Monthly Archives: June 2014

God tapping

Saturday I attended the priestly ordination of two men I knew when I was a campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa.

Fr. Mark Murphy

Sunday I attended the first Mass of Father Mark Murphy in Marion, Iowa. There were about 37 priest concelebrants and Mark had asked me to do the second reading.

I gave him a little grief just before I left because the first line of the reading I had, 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18, read:

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.

However, I remember another translation:

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation and my death is imminent.

Did Mark have some knowledge of the future that I was unaware of?

Whatever his intentions, he gave a beautiful homily.

He commented on the image of God and humans in the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which he may have seen several times, having studied for four years at the North American College in Rome.

He commented how it presents an image of God creating humans with a touch – in a most majestic way. That is what most of us want – grand moments in which God touches us.

But in the first reading, Acts 12: 1-11, an angel wakens Peter in prison, tapping him on the side. Isn’t that the way that God often touches us, Mark noted –  with a slight touch?

But are we always willing to awaken to this subtle call of God? Peter thought he was dreaming until he was alone in an alley.

The challenge is to be aware of the taps of God on our side.


The Baptist and the summer solstice

The Catholic Church celebrates only three birthdays: Jesus on December 24, Mary on September 8, and John the Baptist on June 24.

Christmas is celebrated around the time of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. In the darkness, the light of the newborn babe shines, promising light and life.

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

The nativity of St. John is near the summer solstice, the longest day in the northern hemisphere. In some places in the world it is celebrated with vigils and a night celebration around a fire.

Interestingly, from this day on the days get shorter. The light decreases.

One of the most striking aspects of St. John the Baptist is his identity as a precursor, the one who comes before the Messiah. As John said, “ He must increase and I must decrease.” (John 3: 30)

As the length of the days decreases, we celebrate the one who saw his role as decreasing.

Decreasing so that someone else can have the spotlight is not easy. It demands a discipline of humility and a willingness to let others shine.

John had his priorities right – letting the Messiah shine.

A good message for people like me.


Jesus – a refugee

Jesus was a refugee.
He had to flee to save his life.
He was a refugee.
Pope Francis, 19 June 2014

 Today is World Refugee Day, when the world remembers the innumerable refugees in the world – some who have fled war and violence, others who are fleeing oppression and persecution, some who are trying to get away from the poverty that afflicts them and their daily lives.

I have known a number of refugees when I was in the US – refugees from Poland, Sudan, Ethiopia, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

One Guatemalan lived with me for seven months while awaiting acceptance into Canada. At that time, his chances of getting acceptance as a refugee in the US were nearly impossible – this despite having been imprisoned and maltreated by the Guatemalan military.

I have been recently hearing about the fate of children being held in detention in the United States. They had gone to the US for many reasons, risking their lives in the passage through Mexico.

If you want to get an idea of what this means read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. Although this was written in 2006, when the journey was not as dangerous as it is today, it gives an idea of the experiences of those who seek to go to the US.

All this points to the need for a real change in US immigration policy. I don’t have any specifics on how to do this, though one might look at what the US Catholic Conference and other religious groups are advocating.

But what strikes me is the reason why today was chosen as world refugee day.

In the Anglican Communion, today is the feast of the first British martyr, St. Alban, who was killed in either the mid-third or the early fourth century.

A Roman citizen living in Britain, he gave refugee to a Christian priest who was being sought by the authorities. He was so moved by the priest that he was baptized.

But soon the authorities came to take away the priest. Alban, though, had changed his clothes with the priest and so was taken, tired, and beheaded.

He had put himself in the place of the refugee priest. He had given his life to protect another person.

St. Alban is an example of what we might do – take in the stranger and offer ourselves to save their lives.


Salvadoran martyr of the base communities

In [Rafael Palacios] we see the new man and the zeal he had to fashion those new human beings that Latin America needs today—not just by changing structures but above all by changing hearts. It is the voice of conversion, the voice of genuine evangelization.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, June 1979

Rafael Palacios grew up in Suchitoto, El Salvador and his body lies in the Sacred Heart chapel in the city’s church of Santa Lucía. There is even a street named for him. Until recently there was a mural on the wall of the convento of the El Calvario church in town.

Mural of Rafael Palacios and Monseñor Romero

Mural of Rafael Palacios and Monseñor Romero

On June 20, 1979, at the age of 38, he was shot and killed on the streets of Santa Tecla, El Salvador, where he was working with base communities. At the time he was also serving in the Mejicanos parish whose pastor, Octavio Ortiz, had been killed in January 1979.

