Monthly Archives: October 2013

“Without event”

They also serve
who only stand and wait.
John Milton 

 For more than forty years, Brother Alfonso Rodríguez answered the door at the Jesuit college in Majorca.

But his simple faith, nourished by prayer and service to all who entered the door, brought the love of God to many. This man who had been refused entry to the Jesuits in his late thirties became a spiritual adviser to many – and inspired St. Peter Claver to go to the Americas.

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a beautiful sonnet In Honor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. In the last stanza he wrote:

 …while there went
Those years and years by of the world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

This morning the words “without event” struck me. Hermano Alfonso did no major deed that the annals of history might recount, but his simple service changed the lives of many.

In today’s first reading. St. Paul tells the Romans (8:39) that nothing “can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul, of course, lists death, the powers, and more as possible threats to that love.

But might the ordinariness of life also separate us from God’s love.

When we, unlike Alfonso, do not see and show the love of God in the ordinary people we meet, in the daily tasks of opening doors and treating people with welcoming kindness, are we letting ourselves be separated from the love of Christ?

But what kept Alfonso going?

Perhaps these words of his can give us a hint:

 This is my happiness, this my pleasure:
to live with Jesus, to walk with Jesus,
to converse with Jesus,
to suffer with and for him,
this is my treasure.


A sainted conscientious objector

On October 30, 298, Saint Marcellus, a former Roman centurion was beheaded.

Earlier that year he had abandoned his sword, seeing that he could not serve in the imperial army.

Perhaps he had heard of the phrase in the Apostolic Traditions of Pope St. Hippolytus:

“A soldier under authority shall not kill a man. If he is ordered to, he shall not carry out the order, nor shall he take the oath. If he is unwilling, let him be rejected. He who has the power of the sword or is a magistrate of a city who wears the purple, let him cease or be rejected. Catechumens or believers, who want to become soldiers, should be rejected, because they have despised God.”

Brought before the legion prefect, Marcellus was asked if he had “hurled down his weapons.”

His remark was straight-forward:

“I did. It is not proper for a Christian man, one who fears the Lord Christ, to engage in earthly military service.”

For him, and for many early Christians, the shedding of blood was incompatible with their faith in Jesus who had not taken up the sword in his own defense but had shed his blood for the salvation of the world. There are a number of cases of young men refusing to serve in the Roman army or refusing to kill. One of the most famous is St. Martin of Tours.

Today, the feast of St. Marcellus will be celebrated in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame where his relics rest under the main altar. The Catholic Peace Fellowship is organizing the celebration.

Let us pray today for an end to war and for the courage to resist nonviolently all threats to human life and dignity.


Read more about St. Marcellus in these articles by Jim Forest and Tobias Winright.

Hope of transformation

All creation is groaning…
Romans 8: 22 

Today’s readings (Romans 8: 18-25; Luke 13: 18-21) are full of hope, reminding us of the marvelous power of God to transform all things.

Yesterday in our weekly devotional in Caritas someone said that we are all sinners by nature. I didn’t say anything directly, but I think this view forgets that when God made all things, God saw that they were very good.

Yes, there is sin. That is the source of the evil and much of the suffering around us. But God made us in the divine image – and how can that be evil.

We talk about original sin – and rightly so. The sin of thinking ourselves in control, making ourselves like gods, affects all humanity and all creation.

But the promise is that glory will be revealed in us. As Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of the present time cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8: 18)

Some might see this as a promise of glory after death. But I wonder if God’s glory is not also made manifest this side of the grave.

And in the Gospel Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard see and to leaven – small, yet capable of greatness and of transformation. A little yeast can transform a seemingly lifeless mass of dough into a great light loaf of bread.

There are signs of God’s glory all around us: the family that struggles to care for children with special needs, the farmer who struggles in the field every day to feed the family, the mother who gives birth to a children and nourishes the child at the breast, the young doctor and his wife who give a year to work among the poor before he goes into residency, the child who shares her candy with a stranger.

These are not types. They are persons I know who have shown me the Glory of God, even in the midst of pain and poverty.

Today, let our hearts me open to see where God is letting creation give birth to hope, to new life, to “the redemption of our bodies” – not just in the future, but now.


