Monthly Archives: July 2014

Welcome the guest

In Luke’s Gospel (10: 38-43) of Jesus visiting with Martha and Mary, Martha often comes off as less than her sister. This may cause us to miss the beauty of what she did.

There is a beautiful passage in a sermon of St. Augustine in today’s reading for Vigils in Benedictine Daily Prayer, which gave me a new appreciation of Martha – and a challenge.

Martha received Jesus as a guest—just as the Lord does who makes his servants God’s children and his won brothers and sisters, who ransoms the captives and makes them co-heirs with himself. But do not say: “How blest those who received Christ into their own homes!” Be not saddened that you live in an age when the Lord is no longer seen in the flesh. He has not deprived you of Martha’s privilege: “When you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me!”

Will we be as Martha,  one who receives the Lord – pilgrims, migrants, the hungry and thirsty?

Getting political

“To shake the hand of an Indian is a political act.”
Fr. Stanley Rother

Fr. Stanley Rother was a priest – an Oklahama farm boy, as Robert Ellsberg writes – who spent many years in the indigenous town of Santiago Atitlan, serving the pastoral needs of the people.

On July 28, 1981, he was killed in the rectory by three armed men who sought to silence his voice.

Crucified Christ in Santiago Atitlán Church

Crucified Christ in Santiago Atitlán Church

From what I can gather he was not a very “political” person, like some people I know here in Central America, including some priests. But his work with founding cooperatives and training catechists and pastoral workers made him a threat to the powers of Guatemala in those days. Those rulers saw every effort to work with the indigenous peoples and to empower them as threats to their national security state.

I have always been struck by Father Stan’s statement: “To shake the hand of an Indian is a political act.”

I think this has been part of the inspiration of my custom to shake the hand of almost everyone I meet when I come into a meeting.`

Here it is customary for the men to greet each other with a handshake. But I try to shake the hand of everyone – man, woman, child. Sometimes the younger children recoil, or even cry – not having seen many gringos. But other kids just smile – a little embarrassed, perhaps.

But I consider that this simple act is a way to show that I try to respect their dignity as children of God, as my sisters and brothers in Christ.

The little things mean a lot.

Thus I have grieved when I see the reaction of some in the US to the tens of thousands of young people and children who have fled poverty or violence or have travelled far to meet up with their parents. The hate, the fear, the anger fill me with a deep sadness.

But I rejoice at those who welcome the stranger, open their churches and houses to the adolescent and child migrants who seek a like of tranquility.

Their acts are political acts – not because they are supporting a political ideology, but because they are opening their lives and their hearts to the poor, the migrant, the stranger.

And in that political act, which is really just a human act, they are – I pray – experiencing Christ.


going after strange gods

Jeremiah is brutal in today’s lectionary reading (7: 1-11). He refuses to let the people rely on their public worship, their beautiful temple.

Instead he lays out their wrong doing and calls them to amend their ways:

 Do not abuse the stranger, orphan, or widow,
or shed innocent blood in this place,
or follow strange gods…
But you trust in deceptive and useless words.
You steal, kill, take the wife of your neighbor;
you swear falsely and follow strange gods…

Dan Berrigan notes that this is not a mere listing of sins:

 Each catalogue of crimes ends, in fact, with the name of the greatest of crime: idolatry.
…idolatry permeates every misdeed. There are unjust toward one another, taking base advantage of widows and orphans, even killing the innocent… Such behavior already implies… “worshipping false gods.”

What might Jeremiah say today?

I think that he would list the rejection of the migrant, especially the children, as well as the killing of civilians in Gaza, as well as – to a lesser extent – in Israel. He would look at the lack of compassion toward the poor and rail against this abuse.

But he would also ask us to look at the strange gods that lead us to such actions.

What are these strange gods?

For this we need a national examination of conscience, not just asking what evil we have done but what gods we worship.

I propose we look at a few possible false gods – wealth, power, nationalism, consumerism. All of these, I believe, flow from a lack of trust in a God who calls us to mercy and compassion. It flows from a fear that we might have to lay these gods aside, these gods that promise an easy life – in order to live a good life.

A good life is a life serving the God of compassion, the Father of orphans, widows, and the stranger.

This is not a God who kills strangers, who tells the migrant to go home, who erects walls and borders.

The Lord is a God who finds ways to welcome others – even ourselves – so that we may live as people of mercy.


