Monthly Archives: March 2014

A word of hope

In the middle of Lent the Church offers in today’s first reading, Isaiah 65: 17-21, a message of hope:  “I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth.” This seems so out of place in Lent.

But it is a message I needed to hear.

Yesterday, coming back from San Agustín with Padre German, we encountered cars stopped on the dirt road outside Caleras.

A man had been killed and his body lay in the middle of the road, a puddle of blood by his neck.

The police were there, keeping people away, and waiting for the fiscal – the public prosecutor – to come and verify the facts of the death.

We approached and looked on the dead man and then left to get to town by another route.

I was left with a great sadness – another person killed, another family grieving.

But Isaiah promises that in the new Jerusalem, “No longer shall be heard the sound of weeping or the cry of distress.”

That is the promise I needed to hear. A promise – but also a task for us here, and everywhere in the world where there is death and pain and suffering: to offer a word of hope.


The blind man’s transformations

Praying today’s Gospel of the man born blind, John 9: 1-41, I found the account full of meaning, but one stands out for me.

The man born blind was a beggar, well-known to many but marginalized by his blindness, which many thought was due to sin.

But what happens to him is illuminative.

Jesus sees him and takes the initiative, anointing his eyes with clay and inviting him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He is then healed.

Jesus has transformed him from a blind man to a man who sees.

But then he is brought before the authorities who question him. But unlike his parents, he is not afraid to speak to them, challenging them for their ignorance, and getting himself thrown out – marginalized again.

He has been changed from a passive beggar to a man who is not afraid to speak the truth and to challenge those who would consider Jesus and himself as sinners, as outside the “chosen” ones.

Then, Jesus again takes the initiative and finds the man who had been blind.

This man who, at first, only knew that he had been healed by “a guy called Jesus” comes to a deep faith in Jesus as Lord and the Son of Man – a messianic title.

I think we can see a three-fold transformation in this Gospel.

The first one is obvious – a blind man recovers his sight. A physical transformation.

The last one is also somewhat clear. A man who hardly knew who Jesus was becomes a believer who acknowledges Him as Lord and Messiah. A spiritual transformation.

But the other transformation is just as real, but perhaps a little more difficult to name. This beggar, an outsider, a marginalized person considered a sinner, is able to lift up his head, to get up from his place of begging. He becomes a person able to speak the truth, able to clearly explain what he has experienced, even if the authorities still consider him an outcast and a sinner. He becomes a prophet to those who would deny him his dignity and would see Jesus as a sinner and a threat to their authority. A social transformation.

The healing Jesus wants is not just of our bodies, nor is it just of our spirits. Jesus wants us to be fully human, persons of dignity – not marginalized victims of an unjust society, but full members of a community.

For me, here in Honduras, this means that Jesus wants to poor to recognize and recover their dignity in the face of the elites who look down on them.

Gustavo Gutiérrez notes that

Blaming those who are ill or poor means pushing them deeper into their plight. Moreover, it prevents them from taking appropriate means to get out of these situations.

And so what Jesus does is liberate the blind man in three ways, transforming him:

As Gutiérrez also notes:

Freed from blindness, [the man born blind] grows as a human being, and finally he receives the gift of faith. Reducing the liberation of Jesus to one of these aspects would be cutting it short and impoverishing it. Nothing at all escapes Jesus’  love.

The man born blind is transformed in three separate but related ways. So we pray for our three-fold liberation and transformation – as we pray and work for the three-fold transformation and liberation of all who are impoverished or marginalized.

The quotes from Gustavo Gutiérez are taken from Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year (Orbis, 1997).

I desire your love

“It is love I desire, not sacrifices.”
Hosea 6: 6

 I’ve read or hear these lines many times. I have often thought of them as putting sacrifices in their place.

But this morning what touched me was God’s desire for our love.

God wants us to love.

Whatever we do, whoever we are, God’s desire is love.

When I was in Assisi in February 2013 I prayed several times before the San Damiano cross before which St. Francis of Assisi received his first call.

What I felt as God’s call to me was three-fold:

Love me.
Love my people.
Love the poor.

That’s it.

It wasn’t something that I had to do. For loving is not merely something we do.