Serving in obscurity

Image of St. Jude, St. Thomas  Aquinas Church, Ames, IA

Image of St. Jude, St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Ames, IA

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the apostles Simon and Jude.

Simon is often referred to as the Zealot (since he might have been connected with the anti-Roman Zealots of his time) or as Simon the Less to distinguish him from Simon Peter.

Jude is sometimes called Judas Thaddeus since some of the lists of apostles name a “Thaddeus” in place of a “Jude.” He is also called Judas, not the Iscariot, to distinguish him from Judas who betrayed the Lord.

What they did after Pentecost is known only in terms of legends. Supposedly both were martyred together in Persia.

They lived in obscurity.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman noted this in one of his sermons.

Little is known of St. Simon and St. Jude…

And hence we draw an important lesson for ourselves. which, however obvious, is continually forgotten by us in the actual business of life; namely, to do our duty without aiming at the world’s praise.

This year I seem to be noting how many of those we call saints actually lived in obscurity, serving without being known beyond the city where they lived or even only in their family.

Sometimes I wonder whether I am taken in by the vanity of seeking recognition and so write and promote my blog. Is my writing a way of trying to bring attention to me?

The only recorded words of St. Jude in the Gospel are in John 14: 22: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself clearly to us and not to the world?” They seem to be a question about whether Jesus will really show himself to the world as he really is, so that people may recognize him.

But Jesus answers, seemingly avoiding the question:

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Will we be dwelling places of God who will make known to people, through living the Word of God in the obscurity of our lives, the loving and saving presence of God in the world?

And so today we can contemplate the obscurity of Saints Simon and Jude – and ask them to show us how we can show forth God’s love in the little things of our lives.

The cry of the poor

The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Psalm 34

Does God really have a preferential option for the poor?

As I was reading today’s first reading from Sirach (Ecclesiastes) 35, I noted a glaring inconsistency between the Spanish and English lectionary translations.

The Spanish reads:

El Señor es un juez que no se deja impresionar por aparencias.
No menosprecia a nadie por ser pobre
y escucha las súplicas del oprimido.

The Lord is a judge
who does not let himself be impressed by appearances.
He does not despise anyone for being poor
and he hears the cries of the oppressed.

But the English reads:

The Lord is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.

What does the scripture really say?

The English translation from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) – “He  will not show partiality to the poor” – is like the lectionary translation from the New American Bible (NAB).

I don’t have a copy of the Greek Septuagint (since this is one of those books that are not found in most Protestant Bibles). But I checked several translations.

The Jerusalem Bible reads

the Lord is a judge
who is no respecter of personages.
He shows no respect of personages to the detriment of a poor man,
he listens to the plea of the injured party.

The Christian Community Bible likewise reads

The Lord is judge and shows no partiality.
He will not disadvantage the poor,
he who hears the prayer of the oppressed.

The New Jerusalem Bible reads (for the third line):

He never shows partiality to the detriment of the poor.

My Latin is weak, but the Vulgate seems to reflect these translations – not the NAB or NRSV

Non accipiet Dominus personam in pauperem

God doesn’t accept the person against the poor.

One edition of La Biblia Latinoamericana reads:

El no se deja influenciar por la situación del que perjudica al pobre;

He doesn’t let himself be influenced by the situation of the one who harms the poor.

Other editions read:

Nunca recibirá mal al pobre

He will never receive (welcome) evil to (against) the poor.

La Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo reads

no favorece a nadie contra el pobre

He does not favor anyone against the poor.

Why this tedious comparisons of text?

I think it is important to be aware that sometimes the translations we favor are not always accurate but may reflect our prejudices. It is comforting for a North American congregation to hear that God is “not unduly partial towards the weak.” But it is quite uncomfortable to hear that God does not favor anyone acting against the poor.

The tradition of the church seems to favor the more difficult translation, as the Fathers of the Church take the side of the poor, often against the rich and as the popes, at least since Pope John XXIII have called for a “Church of the poor” or a “Church for the poor.” The Latin American bishops have taught us that God has a preferential option for the poor, a call taken up by the universal Church.

What translation, then, will we let guide our lives?

Discerning the signs of the times

It is easy to walk through life, day after day, without thinking of what is going on. But sometimes, our eyes are opened by a chance encounter with someone, by a beautiful sunset, by a tragedy shared with us.

