Monthly Archives: November 2013

Dorothy Day on joy

The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives
of all who encounter Jesus.
Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, ¶1

 On November 29, 1980, Dorothy Day died in Mary House, a Catholic Worker house in lower Manhattan. Since 1933 she had lived with the poor, served them, and been an advocate of nonviolence and voluntary poverty.

Her life was not easy. Living with the poor can be very difficult. She liked to quote Dostoevsky who wrote the “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”

Her journals, published in The Duty of Delight, reveal that, even though she struggled both with personal “demons” and with those who came to the Catholic Worker, she found great joy, nourished by her faith.

As she wrote on December 25, 1961:

It is joy that brought me to the faith, joy at the birth of my child 35 years ago, and that joy is constantly renewed as I daily receive our Lord at Mass.

The scriptures lived among the poor helped her uncover the sources of her joy and faith, as she wrote on September 24, 1968:

People need to be rediscovering the Gospel. They have to find them [the Gospels?] thru people who find their joy in them, and who accept the crosses of this life as preparation, as the inevitable in the way.

The spirituality which sustained her was incarnational. On March 26, 1972, she wrote:

We had a wayfarer who accepted our hospitality for a few years who used to kneel down and kiss the earth on that day (March 25 [the feast of the Annunciation]) each year, because Christ in putting on our human flesh which came from the earth, had made the earth holy.

God has become flesh and so holiness surrounds us.

But I find one short remark of hers, on December 19, 1976, particularly helpful to sustain joy:

Find beauty everywhere.

To find beauty everywhere, because God has lived among us, and gives us joy.

Dorothy Day thus reminds us to keep our hearts open to God, to the beauty of everyday life, to the sufferings of the poor. That’s one way to be raptured by joy.


A powerless king

Today’s celebration of Christ the King is an anomaly in many ways.

The United States arose throwing off a king and the kings that remain in the west are mostly ceremonial. But the image of the king, the ruler, remains strong in our societies.

We want powerful rulers who will keep us safe from all enemies, foreign and domestic. We want absolute security in our houses and our streets, even if it means prisons that are overcrowded. We want our leaders who exude power.

I’m not primarily writing about the US.

Today is election day in Honduras. The president, congress, and all the mayors will be elected today.

In the campaign one candidate, who promotes the militarization of the police, is promising that he will do whatever needs to be done for security.

Another candidate is viewed by some of her supporters as the only solution for the country.

Another runs on a campaign against corruption but some say his campaign has been less than transparent financially.

Another appeals to the loyalty of his party members.

All, in one way or another, are taken in by the notion that power means domination. Power as service – or self-giving – is foreign to many of them.

But what is Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel, Luke 23:35-43?

The leaders and one of those crucified with him mock him and urge him to save himself.

But the mission of Jesus is not to save himself, but to give himself, to hand himself over – out of love.

How many of those who lead see their role as giving themselves for others? not as a “savior,”  but as a servant?

How many of us are willing to give ourselves – not to dominate, but to serve?

How many of us really want a savior who is powerless, who is crucified, who is despised?

That is the real choice today – not who will be the president or mayor or congressperson.

And that choice comes because we choose – and let ourselves be chosen – the One who “makes peace by the blood of the Cross” (Colossians 1:20).


Sing to the Lord

Today is the feast of Saint Cecilia, the patroness of music.

A “life,” written two decades after her death, notes that she sang to the Lord on the night of her wedding. She had consecrated her virginity to Christ. Her husband respected her virginity and then he and his brother converted to Christianity. Several hundred others were later baptized by the bishop of Rome in their house.

Her husband and brother-in-law were martyred, found out as they buried others martyred Christians. The authorities tried to kill her by suffocation in a steam bath or sauna but she survived. A botched attempt at beheading left her in agony until she died two and a half days later.

There is a beautiful church in the Trastevere section of Rome. The image under the alter is based on the uncorrupted body that was seen when her purported tomb was opened in 1599, though the exposure to air resulted in its disintegration.

Photos from the church follow.

Saint Cecilia in Trastevere, altar and apse mosaic

Saint Cecilia in Trastevere, altar and apse mosaic


Image of St. Cecilia under the main altar

Mosaic of St. Cecilia in the crypt

Mosaic of St. Cecilia in the crypt


And Jesus wept

On the hill opposite Jerusalem is a tear-shaped church called “Dominus flevit” – the Lord wept.

Photos have often been taken from inside the church, with the cross in the foreground and the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the background.