He had been ordained in 1963 as a priest for the diocese of San Vicente. He transferred to the archdiocese of San Salvador in the 1980s when the bishop of San Vicente suspended ten of his priests for their liberating style of pastoral work.

Father Jesús Delgado, cited in James Brockman’s  Romero: A Life,  noted that he “was fully convinced that Christian lay people should commit themselves to political struggle in order to bring to it the light of the Gospel and the salt of God’s Word.” But Padre Rafael did not confuse political organizing with the grass-roots church communities.

Yet he did connect faith with the life of the people, including their sufferings and persecution by a repressive government.

For example, in 1979 the communities he worked with staged a passion play in the church of El Calvario which connected Jesus’ imprisonment and death with the exploitation and repression they were suffering.

Faith should not be separated from life, a life which for much of the world is filled with suffering.

Those of us who live comfortable lives should not forget this. Nor should we forget that Jesus came among us, not with power and might, but in poverty and humility, sharing the pain and the joys of the people with whom he lived.

May the example of the martyrs, life Padre Rafael Palacios, remind us of God’s identification with the poor and suffering.

As Archbishop Romero said at Padre Rafael’s funeral Mass, cited in Brockman,



Baptism and the Father of compassion

God so loved the world…
John 3: 16

 The Lord – compassionate and gracious…
Exodus 34: 6

 A few months ago, Pope Francis asked people if they knew the day of their baptism.

Today is the anniversary of my baptism, on June 15, 1947, in Saint Rafael’s Church in the Meadows in Philadelphia.

I don’t remember the day, obviously, but a few years ago I found and scanned several photos of that day.

Dad, Mom and me - baptism day

Dad, Mom and me – baptism day

That was the day that I was baptized in the name of the Trinity – experiencing the love and compassion of God in a special way.

The church at St. Raphael’s was on the first floor of a building which, if I’m not wrong, had a gym in the basement, and classrooms on the second floor. It has been torn down; the area is now the site of multiple airport hotels.

But, on the day my dad was buried, I found out something about the neighborhood of the Meadows that makes me proud to have been baptized there.

Catholics and Protestants and black Pentecostals, Christians and Jews, blacks and whites lived side by side in the Meadows. In the Catholic church’s gym there were basketball games that included Protestants and Catholics. My aunt would go to the local synagogue and turn off the lights after the Friday Sabbath prayer. My father would go to turn off the lights on Friday night for Jewish neighbors.

And this was the 1930s in Philadelphia.

So today I am grateful for being born in a community where people of different races and religions lived in a bit of harmony, being baptized into a Church that calls us to embrace all with the love of the God who loves the world so much that he sent his Son, and raised in a family by parents who sought to live a love that embraces others.

So is the love of God – Father and Mother to us – revealed to me on this Father’s Day.


Preaching from the heart

Saint Anthony of Padua was a marvelous preacher. At times so many people flocked to his sermons that he had to preach outside the church.

The reading for Vigils of the feast is from one of his sermons.

For Anthony preaching had to come from the Spirit of God in one’s heart.

Happy is the man whose words issue from the Holy Spirit and not from himself!

It must come from the heart, he advises his hearers. He warns against what we’d call plagiarism: You must not steal someone else’s words and present them as your own.

For some men speak as their own character dictates, but steal the words of others and present them as their own and claim credit for them.

But for him this is much more than plagiarism; these people really do not serve God or God’s people.

How to speak?

We should speak as the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of speech. Our humble and sincere request to the Sprit for ourselves should be that we bring the day of Pentecost to fulfillment, insofar as the Holy Spirit infuses us with His grace, by using our bodily sense in a perfect manner and by keeping the commandments.

Sometimes we reduce preaching to the words spoken by a priest or public speaker. But Pope Francis thinks otherwise.

“Preaching the Gospel” is central to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel. Preaching is a central part of our mission as disciples of Jesus. In paragraph 127, the pope writes:

Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.

Will we bring the love of Jesus to others – or merely mouth words, plagiarizing but not speaking from the heart of God?

Son of Encouragement

Today is the feast of St. Barnabas, whose name, according to Acts 4:36, means “Son of Encouragement” or “Son of Consolation.”

Being the nerd I am, I looked up the Greek. The word used is παράκλησις – paraklesis, which is related to Paraclete – the name we give to the Holy Spirit.