These are moments of “kairos,” opportunities to change our direction or to deepen our commitments. They are moments of grace.

But it is so easy to miss them – as Jesus noted in today’s Gospel (Luke 12: 49-53). Some of us know how to interpret, to discern, the weather. But do we fail to interpret the signs of the times, or, as the Greek puts it, the “kairos,” the opportunity that God gives us, both personally and as a community of faith.

As I read today’s Gospel, I recalled an important sentence from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, (4). To carry out its task of witnessing to the truth and service, carrying forth the work of Christ,

the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.

Our life of faith needs to be nourished by an openness to the Word of Christ in the world and to the Word of Christ.

Karl Barth once said that we need to pray with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Saint Augustine saw that God has given us the book of life and the book of faith. “Scripture explains what creation puts before us.”

Living and serving here in Honduras has opened me to reading the Gospel in a new way. Not only does the Scripture help me read the reality around me in a different way – often seeing hope where others see only despair. But the reality of the life of the poor has opened me to new ways of reading Scripture.

At least for me, the Bible needs to be read from the standpoint of the poor and oppressed, who were the first recipients of its Good News.

In Defenseless Flower: a New Reading of the Bible (page 71),Carlos Mesters, the Dutch missionary in Brazil, cites a campesino recalling that

 Our lives are reflected in the Gospel, and the Gospel is reflected back into our lives. Our first and foremost use of the Gospel is to compare it with our world to get a better idea of the shape of our lives. Once you’ve discovered the Gospel, life joins in a duet with it, harmonizing even in the most trivial details.

Discerning the signs of the times – and the opportunities of our lives – opens us to reading the Gospel in new ways, letting the Good News cast a new light on our lives and on our times.

As Masters notes:

The Bible helps people to understand the world, and the world helps them understand better the meaning of the Bible.

So we discern the signs of the times with the eyes of the Gospels, so that the Gospel may become real in our times.


Obscurity of our witness

For years I have been compiling a calendar of witnesses to holiness, justice, and peace. I try to find a quote attributed to the person. I use this calendar as part of my morning prayer – a sort of modern martyrology.

Today I have an entry for a Jesuit from India who was disappeared and killed, most probably for his work with untouchables.

Fr. Thomas T. Anchaninkal, S.J. (1951-1997), [known as A.T. Thomas], was disappeared in the state of Bihar, India, on October 24, 1997. His body was found decapitated about two days later.

I had noted a quote of an interview, but I have not been able to find any other information. He is one of the obscure witnesses to the Love and Justice of the Reign of God.

In the interview he is quoted as saying:

“when one works for the poor, these [the possibilities of being killed] are the things which one has to face. Jesus would not have died on the cross if he had not made the option for the poor. He would have died from a heart attack. Jesus made the option for the poor and he inspires me to do the same.”

His life is obscure – but his commitment to the outsiders calls me to deepen my commitment.

I don’t expect to be martyred as he was, but I do feel the call to move to deeper solidarity with the poor.

For this reason, as I have noted in another blog I have, next year I am moving – primero, Dios – to live in an aldea [a rural village] to better serve the poor in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, Copán, Honduras.

Here’s a picture of the church in the village:

Plan Grande church and school

Plan Grande church and school

Bigger barns or empty bellies

A few years ago I had a tape of Clarence Jordan speaking on the parable in today’s Gospel.. I cannot remember all the details but I do remember his saying something like this. Instead of filling empty bellies, he decided to build bigger barns.

That has left a strong impression on me, especially since he identified the rich man as an uncle, named Sam.

A few months ago I commented on this Gospel passage from Luke 12: 13-21, including part of Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of this story. I ended my blog entry with the words, “Love shares.”

This morning, the reflection by Fr. Paulson Valiyannoor, SMF, in Daily Gospel 2013, is a rewrite of the Gospel in that vein.

The man does not have enough room to store his harvest. But instead of building bigger barns, he calls in his neighbors to share the harvest:

“…there are many people around me who do not have enough and have suffered long and hard. So let me share my good fortune with them. so that we all can eat, eat, drink, and enjoy ourselves.”

As Fr. Paulson concludes his reflection:

If the man had done as imagined above, he would have had a happy death and everlasting joy in heaven. The only way to store up riches in heaven is by sharing the riches with the poor on earth.

