Monthly Archives: May 2014

The encounter of Mary and Elizabeth

Visitation SuchitotoToday is the feast of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps it might be better called “The Encounter.”

Four people encounter each other – Mary, Jesus in her womb, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist in her womb.

Elizabeth greets Mary with words that are now part of the “Hail Mary.” John leaps in his mother’s womb. Mary responds with the Magnificat, a canticle of God’s liberating love. Jesus is just there – in Mary’s womb.

Jesus does nothing but be present. He does not say anything; he doesn’t move in Mary’s womb. He is just there.

That is the mystery of the encounter with God – Jesus is, Jesus is present.

How do we respond?

Do we recognize Him as Elizabeth and John did?

Do we carry Him to others as Mary did?

Do we even recognize Him?

Perhaps we need to recall this paraphrase of a poem of St. John of the Cross:

If you meet the Virgin
coming down the road,
ask her in —
she bears the Word of God.

Will we recognize Jesus and will we bear him to others?



De Verbo divino
la Virgen preñada
viene de camino
si le dais posada.

Fidelity to conscience

Today is the feast of Saint Joan of Arc, the French peasant girl who led the troops of France against the English. She was captured, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake – at the age of nineteen.

There is much about Jean D’Arc, the Maid of Orleans, that is troubling. The saints whose voices urged her on – Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret – may never have existed. She also led troops in battle.

But, surprisingly, she was one of Dorothy Day’s favorite saints – and Dorothy Day was a firm opponent of war.

As Jim Forest notes in All Is Grace, in response to his query about her devotion to this “military” saint, Dorothy Day told him that “Joan of Arc is a saint to the fidelity to conscience.”

Yet, there is another aspect of Saint Joan. In All Saints, Robert Ellsberg, who worked with Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker, writes (page 238):

An illiterate peasant girl, a shepherd, a “nobody.” she heeded a religious call to save her country when all the ”somebodies” of her time proved unable or unwilling to meet the challenge. She stood up before princes of the church and state and the most learned authorities of her world and refused to compromise her conscience or deny her special vocation. She paid the ultimate price for her stand. And in doing so she won a prize far more valuable than the gratitude of the Dauphin or the keys of Orleans.

Again, God chooses the poor of this world to confound the rich and powerful

Groping for God

When Paul went to Athens, he was taken to the Areopagus to share this “new teaching.” In the course of his discourse he noted that their “unknown God” was the creator of all that is, who created humans and fixed the seasons and their limits.

“He wanted them to seek him by themselves,
even if it were only by groping for him, and eventually to find him.”
Acts 17: 27 – Christian Community Bible

Even if we only grope, only feel around, trying to find God, the promise is that we shall find him.

Sometime my life feels as if I’m just feeling around for a God whom I don’t see or experience. I’m groping in the dark.

Even when we feel as if we are in darkness and are feeling around in the dark room of our lives, if we keep going the promise is that we shall find him.

Even when we are confused and struggle with doubt, if we keep up the struggle, the promise is that we shall find him.

Even when the world seems to be falling in on us, and injustice and oppression keep us down, if we keep seeking for the light, the promise is that we shall find him.

It’s not always easy. It can be a struggle. We need to remember that many holy women and men experienced years of darkness and dryness of soul.

But the promise is there:

God is not far from any of us.

 Keep groping!

Las Casas, a massacre, and the power of scripture

According to the Agenda Latinoamericana 2014, today is the five hundredth anniversary of the conversion of Bartolomé de las Casas.

Las Casas is well known as a Dominican bishop who was a defender of the indigenous peoples in the New World. But this did not come all that easily for him.

He arrived in the New World in 1502 and stayed here for four years. He returned to Spain to study for the priesthood and was ordained in Rome in 1507.

He returned to the New World where he was given an encomienda, a right to have native peoples as slaves to work for him. The Dominicans in Hispañola had condemned slave-holding, but Las Casas did not think they were correct in refusing absolution to anyone who held slaves.

In 1514, accompanying a group of Spaniards on a pacifying mission in Cuba, led by a friend of his, Las Casas witnessed the massacre of indigenous peoples.

Soon after, while preparing his sermon for Pentecost, Las Casas came upon these verses from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 34:

Unclean is the offering sacrificed by an oppressor. [Such] mockeries of the unjust are not pleasing [toGod]. The Lord is pleased only by those who keep to the way of truth and justice… The one whose sacrifice comes from the goods of the poor is like one who kills his neighbor. The one who sheds blood and the one who defrauds the laborer are kin and kind.

