Monthly Archives: March 2015

Mother Maria Skobtsova

Seventy years ago a Russian nun was killed in the gas chambers of the Ravensbruck concentration camp on March 31, 1945, Holy Saturday.

Mother Maria Skobtsova had fled Russia and lived in Paris, where she became a nun. But she did not live a cloistered life, but a life that embraced the world, especially the poor, for “each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.”

As a nun she fed and housed the destitute, especially caring for the many Russian émigrés. But many intellectual émigrés met in her home to consider the renewal of Orthodoxy.

A new phase of her life began with the German occupation of Paris. She began rescuing Jewish children from the Nazis, even hiding them in trash cans.

For her there was no barrier between worshipping God and serving God’s people. For her, the service of the poor was another way of recognizing the presence of God in our world.

“The meaning of the liturgy must be translated into life. It is why Christ came into the world and why He gave us our liturgy.”

May the example of Mother Maria Skobtsova move us to worship God and serve the poor.

A tribute to Mother Maria by Jim Forest can be found here.

A godly woman, Sister Thea

Lord, let me live until I die.
Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA

Twenty-five year ago today, on March 30, 1990, Sister Thea Bowman, like a shooting star, went home to live with God.

A black member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Sister Thea lived out a vocation of being an African-American Catholic in a white congregation in a largely white Catholic Church. She preserved African-American traditions and incorporated them into her way of living her Catholic faith, that she had embraced as a ten-year old in 1947.

What does it mean to be black and Catholic? It means that I come to my church fully functioning. I bring myself, my black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as a gift to the Church.

She lived this out in many ways, including co-founding the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at New Orleans’ Xavier University.

But in 1984 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but still maintained a busy schedule of speaking, finally from a wheel chair as her cancer progressed.

But what really impresses me is how she responded to her suffering and death: “I don’t make sense of suffering. I try to make sense of life.”

I have a good friend dying of cancer. A cousin’s husband is also being treated for cancer. And so I thought of them, and others suffering from cancer, when I read these words of Sister Thea:

When I first found out I had cancer, I didn’t know what to pray for. I didn’t know if I should pray for healing or life or death. Then I found peace in praying for what my folks call “God’s perfect will.” As it evolved, my prayer has become, “Lord, let me live until I die.: By that I mean I want to live, love, and serve fully until death comes. If that prayer is answered…how long really doesn’t matter.

But these are not just words for those suffering or dying. They are words for all of us, fitting words for Holy Week when we recall Jesus who handed over his life in love.

And so, may we pray to God as Sister Thea did:

Lord, let me live until I die.

A word to rouse them

…that I may know how to speak to the weary
a word that may rouse them.
Isaiah 50: 4 (NAB) 

How many people are weary, worn down, discouraged?

How many need a word to encourage them, to help them come out of the darkness?

I see this around me here in Honduras.

Young people who see little future, because of low wages or no work. A young man lamenting that his common law wife left him and took their child. A young man recalling the death of his three month old last June. A woman who mourns the death of a son and grandson killed last year. Another woman who lost her husband last year to heart disease. Families struggling with relatives suffering cancer.

What am I to do?

Sometimes I do not have a word to say to them. At times I only have a listening ear.

But we need the Servant of the Lord who knows the word that will give us courage in the face of the pains and suffering around us.

Sometimes we want someone who will rescue us – a Superman who will make all things right, a King who will come with his cavalry to rescue us at the last moment.

But what do we have?DSC00492

Jesus, seated on a donkey.

A God made flesh who knows how to suffer, who gives himself as a servant, washing our feet – and letting his feet be washed.

A God who speaks with His love and mercy, with his solidarity with us.

A God who loves until death – so that we might have hope.

A God who conquers death, not by tearing himself down from the cross, but by rising on the third day.

A God of hope.

A nondomesticated Jesus

The Romans will come and take away
our land and our nation.
John 11: 48

The chief priests are afraid of the consequences of Jesus’ preaching. They see it as provocative and a threat to the Romans.

How we have domesticated Jesus. He is no longer a threat – neither to our lives nor to the status quo.

Or we see him only in terms of culture wars – rather than in terms of the in-breaking of the Reign of God, the covenant of peace that Ezekiel promised (Ezekiel 37: 26).

Yesterday, walking the Way of the Cross in Dulce Nombre with the parish here, I witnessed all the sin and evil that afflicts us here in Honduras. A story and photos can be found here.

What would happen if we started to live as Jesus called us? What if we lived as people who care more for others than for our selfish interests? What if we lived like Jesus, giving ourselves over to living the mercy and love of God? What if we spoke truth to the powers around us, as Jesus did?

Would we be persecuted as he was?

Would we be maligned and martyred as Monseñor Oscar Romero was. thirty-five years ago?

Or would we be lauded?

Woe to you when people speak well of you! (Luke 6:26)

How can we begin to follow a non-domesticated Jesus – on the Way of the Cross?

The power of the wicked

… praise the Lord,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!
Jeremiah 20: 13

 Today our parish here in Honduras will walk the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Dulce Nombre de Copán. Padre German has asked the communities to come with a cross bearing images, symbols, or names of the sins that afflict us.

Padre has encouraged the people to think not only of personal sins and failings – selfishness, greed, infidelity, resentment, addictions, etc. – but also the social situations that afflict the people, that cause the poverty and violence around us – the greed of the rich who buy up the land, the violence and a judicial system that does not work, corruption, and more.

At the end of the Stations, as part of the penitential rite of the Mass, they will be burned in front of the church.