I remember visiting there with a friend in November 2004. He was volunteering there with a church in Bethlehem and offered me a chance to see another side of the Holy Land – the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people.

A visit with an Israeli religion professor also gave me a chance to see some of the concerns and fears of the Jewish people there.

And so Jesus’ words from Luke 19: 42, struck deep in my heart:

If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.

Here in Honduras in the week before elections, these words also find an echo in my heart.

A few days ago a mayor I know escaped an attack on his car – but a two month old he was taking to a clinic died from the gunshots.

Such a waste of life – and who knows why?

But this is only the tip of the iceberg here – not only the physical violence that takes the lives of so many, usually the poor, but also the violence of poverty that destroys the lives and health of so many, especially children, and keeps people struggling to barely survive.

This morning I ran across a blog post from Creighton University which quoted Pope Francis when he spoke before the migrants at Lampedusa. His words are a good prayer for today.

“Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this. “Who has wept?” Who in today’s world has wept?”

And, I would add, for whom do you weep?


The no-longer blind, former beggar

I encounter beggars on a regular basis.

There are some who come up to the gringo for a few lempiras. There are those who ask for help for a sick child or for medicines.

I have often told them, looking them in the eyes, that this is not my custom.

However, I have noticed that many Hondurans, including the poor, will reach into their pockets and give the poor person at least a lempira (about five cents). So I have now set aside a few five and ten lempira bills to have handy for cases of people with medical needs.

But there are also the beggars, often with a physical deformity, whom I see almost daily.

It bothers me that they use their deformity as a way to gain a living.

I contrast them to the poor man in a wheel chair who goes around selling lottery tickets.

But the people here still give to the deformed poor.

This morning, reflecting on today’s Gospel (Luke ) with the help of Daily Gospel 2013, I realize that the blind beggar was like these deformed poor. He, named Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel,  had a scheme that worked for him, at least minimally, to get money for food.

But when Jesus asks him what he wants, the beggar answers, “Lord, that I may see.”

That meant that he would no longer have the physical disability that allowed him to beg. He would really have to change his life.

When we really see, we cannot remain as we are. We no longer can rely on our old habits. We have to be converted.

The no-longer blind, former beggar “followed Jesus, giving glory to God.”

When we see the glory of God manifested in Jesus, when we allow ourselves to see the glory of God in the human person fully alive (Saint Irenaus), when we struggle see the glory of God in the poor person fully alive (Archbishop Oscar Romero), we cannot remain the same.

For the glory of God is all too often hidden in the poor; it is ignored and insulted by poverty and injustice.

But when we see, we cannot ignore Jesus on his way to Jerusalem to offer himself for us. Nor can we ignore Jesus in “the distressing disguise of the poor” (Mother Teresa). We will have to change our lives.

May the example of the blind beggar give us the courage to lay aside our blindness and to follow Jesus.

Good news for the rich

The experience of the church in Latin America has brought to the fore the preferential option for the poor which can be found in the scriptures, from the injunctions of the Torah to care for the widow and the orphan to the beatitudes where Jesus calls the poor blessed.

But what about the rest of us, the rich?

I include myself among them since I have much more than most of the people of the world and have access to more wealth and power than most of my neighbors here in Honduras.

Rose garden of the UCA, where the Jesuits' bodies were found, November 16, 1989

Rose garden of the UCA, where the Jesuits’ bodies were found, November 16, 1989

Father Juan Ramón Moreno was one of the Jesuits killed on this day in 1989 by members of the Salvadoran armed forces.

The Jesuits at the Central American University (UCA)in El Salvador had, like many Jesuits in Latin America and throughout the world, taken seriously the call to live out their lives in “the service of faith and the promotion of justice.” In El Salvador it meant being a university community that accompanied high intellectual standards with a critical eye on the situation of injustice in the country. Thus they could not avoid being a thorn in the side of the Salvadoran elite and the repressive government.

Father Juan Ramón Moreno – Pardito – was not one of the well-known martyrs of that night. But he had devoted his life to God and the poor and was the assistant director of the Oscar Romero Center at the UCA.

