of course, when the Word became flesh, when the Son of God was born of Mary in a simple stable in Bethlehem.

And so, what are the marks of Christ we should bear on our body?

Not the physical stigmata, but the love of Jesus God made flesh in the poor man of Nazareth and the identification with those at the margin as Jesus did.

That is perhaps the best way to follow Christ – and to remember Francis of Assisi.


The  painting, from the 15th century Umbrian School, is in the Vatican Museum.



Revolutionary Christian Guadalupe Carney

DSC02689Thirty years ago, on September 16, 1983, Honduran military took Father Jim (Guadalupe) Carney up into a helicopter in northern Honduras and threw him out onto a mountainside.

Fr. Guadalupe, the name he took in Honduras, was a World War II veteran, a graduate of the University of Detroit, a Jesuit, who spent years in Honduras, serving the poor in the northern Honduras missions of the Jesuits.

He identified with the poor so much that he renounced the privilege of his US citizenship and became a Honduran citizen. But a few years later his Honduran citizenship was revoked before of his identification with the struggles of Honduran peasants.

He spent a few years in Nicaragua but in 1983 he returned to Honduras clandestinely with a small group of Honduran guerrillas, as their chaplain. The group was soon captured by the Honduran military.

Before he left for Honduras, he gave a manuscript to relatives, detailing how he had arrived at this point. It was subsequently published as “To Be a Christian Is… to Be a Revolutionary”: The Autobiography of Father James Guadalupe Carney.

The editors placed a 1971 letter Padre Guadalupe had written at the front of the work, a letter he had written to US friends and colleagues to explain himself who might think he was “a strange fellow.”

I cannot see myself taking the same option as he did – partly because of my beliefs that Christ calls us to be nonviolent revolutionaries. Yet, one paragraph from his letter struck me as a challenge, not only to people in the US, but also to me. (I have reformatted it a bit.)

I’m really a lover, even though I often don’t act like it. I love people, all kinds of people.

Also I’m a contemplative. My greatest joy is to contemplate what God’s loving Providence does in this world, especially n people I meet or read about and in my own life.

I think I sincerely love the poor, not only out of pity for what they are forced to suffer and out of rebellion against the system that forces them to be poor, but as lovable persons in themselves, as bits of God, of Christ.

With Charles de Foucauld, I say that I don’t know about others, but as for me, I can’t conceive of true love that doesn’t want to share the life of the beloved.

To love Christ 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.

To live as bourgeois, comfortable, well-dressed white people, and then try to help the poor is okay, I guess, but it’s not my kind of love, and it’s not what Christ did.

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 who held the masses in the bondage of ignorance and poverty.

He cursed them, and said,” Woe to you hypocrites, you priests, and to you rich, and to you who are honored and accepted by the world.” And he was killed for it.

To be killed for my following of Christ would be my greatest joy.

And so the question haunts me: “How can I really identify with the poor Christ?” That’s a critical question for middle-class people like me

Weeping mothers: Mary, Birmingham, Chile

 At the cross her station keeping
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.
Stabat Mater

Today is the feast of Our Mother of Sorrows.  From the time I was a child I remember singing   verses of the medieval hymn Stabat Mater during the Stations of the Cross. The hymn calls to mind the presence of Mary at the death of Jesus, her son, on the cross.

Today we might recall the role of Mary as the weeping compassionate mother, looking on as her son was brutally crucified. Because of this, St. Augustine spoke of her martyrdom in spirit.

Fifty years ago, on September 15, 1963, in a church in the highly segregated city of Birmingham, Alabama, black children were vesting for choir after having participated in Sunday school. A bomb took the lives of four of them, the martyred children of Birmingham. Their mothers and many others mourned their death.

The children of Birmingham should not just be seen as victims of racial violence. In May 1963 the black children of Birmingham had left their classes to try to talk with the mayor. They were jailed and after they were released they returned the next day. The protest ended after dogs and fire hoses were used on them. But they had nonviolently stood up against injustice.

Forty years ago, on September 15, 1973, Victor Jara, a famous Chilean folk singer and activist, was among the thousands imprisoned in the Santiago, Chile, National Stadium by the US-supported coup. On this day he was killed, after having been beaten. His hands which had been instruments of protest on his guitar were broken. But he sang out to those in the stadium with the song Venceremos – We will win. He was then shot to death.

Mary mourned the death of her son. She is the prime example of all those who mourn the deaths of their children, those killed unjustly, the victims of war, the tortured, and those who die because they do not have enough to eat or their parents don’t have money to pay for medicine.

Mary is present there.

As the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor Oscar Romero, once said:

Even when all despaired, at the hour when Christ was dying on the cross, Mary, serene, awaited the hour of the resurrection. Mary is the symbol of the people who suffer oppression and injustice. Theirs is the calm suffering that awaits the resurrection. It is Christ suffering, the suffering of the Church, which does not accept the present injustices, but awaits without rancor the moment when the Risen One will return to give us the redemption we await.

So too we should be there, sitting in mourning with all the mothers of the world who cry out against pain and injustice.

Our prayer is heard by God. But will the powers of this world listen, unless we cry out unceasingly.