Paraklesis is also the word used repeatedly in 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7, a passage which I love, because I see it as a call for real solidarity:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our afflictions, so we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For, just as the sufferings of Christ overflow in us, so also our consolation overflows through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation which is at work in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is well-founded, for we know that as you in community with us in our sufferings, so too are you in our consolation.

Re-read the passage, substituting encouragement for consolation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in all our afflictions, so we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For, just as the sufferings of Christ overflow in us, so also our encouragement overflows through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are being encouraged, it is for your encouragement which is at work in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is well-founded, for we know that as you in community with us in our sufferings, so too are you in our encouragement.

True consolation is encouragement, calling us forward, moving us out of the afflictions that keep us discouraged and focused on ourselves.

If his name is true, Barnabas was a person who encouraged others.

So many people I minister with here in Honduras are in need of encouragement, the word that helps them move on. All too often they are made to feel useless which takes the courage out of them. And so to encourage them is a way to show God’s presence among them.

I don’t think that’s the case only here in Honduras – though it is much more visible.

How many of us need a consolation that is really encouragement.

May we experience the encouragement of God – and encourage others.


Elijah and the widow

The jar of flour shall not go empty…
1 Kings 17: 14 

Elijah, fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6)

Elijah, fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6)

A famine has come over the land. Elijah has to leave his hideout because the stream has dried up. He goes to a pagan town and asks a widow for food and drink. But she has almost nothing and is awaiting death, together with her son.

How often have I experienced the hospitality of the poor. Though they have little, they are willing to share and will often offer a visitor the best they had.

I remember when I was on sabbatical in El Salvador in 1992, living with a poor family in the countryside. They were making their tortillas out of sorghum – maicillo – but always offered me corn tortillas.

I can’t remember how many times people have offered me a large meal and I’ve had to ask them to give me half of what they were offering.

It also helps that people now know that I don’t eat meat. They don’t kill a chicken for me when I visit so that I can have meat.

The hospitality of the poor is a challenge as was the hospitality of the widow.

She had nothing, but Elijah tells her not to be afraid but to prepare a small cake for him. She does it and the flour and oil last.

As I ponder today’s reading (1 Kings 17: 7-16), I see a connection between hospitality and trust in the Providence of God. Trusting in the providence of God doesn’t mean that everything will be easy and we won’t have problems or suffer. It means that we see that there is a loving God who created the universe – and us. And so, when we trust that a loving God is with us, then we can share.

When we think that we have to do everything for ourselves, as if we are the ones who can assure life and happiness, we hoard our possessions and don’t share.

Trust in God’s providence is hard for me.  I am a planner, a person who wants everything to work out well and to be in its place.

The hospitality of the poor should remind me to follow the example of our loving God who provides for us – though not always as we would hope.

The Holy Ghost and Gerard Manley Hopkins

…the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.
“God grandeur”

This year the feast of Pentecost falls on the anniversary of the death of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins on June 8, 1889.

Holy Spirit window, St. Peter's, the Vatican

Holy Spirit window, St. Peter’s, the Vatican

“God’s grandeur” is one of my favorite poems, celebrating the presence of God in the world. It is also a poem with a very ecological flavor.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

But Hopkins laments what we humans have done to the earth

And all is seared with trade: bleared, smeared with toil;
And wear’s man’s smudge and shares man’s smell…

We have even forgotten how to experience the earth:

    …the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Yet Hopkins maintains hope

And for all this, nature is never spent;
     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things

How can this be?

      Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
            World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The Spirit of God renews the face of the earth, renews us, and offers us hope. There is a freshness – the dearest freshness – deep down things – if we would open our hearts.

No wonder the last words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, after a life filled with melancholy, were

I am so happy!

The full text of the poem can be found here.

Hope while chained

…it is on account of the hope of Israel
that I wear these chains.
Acts 28:20 

These words of Paul in Rome struck me this morning.

Mosaic, St.Paul outside the walls

Mosaic, St.Paul outside the walls

Paul sees his work – among Jews and gentiles – as a source of hope for God’s people. Even his chains provide hope, since they are signs of his commitment.

How hard it is to find hope in the midst of suffering – but Paul did so.

Hope sustained him and kept him confident and free from self-pity.

What hope sustains me? What hope will enable me to bear suffering? What hope will bring me joy?

For me, it is the hope of the people here in Honduras for a life that is full of love and solidarity, where life reflects the Reign of God, where violence and poverty no long oppress them.

What hope sustains you?