Missing what is there

Remember the wonders the Lord has done…
Psalm 105: 5

 It’s so easy to miss what is around us or, worse, defile what is beautiful and a gift from God.

As I read today’s lectionary reading from Jeremiah 2, I was struck by two image he used to show how the people – we – have lost our way and misused the gifts of God.

The images are meant to speak of the infidelity of the people, their – our – turning aside from the God of life to things, idols, that bring death.

But Jeremiah used images from nature that speak not only of our infidelity of God but of the ways we devastate creation.

Verse 7:

I brought you to a fertile land to eat of the choicest fruit. As soon as you came, you defiled the land and dishonored my heritage! (Christian Community Bible translation)

I brought you to this country of farm land,
to enjoy its fruit and its bounty;
but you came and defiled My land,
you made My possession abhorrent.
(Tanakh translation)

Verse 13:

For my people have done two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, to dig for themselves leaking cisterns that hold no water.

God has given us fertile land, farm land, and living waters, but so often we look for something that is merely the work of our hands – forgetting the wonders around us – or worse, abusing them, not caring for them.

Jeremiah calls us to turn to God, the fount of living waters, to conversion. I also think he might be reminding us to see, love, and care for the good earth and the pools of living water around us.

Perhaps I am particularly sensitive to verse 13 this year since I went with members of one village to test the quality of their water source, a source for theirs and two other villages. The source was contaminated with bacterial and fecal matter. They, nevertheless, have non-contaminated water in their homes, since they chlorinate the water in their community tank. The other communities, though, are drinking contaminated water – since they had not chlorinated the water in their tank.

The challenge of Jeremiah

“I am too young.”
Jeremiah 1: 6

 Today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah (1: 1, 4-10) has often been used to encourage young people to participate in the church, to assume leadership roles, to take public prophetic stands. “Your age doesn’t matter, “ we might say.

But this morning, as I read Daniel Berrigan’s commentary on this passage, in Jeremiah: The World, the Wound of God,” I began to wonder whether we have missed something.

God is asking Jeremiah to be a prophet, which will mean announcing destruction and the overthrow of the city, as well as a call to build and to plant. More than enough to make any one hesitate.

His call, though, is not just something God just thought of at the last moment. As Dan Berrigan writes:

What a predicament; what a harsh announcement! It falls, a bolt from the blue:
“Before I formed you,… before you were born,… I appointed you.”

Isn’t that too much for anyone?

As Berrigan remarks,

 Jeremiah can only protest: “I don’t know how to speak; I am too young.” Does he protest too much, as some have claimed? No matter his age, the sense goes deeper. Who, at any stage of life, issued such a summons, would not feel callow, inept, a stutterer?

Do I take God’s call too blithely? Do I recognize the seriousness of being a prophet? – Aren’t we all called to be prophets, in some way? Do I underestimate the challenge?

Jeremiah was realistic. He knew his words would not be heeded. But he spoke forth, reassured by God.

As Berrigan continues:

    The word in all its integrity, be it understood, is one thing — its reception quite another. So must the speaker of the word stand and withstand, more often than not, alone, a guardian, a lonely sentinel of the truth. Regardless of outcome.
Such understanding, entering the soul’s fiber and weaving it anew, gives rise to marvelous images of strength. Jeremiah “Will be like a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall.” Which is to say: as possessor of the truth, possessed by the truth, your strength surpasses that of all the others—“kings, priests, and the people.” A bit much —

A bit much – but maybe our calling.





Micah’s challenge

Act justly,
love tenderly,
walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6: 8

It’s all about how we act, how we love, and how we walk.

Do we act with justice, with concern for the justice of God – which means a right relation with God and with others?

The world is filled with injustice – poverty, war, violence, oppression.

Do we love with tenderness – not because we are commanded to love, but because the mercy of God’s love has invaded our hearts?

The world is filled with harshness – the harsh words, the arms and missiles, racism, and hatred for the migrant and the poor.

Do we walk humbly with God – not proudly as if God was one our side, but humbly because we need to let God’s love, mercy and justice lead us?

But the world is also filled with God’s presence – when we walk beside the poor and migrant, when we take up the cause of the oppressed, when we speak up against violence and war.

God is there.

Let us walk his way.


The passage from Micah is based on the Jerusalem Bible translation.

Sweet hope

You have filled your people with sweet hope,
by prompting them to repent…
Wisdom 12: 19 

 It sometimes feels as if our world is overwhelmed with violence, with war, with poverty, and oppression and there is nothing we can do.