Love is orienting ourselves outward – to what is good. What we are called to do follows. Didn’t St. Augustine write, “Love and do what you will”?

When we love, all falls into place.

But love is not easy. It’s not a sentiment. We can love people who turn us off, whose deeds we despise, whose actions we don’t understand.

But God desires our love – for God, for God’s people, and for the poor.

And that’s a good place to start living our lives as followers of a loving God.


Idols and orphans

We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.
Hosea 14: 4

 What do orphans have to do with idolatry?

Yet Hosea has the people giving up idolatry in the light of the Lord’s compassion on orphans.

In Israel, the care of orphans and widows was an essential part of keeping the Covenant with God.

In a male-dominated society, a woman without a man to care for her and a child without a male protector were helpless, since they without connection to any support system. Thus the community had the obligation to see to their needs. Failure to care for them was a failure to live as the People of God.

Idolatry means placing our hopes in something which is not God, but is of our own making. Idolatry is often a response to insecurity or to the need to have something that gives us power or protection.

Pope Francis has talked of the fetishism of money, how we give money a magical power to control us, thinking it will save us.

Hosea also sees reliance on horses – that is war alliances with Egypt – as idolatry, thinking we can save ourselves by weapons, the work of our hands.

But our God is a God who cares for the orphans, who identifies with them. There is security when we follow our God in our love and care for the orphan.

I think that President Eisenhower’s remarks in a April 16, 1953 speech also reflects the problem of choosing between idols and orphans

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Lenten conversion means turning away from idols and turning to the care of those in need – not just in our personal lives but in our nations.


The Romero Prayer by Bishop Untener

Ten years ago today, at the age of 66, Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, passed on to the Lord.

He was a bishop who sought to live as a pastor who opens the door to life in abundance. As he once wrote, “The shepherd brings them to the wide open spaces, green pastures, wider horizons, where they can have a freedom they never knew before.”

His pastoral style was reflected in his greeting to a meeting soon after his consecration as bishop: “Hello, I’m Ken, and I’ll be your waiter.”

He spent much of his time on the road, visiting the parishes in his diocese and staying in various rectories.

But what he might be most remembered for is a prayer he wrote in 1979 for Cardinal Dearden. For some unknown reason it was attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero and became known as “The Romero Prayer.”

Though it expresses some of the spirituality of Romero, it is the work of Bishop Untener. It is a good prayer to pray this Lent.

It helps now and then to step back
and take the long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime
only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise
that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection;
no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds
that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations
that will need further development.
We provide yeast
that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and do it very well.
It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter
and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.



Fiat – Let it be

“Let it be…”

Mary’s response to the surprising and disconcerting announcement that she was to be the mother of the Lord was a simple “Let it be so for me – as you have said.”

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere

So simple and yet so difficult. But remembering God’s great love it may become easier.

Last week, during my retreat, I prayed the contemplation on the incarnation in Ignatius Spiritual Exercises.

The Trinity looking down on the earth – on all its people – and see us all, in our sin and suffering. They say, “Let Us work the redemption of the Human race.”

And “The Word becomes flesh” in the womb of a young woman in Nazareth.

God’s love is so great, wishing us healing and heaven – in love, willing our healing.

As I prayed, I thought of all the people throughout the world whom God looks upon with love – including me.

When we begin to realize this, we can say yes to God.

When we realize that God loves us and has our well-being in mind, it becomes easier to pray the prayer that ends Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my intellect, and all my will
—all that I have and possess.
You gave it to me: to Thee, Lord, I return it!
All is Yours, dispose of it according to all Your will.
Give me Your love and grace,
for this is enough for me.

Mary gave God all, recognizing God’s love.

Can I too say yes to God’s love?

We need prophets

All too often we look to leaders for words of comfort. We seek security.

But a true leader is a prophet, who speaks the truth, who calls us out of slavery and sin and injustice to a life of solidarity and justice, a life that reflects God’s reign.

Monseñor Romero

Monseñor Romero

Today is the 34th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the Divina Providencia Cancer hospital chapel in San Salvador.

There are hints that he will soon be beatified, but he is already a saint and a martyr in the hearts of many around the globe.