In an essay published in Jon Sobrino’s Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador, he wrote about evangelization, being good news to the poor. In a section on the dilemma of the rich he wrote words that we who are not poor should take to heart:

“Basically the poor are impoverished due to hoarding and exploitation by the rich; and the rich are enriched at the cost of the impoverishment and misery of the masses. To free the poor by giving them access to living conditions consonant with their dignity as human beings and children of God entails sacrificing the privileges of wealthy oppressors. Hence, when faced with the news that the Kingdom of God is coming, the rich feel challenged and called to accept God’s justice and kindness, by allowing themselves to be re-created and changed by that justice into brothers and sisters, and persons in solidarity. ‘Be converted and believe the good news’ (Mark 1:15). Only conversion, metanoia, change of mentality, new eyes in order to see reality with love in solidarity with which God sees it, can enable the approach of the Kingdom to ring out as good news in the ears of the rich — conversion to God who comes in gratuity and kindness to remake things, the God of the Kingdom.”

The good news for us who are rich is conversion, expressed in solidarity.

That is the best starting point in working for the Reign of God and being good news to the poor. And it is, I believe, one of the ways in which God saves us.

Knowing the loving artisan

albertSt. Albert the Great, whose feast is today, is most known for a comment he made about his most famous student, Thomas Aquinas, in response to the name some of Thomas’ confreres had given him for his taciturnity: “You call him a Dumb Ox: I tell you this Dumb Ox shall bellow so loud that his bellowings will fill the world.”

But Albert was, in his own right, one of the most learned men of his age. He not only knew philosophy and theology, but he was intrigued by the natural sciences and wrote on astronomy, chemistry, geography, botany, and biology.  He explained how the earth had to be a sphere.

But he was not like those whom the book of Wisdom warns about in today’s reading (13: 1-9):

All those who were in ignorance of God were foolish by nature and, from the good things seen, were unable to know him who is, nor from studying the works did they discern the artisan…

We could see the good things of this world and praise the Maker of all that is. This combination of knowledge of the world and love of God influenced not only St. Thomas Aquinas but the Dominican mystical theologians Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler.

A selection from his Commentary on Luke, found in Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary,  gives us a glimpse of the source of his holiness. Commenting on Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of Me,” he wrote:

No precept could be more lovable. For this sacrament begets love and unity. Is it not the greatest proof of divine love that Christ gives himself as food? It is as thought he were saying: “I love them so much, and them me, that I want to be within them, and they want to receive me so as to be one body with me.”

Finally, nothing more closely resembling eternal life could be enjoined. For, the essence of eternal life is God sweetly giving himself to the blessed.

St. Albert recognized that the artisan is “God sweetly giving himself” and sharing in that is real life.

He reminds us that the Eucharist is a foretaste of eternal life – God wanting to be within us.

But for Albert this also had consequences for the way we lived. As he also said,

“An egg given during life for love of God is more profitable for eternity than a cathedral full of gold given after death.”

Facing barriers to mission

Do justice for the weak and the orphan,
defend the afflicted and the needy.
Rescue the weak and the poor;
set them free from the hand of the wicked.
Psalm 82: 3-4

 Today the church in the US honors the first US citizen – a naturalized citizen in fact – to be canonized, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who died in Chicago on December 22, 1917. She is the patroness of immigrants.

But her life is really an example of God working straight with crooked lines.

She grew up in a town south of Milan, Italy. Orphaned at 20, she became a school teacher. She wanted to join a religious order, but was refused by two different orders because she was considered too frail.

Asked by a bishop to help with an orphanage, she ended up founding a religious order, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, whose rule was approved when she was only thirty years old.

Her hope had been to follow in the footsteps of her patron, St. Francis Xavier, and go to China. However, the pope told to go to the west, instead of the east, to respond to the spiritual needs of the Italian immigrants to the US.

She went with several sisters, only to find that the bishop didn’t want sisters. He wanted priests. She firmly but gently told him that they would stay and work among the abandoned Italians in New York and other cities.

The sisters were well received among the Italian immigrants and Mother Cabrini – as she would be called – founded houses for sisters in many US cities.

She also traveled back to Italy for more recruits as well as to several Latin American countries. In Nicaragua she thought that they were making inroads among some indigenous people until she caught yellow fever and they all fled.

That didn’t stop her.

She was asked to take over a hospital but resisted until she had a dream where Mary was nursing people in a hospital. in the dream, Mother Cabrini asked her why. Mary responded. “Because you won’t.“ That, of course, changed things altogether and she helped found Columbus Hospital in New York City.

She died at the age of 67, wrapping candies in Chicago, after a full life given to poor immigrants in the Americas.

This woman who was refused entry into two orders, founded an order that cared for the weak and the afflicted. This woman who was considered too frail for religious life, traveled throughout the US and the Americas for many years to defend the afflicted. Despite rejection by a bishop (who later relented) she and her sisters were welcomed and sustained by poor Italian immigrants.