We sometimes want instant solutions that make things right overnight. We are like the servants in today’s parable of the wheat and weeds (Matthew 13: 24-30) who want to get rid of the weeds – once and for all.

But God works differently, slowly, quietly, in subtle ways. God works like leaven.

As José Pagola comments, in Following in the Footsteps of Jesus:

 The kingdom of God comes about like the leaven that a woman “hides” in the dough so that the whole mass gets fertilized. That’s how God acts. He does not come from the outside to impose his power like the emperor of Rome, but to transform human life from within in a silent and hidden manner.

This is the way God acts: he does not impose, but transforms; does not dominate, but attracts. Thus, those who work with him in his project must act like leaven by bringing in his truth, his justice and his love in a humble way, but with transforming power.

We are called to be the leaven in the dough, helping God’s love become present in our world.

In this way, we can become grains of God’s hope in a world that so needs to see God working among us, planting hope and prompting us to repent of all that keeps this from happening.


All who are burdened

Come to me…
Matthew 11:28

The news reports from many parts of the world today are not encouraging.

The crisis of unaccompanied children in the US continues – even as some are deported back to Honduras. Angry people reject welcoming the stranger.

A plane crashes in the Ukraine with close to 300 killed.

Israel begins a ground incursion into the Gaza strip, with already about 200 dead. Missiles strike in both directions, but there are too many civilians being killed.

War and violence continue in Syria and the Central African Republic.

And then there are the daily deaths – from hunger, violence, war, oppression.

Oh God, we bring them to you –
but you ask us to take your yoke on our shoulder.
Your yoke, I fear, includes the death and suffering,
but you say that your yoke is easy.
I say – help me bear your yoke and the suffering around us.

O God, give us peace – with justice.



The little things in life

St. Bonaventure, whose feast is celebrated today, didn’t want to be a bishop. But the pope finally forced him. The papal delegates who came to inform him found Bonaventure washing dishes. They had to wait until he was finished.

As he once wrote, “The perfection of a religious person is to do common things in a perfect manner; a constant fidelity in small things is great and heroic virtue.”

There is a saying – “Don’t sweat the little things.”

I’m not sure that is good spiritual advice. Sure, we should not let the little problems in life annoy us. But we should be attentive to the little things in pour daily lives – washing dishes, saying hello to the street-sweeper or the receptionist, picking up a piece of trash, calling a friend.

That’s where we may find God.

Care for the sick

The more you pray, the more I refuse to listen
for your hands are full of blood!
Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Seek justice: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow.
Isaiah 1: 15-17

 Saint Camillus de Lellis, the patron of nurses and the sick,  died 400 years ago, on July 14, 1614.

He was an unlikely candidate for sainthood. As a soldier he was known for his brawling and his gambling. At one point, several hagiographers remark, he even “lost the shirt off his back.”

He suffered from an ulcerous wound on his leg and spent time in a hospital in Rome where he eventually found work. But he was dismissed for unruly behavior.

After gambling left him penniless, he tried to enter the Capuchins but he was turned away at the recurrence of the ulcerous wound and returned to the hospital.

His administrative capabilities were recognized and he found a place in the administration. Yet he found the condition of the hospital and the “care” provided to be woeful inadequate.

Camillus eventually founded a religious congregation of men that cared for the physical and spiritual needs of the sick. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they vow “perpetual physical and spiritual assistance to the sick, especially those with the plague.”

Camillus saw the face of Christ in the poor and even received mystical experiences of the crucified Christ, but he said

I don’t like this talk about mystical union… do good and help the poor…since we’ll have plenty of time to contemplate God in heaven.

As I read this, I recalled today’s reading from Isaiah 1: 10-17, where the prophet castigates the people for lavish worship services while they ignore lives of love of God and care for the poor.

Care for the sick and the poor is not easy. I have deep regard for nurses, doctors, and other hospital nurses who see their work as a ministry to the suffering.

Would that we would be more like St. Camillus and really care for the poor. As Pope Francis said yesterday to members of the congregations of St. Camillus:

To you who have gathered here in St Peter’s Square, as well as to health professionals serving in your hospitals and nursing homes, I wish that you grow more and more in the charism of charity, fueled by daily contact with the sick.

May we all grow in the charism of charity, fueled by daily contact with the poor, the sick, and those at the margins of society.