He was a prophet, but I believe he calls all of us to be prophets, to speak the Word, in season and out of season. We cannot leave prophecy to the recognized prophets.

As he said in a December 10, 1977 homily:

It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world: a very spiritualized word, a word without any commitment to history, a word that can sound in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems, starts no conflicts.

What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is the word that, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims and accuses: proclaims to the people God’s wonders to be believed and venerated, and accuses of sin those who oppose God’s reign, so that they may tear that sin out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of their laws – out of the structures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity.

This is the hard service of the word. But God’s Spirit goes with the prophet, with the preacher, for he is Christ, who keeps on proclaiming his reign to the people of all times.

May we seek to be prophets like him.

A personal retreat

Five days away from my ministries in Santa Rosa is in some sense a luxury, but one I desperately needed.

I had been wanting to do this since September and finally carved out seven days – 5 days of retreat and two days to travel.

It was a largely silent retreat and, though I talked with the Jesuit who offered me a place to stay, it was largely self-directed – or, rather, as it turned out, God-directed.

I had brought a digital version of St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, as well as two books: Néstor Jaén’s Toward a Liberation Spirituality and Michael Harter’s book of prayers, Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits.

Part III of Jaén’s book had a paraphrase of the Exercises from a liberation perspective. Hearts on Fire, parts of which I’ve used for personal prayer, is organized around the Spiritual Exercises.  They were both very helpful.

But what happened, without my planning, is that each day presented me with a challenge.

  • to be open to God’s love
  • to let myself be freed from the pursuit of honors and recognition
  • to be available, disponible, especially to the poor
  • to accompany, to be present to witness the degradation of the Son of God and the children of God by the powers of this world
  • to wait, in hope for the Risen Lord.

These are very personal, reflecting my idiosyncrasies, my obsessions, and my needs – but perhaps they might help others to begin to ask themselves, “Where is God calling me today?”


Thirst and our real needs

 “Christ asks for water and promises water.
He is in need and wants to receive;
he is rich and wants to slake the thirst of others.”
St. Augustine, Commentary on John

In today’s Gospel, John 4: 5-42, we find Jesus in need. He’s tired and thirsty, seated at Jacob’s well, in the heat of the noonday sun.

Icon, Vatican Museum

Icon, Vatican Museum

A woman, triply marginalized, approaches. But she has a water jar – and the capacity to help Jesus satisfy his physical thirst.

She is a woman and a Jewish teacher wouldn’t be seen speaking publicly with a woman who is not family.

She is also a Samaritan – a “heretic” according to the Jews. As she says, “Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.”

She is also probably an outcast in her village. She doesn’t come for water when the other women do, in the cool of the morning. She arrives in the noonday heat, perhaps to avoid the looks or the gossip of the other women, who perhaps fear she’ll take their husbands. “After all, she has had five men!”

But she asks the woman for help: “Will you give me a drink?”

She objects, emphasizing the gap between them.

But Jesus sees her thirst, her desire for something different, and he offers her living water.

Perhaps tired of coming every day at noon for water she asks Jesus for this living water.

But Jesus asks her to call her husband and reveals that in her thirst, her desire for life, she has had five men.

Unsatisfied, she has sought to quench her thirst for life in five different men and, in the words of U-2, she still hadn’t found what she was looking for.

Jesus has awakened that desire in her. He has called her to see the deepest desires of her heart. And he reveals himself to her as the long-awaited Messiah.

Jesus asks us for a drink, to share what we have with him. And he wants to awaken in us the deepest desires and thirsts of our heart.

He sees her as a person who can do something with him. (In fact, she ends up evangelizing her town.)

We have something that Jesus can use. He asks our help – and in the process, he helps us discover our real need and find it in letting ourselves be loved by Him.


Awakening in the Lord

There are a few lines from St. Patrick’s rune which might serve us well this morning.

I arise today:
in the might of God for my piloting;
power of God for my stability;
wisdom of God for my guidance;
eye of God for my foresight;
ear of God for my hearing;
word of God for my word;
hand of God for my guard;
path of God for my prevention;
shield of God for my protection;
host of God for my salvation;
against any demon’s snare;
against all vice’s lure;
against concupiscence;
against ill-wishes far and near.

God’s is always present – if we pay attention.