And so, let us begin to share.

Cigar Box Ray

The twentieth century was a century of martyrs, some well known like Monseñor Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

Among the lesser known is Father Ray Herman, an Iowa farm boy.

Father Ray Herman

Father Ray Herman

When he was killed in Morochata, Bolivia, on November 20, 1975, all his possessions, except for his books and clothes, fit into a cigar box.

Raised in Independence, Iowa, he studied at Iowa State University in Ames, getting a degree in farm management. But instead of returning to the farm, he went to the Dubuque archdiocesan seminary.

He was ordained in 1957 and after a few years in parish work he went to Cochabamba, Bolivia, first as a Maryknoll associate. When the Dubuque archdiocese established a mission in Cochabamba he moved to their parish and worked with catechists. During this time he learned Quechua.

In 1971 he moved to the rural parish of Morochata, where he taught religious education classes, helped organize cooperatives and helped build schools, clinics, sports fields, and nursing centers.

His bishop said that Fr Ray was known wherever he went for two things: a complete dedication to Christ and his Church, and an ever present cigar.

He found his home among the poor indigenous and there he preached and tried to help them live more like God’s people.

As he told one visitor,

“Ever since college I have wanted to give everything to our Lord and only since I have come to Morochata do I feel that I am really happy and, to some degree at least, successful in giving all to Christ.”

This was in the times of the repression of the military dictator Hugo Banzer in Bolivia.

Even though Father Ray did not take a political stand, it is quite probable that some of the powers that be felt threatened by his efforts to assist the indigenous.

In the two months before his martyrdom, he had led short courses for seventy catechists in his parish.

On October 19, 1975, he dedicated a ten bed hospital clinic in Morochata that he had helped promote.

The next day he was found murdered in the rectory of San Bartolomé parish, Morochata, Bolivia.

It was made to look like an ordinary robbery, but he had been strangled and beaten before he was shot with two bullets in the head. Many, however, believe that he was killed because his efforts to help the poor brought down upon him the wrath of the rich and powerful.

Last month, to help remember a local martyr, the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, dedicated one of its rooms to his memory. Ray had worshipped int he parish as a student and its pastor, Fr. James Supple, had been a part of his discernment to become a priest.

Fr. Ray’s brother, a deacon, came and preached at the Masses and blessed the room.

Now the university students at St. Thomas can sit and study in a room dedicated to Cigar Box Ray – and perhaps learn from his example how to be a sign of Good News for the poor.


Jesuit Martyrs in North America

Today the Church in the US and Canada celebrates the Jesuits who were martyred in the mid 17th century in missions among the Native Americans.

The stories of the martyrdom of the North American Jesuit martyrs are horrid.

But their heroism in the face of suffering and death inspired me when I read their stories in high school.

What I now find amazing is that St. Isaac Jogues, even after being tortured and losing some fingers, returned to the missions.

Their life was horrid. As St. Jean de Brebeuf wrote to a friend who would be joining them on mission:

We shall receive you in a hut, so mean that I have scarcely found in France one wretched enough to compare it with. Fatigued as you will be, we shall be able to give you nothing but a poor mat for a bed. Besides you will arrive when fleas will keep you awake most of the night.

They gave up so much – out of love.

There is a poem of Fr. Dan Berrigan, S.J., in his Prison Poems, that expresses their experience as only a mystic-poet-prophet can:

                           A Bit of History
Those Jesuit fathers (wrote Isaac Jogues from New France)
            who purpose volunteering for these wilds
                  and the service of their Indian brothers
                      had best leave behind all regret for
            university degrees, honors, prerequisites.
           The questions raise by their clients will be other
                  than the subtleties their minds
                       sharpened and shone on, elsewhere.
            TO WIT: can they bear heartbreaking portages
                  survive on sour pemmican
            live under intense extremes of heat, cold, solitude?
            The times mitigate the questions, never quite stilling them.
                  As I learn, my middle cast cranium
                      bending to the intricacies, simplicities
                            of a new a b c.

All of us in mission have to learn a new “a b c,” though for most of us far less uncomfortable than the experience of those Jesuits.

But it means leaving much behind.

That is real poverty – and can bring real joy


Apologies for the poem which has indentations that I cannot replicate here.

The quote from St. John de Brebeuf is taken from dot magis: here