Reflecting on these words, Las Casas concluded that “everything done to the Indians in these Indies was unjust and tyrannical.”

He eventually divested himself of his slaves, He joined the Dominicans and became an advocate of the indigenous.

It took an atrocity to open Las Casas’ heart to the injustice all around him. The blood of the people at the massacre of Caonao, Cuba, moved him to listen attentively to the Word of God.

So much blood is being poured out all around us – but do we let it touch our hearts as it touches the heart of God?

May the example of Bartolomé de Las Casas open our hearts to the cries of the oppressed.

The translation of Sirach is from Francis Patrick Sullivan’s introduction of Indian Freedom: The Cause of Bartolomé de las Casa, 1484-1566: A Reader, pp. 3-4.

Joy and tenderness

There is a proverb that “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

There is the saying attributed to Saint Teresa de Avila that “A sad saint is a sorry saint.”

Even the theologian Karl Rahner noted that “A good laugh is a sign of love.”

Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of joy for the follower of Christ. His Apostolic Exhortation is fittingly entitled The Joy of the Gospel.

Today is the feast of Saint Philip Neri, the sixteenth century apostle of Rome. Born in Florence he studied with the Dominicans at the Convent of San Marco – a house noted for the beautiful frescos that Fra Angelico and his followers painted on the walls of the friars’ cell. But it is also noted as the convent where Girolamo Savonarola lived.

Savonarola is noted for his fierce and severe call for reform in Florence, even setting up a sort of holy republic. For his efforts as well as for his biting critique of the papacy, he was burned at the stake in the center of Florence.

According to Paul Burns in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Philip Neri revered the memory of Savonarola. “He [Philip] aimed for a return to the apostolic simplicity of life, as his early hero Savonarola had, but encouraged people to embrace this without using hell-fire sermons and without deliberately upsetting the church establishment.”

Despite this he got into trouble at least twice – at one point Pope Paul IV prohibited him from preaching.

But what is striking is that he kept up a cheerful spirit in all this. As he said:

Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.

He also used humor to undercut the efforts to idolize him as a living saint – going around with half his beard shaved, wearing outrageous disguises, and playing practical jokes.

I was reminded of the place of joy and tenderness in our spiritual lives when I read the reflection this morning in Give Us This Day. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn recalled that

In the novel Adam Bede, George Eliot wrote, “When death, the great reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.”

God wants us to be people of joy. Severity may have its place, but ultimately we are called to nurture tenderness and joy.


Being Advocates

The Father will give you another Advocate
to be with you always.
John 14: 16

At the Last Supper, Jesus promised his disciples that God the Father would send another advocate, another defender, another comforter.

God does not leave us alone. God does not leave us orphans – although it sometimes appears that we live in a world where so many people seem abandoned and alone.

The last line of Psalm 66 in the Grail translation puts this beautifully:

Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer
nor withhold his love from me.

 But so many feel abandoned.

Today a friend sent me photos of Pope Francis at the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. The writing on the wall called on the pope to be an advocate: “Welcome, Pope. We need someone to speak about justice.”


I remember my visit to a Bethlehem refugee camps almost ten years ago, probably near that spot. There were kids playing in the street – as there were kids near the pope – but we entered a house that had just been dynamited by Israel forces.

Pope Francis’s invitation to the presidents of Palestine and Israel to come and pray with him at the Vatican are words of someone who wants to advocate for the poor, for the victims of violence – on all sides.

We are called, I believe, to be advocates of all those in need. God sends us an Advocate, but we too are sent to be advocates, as Gustavo notes in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year,  p. 104

The Lord is asking us to be with our sisters and brothers. Receiving the Spirit (Acts 8: 15-17) must make us become “advocates,” defenders, people who are with those who need us. We are called to serve, not impose our ideas. This presupposes our living and sharing with the,. If Jesus does not leave us orphans (Jn 14:18), neither should we leave those who need us orphans. This is true worship, sanctifying the Lord in our hearts (1 Pet 3:15).

There are so many victims of injustice, of violence, of separation walls. How will I be an advocate?