So God works – making the crooked straight.

This morning I found this quotation from Mother Cabrini in Daily Gospel 2013, that reflects how she could do all this – placing her heart with the Heart of Jesus:

“We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of [hu]mankind does not depend on material success, nor on sciences that cloud the intellect. Neither does it depend on arms and human industries, but Jesus alone.”

Justice and peace shall kiss

El Greco's St. Martin

El Greco’s St. Martin

St. Martin of Tours, whose feast is celebrated today, brings together two aspects of early Christianity that we would sometimes like to forget.

St. Martin is most known for cutting his cloak in half to give to a beggar in the cold of winter. That night he had a dream of Christ, clothed in the cloak. His concern for the poor continued throughout his life.

But St. Martin also demonstrates the early church’s opposition to war. Martin had been forced to become a soldier, probably because his father was a military tribune. But, faced with the prospect of killing others in battle, he told his commander, “I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.”

He offered to go into battle the next day unarmed. Instead he was jailed. He was subsequently released and became a monk and then the bishop of Tours.

His love for peace and nonviolence led him to go on a peacemaking visit to Candes, even though he knew he was dying.

Martin shows us that we are called to love and care for all – to care for the poor and to love even our enemies, not kill them.

Today is Armistice Day, a day originally established to remember the end of what later became know as the First World War. In the US it is Veterans Day.

But Saint Martin of Tours is a challenge to war and injustice. He calls us to imitate the poor and nonviolent Jesus, his Master and ours.

But St. Martin was not the only former soldier to warn about war. General Omar Bradley once said:

“With the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world with its moral adolescence. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. [Humanity] is stumbling blindly through spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death….

“…the world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience, Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace; more about killing, than we know about living.”

Would that we knew the ways of peace. (Luke 19: 42)

Kristallnacht, the Berlin Wall, and St. John Lateran

Seventy-five years ago, on the night of November 9, 1938, Nazi storm troopers attacked Jewish communities throughout Germany, destroying 191 synagogues, thousands of Jewish businesses, arresting 22,000 Jewish men, and deporting about half of them to Buchenwald.

Few people, in either Germany or the world protested this “Kristallnacht” – the Night of Broken Glass. The Nazis took great comfort in the silence of the world.

A cross at the Berlin Wall

A cross at the Berlin Wall

Fifty one years later, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. That year the movements for independence from Soviet control were growing throughout Eastern Europe. Finally on this day, following an announcement that East Germans would be able to pass through the wall into West Berlin with permission, thousands mobbed the border crossings and were finally let through. In following days the wall fell.

Today is also the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, the mother church of the whole world. The first building was dedicated in 324 and there have been many rebuilding and renovations of the structure.

St.  John Lateran, Rome

St. John Lateran, Rome

Saint John Lateran is a beautiful church which I found much more prayerful than Saint Peter’s. Its apse has a beautiful mosaic – with a small image of Francis between Our Lady and Saint Peter. A legend says that when St. Francis came to Rome to seek permission for his new band of followers of Christ, the Pope had a dream that the Lateran was falling down and a simple friar held it up. The pope identified Francis with this friar who was preventing the church from falling into ruin.

St. John Lateran - apse with the Pope cathedra

St. John Lateran – apse with the Pope’s cathedra

In the second reading for today’s feast in the Catholic lectionary (1 Corinthians 3: 9-11, 16-17), Paul tells the people of Corinth:

You are God’s field and building….
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

Though Paul was writing to Christians, we ought to remember that each person is made in God’s image and should be loved and respected.

The failure of the world – especially the Christian Church – to respond to the violence of Kristallnacht is a failure to respect the presence of God in all people, a failure of the Church to love.

But this failure should be a challenge to us today, especially as we consider the feast of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran.

Will we build up the community of God in such a way that we break down walls that keep people apart and work to prevent crimes against humanity, such as the Holocaust? Or will we just admire the beauty of the churches, while we keep others out and permit the killing of others and the deaths of thousands daily from hunger?

It is easy to criticize the Church and other institutions, but, as St. Caesarius of Arles said (in a sermon found in Benedictine Daily Prayer),

Every time we come to church, we ought to make our souls be what we want the church to be…. Do you want a light-filled Church? God grant your soul not to be a dark place but alight with good works.

Let our lives be transparent like unbroken glass, letting the light of God shine through, breaking down walls and reaching out in love and justice to all the broken peoples of this world.