Going where we do not expect

Come over to Macedonia and support us.
Acts 16: 9

 I never expected to spend almost seven years in Honduras – and probably live here until God calls me elsewhere.

A 2006 service trip with students to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina opened up something in me.

I applied for an opening in El Salvador, a country which I had visited every year since 1985. I was interviewed and the Des Moines-based committee wanted me to go to be interviewed by the Salvadoran staff.

But soon after the New Orleans trip I had written to a friend, Dubuque Franciscan sister Nancy Meyerhofer, if I might be of help there. She told me that when I came on a planned visit in May I should speak to the bishop.

The Saturday before I was to see the bishop was the Saturday of the fifth week of Easter, with today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Paul seemed to be trying to figure out where he should go to preach the Gospel. But the Spirit prevented him from going to some places in Asia Minor (now western Turkey). The places weren’t bad places to go, but God had something else in mind. At night, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia who told him to come to Macedonia to help.

In some ways my days in Honduras in May 2006 were like Paul’s vision: “Come to Honduras to support us.”

Sometimes God calls us where we hadn’t planned to go. And so I am in Honduras.

“Why Honduras,” some have asked me, “and not El Salvador where you have connections and emotional ties?”

Only God really knows but for me Honduras is poorer and has less solidarity than El Salvador.

And so I am here. Thanks be to God.


Being in charge

You have not chosen me;
I have chosen you.
John 15: 16

I like being in charge, knowing what I will be doing and not experiencing many surprises.

But I’m not sure that’s the way God works. More often than not, God surprises us and moves us where we don’t expect to go.

We do make choices and they are important. But what is important is that God has chosen us. It doesn’t matter if we’re smart or handsome or witty. What matters is God’s choice and our response.

As I wrote these words I thought of this prayer of Cardinal John Newman which someone gave me years ago:

God has created me to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me
which he has not committed to another.
I have a mission.
I may never know it in this life
but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good — I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it,
if I but keep His commandments.
Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him.
In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him.
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
He does nothing in vain.
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends.
He may throw me among strangers.
He may make me feel desolate,
make my spirits sink,
hide my future from me —
still He knows what He is about.


Being pruned

In today’s Gospel (John 15:1-8), Jesus tells his disciples that he is the vine and we are the branches. Unless we are united with him, we will not bear fruit.

Almost twenty years ago I read this passage on Holy Thursday evening, sitting in front of the Eucharist after the evening Mass.

I had a serious decision to make. My father was in the hospital after a serious heart attack and would soon be released.

What was I to do? Put him in a nearby nursing home or care for him in the apartment where he was living?

As I prayed, I realized that I was being called to let myself be pruned, to let God strip me of the dead branches and dried out flowers of my life.

I decided that after a short stay in a nursing home, Dad would be back in his apartment.

There were several years of caring for Dad, first in his apartment and then in the house I bought.

They were years of pruning, but they were years that I will never regret.

Where do I now need pruning? What dry branches and dead flowers need to be stripped away? And how will I let God do this?

In some way, my decision to move out to the countryside will stretch me. I will be living in a village, very close to people. I imagine that I may have people dropping by at unexpected times, “disturbing” my quiet. I already have people asking me to do things in the village.

I pray that I may let God prune me so that I may be available for God’s people here.




Not the peace of the world

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or cowardly.
John 14: 27 

 What type of peace do we seek?

Do we seek the peace of the cemetery – or a peace that is vibrant and living?

Do we want a peace that doesn’t upset us – or challenge us?

Do we try to attain peace by arming ourselves with weapons or securing ourselves behind impregnable walls?

Do we just want to be left alone – in peace?

What Jesus offers is a peace in the midst of conflict, in the midst of persecution, in the midst of the pain and reality of everyday life – as well as in the midst of the oppression experienced by the poor and marginalized.

A few weeks ago I was stopped on a deserted road by the police. One policeman aimed his rifle at me in the cab of my truck. After a few questions, they let me pass.

In the midst of this, I felt at peace.

That’s not because I have confidence in the police here. Just a few months before police beat up a priest in another part of the diocese. I also had been stopped earlier that day by a rather rude soldier at a checkpoint.

I still don’t know how I was able to maintain peace – even afterwards. (I even checked my blood pressure and it was not high!)

Somehow I had been gifted by the peace Jesus promises in today’s Gospel.

Let us pray that we can always be open to that peace – and respond with untroubled and brave hearts.