In the midst of all this violence and poverty, the people long for hope, they long for a rescue from the power of the wicked and the power of wickedness.

Deliver us from evil, Lord.

God comes in the ordinary

The Word was made flesh,
and pitched His tent among us.
John 1: 14

I wonder what Mary was doing that day in Nazareth when the angel came to her.

Some pious images have her praying. One of my favorite images, Fra Angelico’s fresco in San Marcos in Florence, has her seated with her arms crossed.


But maybe she was kneading bread or washing clothes or preparing wool for making clothes. Maybe she had just returned from drawing water at the local well and was resting after the walk. Maybe she was laughing and playing with cousins or nephews and nieces.

I like to think that God made the announcement to Mary in the midst of her everyday activities, to remind us that we find God anywhere and everywhere, that God calls us in the midst of our daily lives – not to escape, but to make God incarnate in the ordinary aspects of daily life.

More than ten years ago I had the blessing to spend almost two weeks in the Holy Land, hosted by a friend who was volunteering with a Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. I spent one day alone in Jerusalem, during which I walked the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Path, the Way of the Cross.

DSC00128What struck me most was that ordinary life was going on in the streets of Jerusalem, probably as it did on the day Christ carried his cross to his crucifixion: parents walking with their children, people selling from their small shops, even soldiers leaving their barracks.

In the midst of ordinary life, Christ was conceived and Christ was crucified, The extraordinary is revealed in the ordinary.

The Word was made flesh…

Straightening up

This morning while reading the account of the women caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11) I noticed that Jesus was sitting when the Pharisees approached him with the unnamed woman.

Jesus had sat down to teach – as was the custom for teachers in his day. The seated Jesus is the teacher, the one with authority.

But as the Pharisees try to entrap him to condemn the woman to death, he bends over and writes in the dust. But as they kept on asking him, “he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'”

Then he bent over again. And the Pharisees quietly slipped away – beginning with the oldest.

Jesus is left alone with the woman – though there may have been others looking on.

What happens next is surprising. He “straightens up” – or, as The Christian Community Bible translates it, he “stands up.” The Greek word can mean either “to straighten up” or “to stand up.”

Jesus treats the unnamed woman as a person to be addressed personally, as he treated the religious leaders. He doesn’t speak to her in a condescending way, without looking at her.

He treats her as a person – not as a tool in an ideological battle.

Can we today begin to treat all people – sinners like ourselves, but caught in sin – as real persons, loved by Jesus, worthy of dialogue and discussion?

Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Jesus frees her to begin anew, not held bound by condemnation or her past.

“Go in peace,” he might have meant, “free to live without sin, free to live without a condemnation hanging over your life. Live as a daughter of God.”

The dying grain of wheat

…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.
John 12: 24-25
NRSV translation

Monseñor Romero and Padre Luis Espinal

Monseñor Romero and Padre Luis Espinal

When I die, I’d like John 12: 20-26 read at my funeral.

Years ago, I came across Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero’s commentary on this passage, in Fr. James Brockman’s collection of quotations, The Violence of Love:

“Those who, in the biblical phrase,
would save their lives —
that is, those who want to get along,
who don’t want commitments,
who want to stay outside
what demands the involvement of all of us —
they will lose their lives.
What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably,
with no suffering, not getting involved in problems,
quite tranquil, quite settled,
with good connections
— politically, economically, socially —
lacking nothing, having everything.
To what good?
They will lose their lives.
But those who for love of Me uproot themselves
and accompany the poor in their suffering
and become incarnated and feel as their own
the pain and the abuse —
they will secure their lives,
because my Father will reward them.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s word calls us to this
Let me tell you with all the conviction I can muster:
it is worthwhile to be a Christian.
To each of us Christ is saying:
“If you want your life and mission
to be fruitful like mine, do as I do.
Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.
Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid.
Those who shun suffering will remain alone.
No one is more alone than the selfish.
But if you give your life out of love for others,
as I give mine for all,
you will reap a great harvest.
You will have the deepest satisfaction.”
Do not fear death threats; the Lord goes with you.

I also want this quote read at my funeral, since it has been central to my understanding of God’s call for me – even before I came to Honduras.

I think it was important for Monseñor Romero who used a shortened version of this in his last homily, on March 24, 1980, moments before he was martyred at the altar as he finished his homily.

Today, I came across another quotation that sheds light on today’s reading, from another Latin American martyr. Fr. Luis Espinal, S.J., was abducted on March 21, 1980, and his tortured and bullet-ridden body was found on the afternoon of March 22. The quote, taken from Margaret Hebblethwaite’s Base Communities is found in Jim Manney, An Ignatian Book of Days:

Losing one’s life means working for others, even though they don’t pay us back. It means doing a favor without it being returned. Losing one’s life means jumping in even when failure is the likely outcome— and doing it without being overly prudent. It means burning bridges for the sake of our neighbor. Losing one’s life should not be accompanied by pompous or dramatic gestures. Life is to be given simply, without fanfare— like a waterfall, like a mother nursing her child, like the humble sweat of the sower of seed.

These two quotes express the challenge of Jesus’ call to be like the grain of wheat. Meditating on this Gospel and the two commentaries of martyrs will be a good discipline for me in these last two weeks of Lent.

The quotation from Romero, from The Violence of Love, is reprinted from Copyright 2003 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.

The imprudence of a martyr

…let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more.
Jeremiah 11: 19

 In a few days we will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Monseñor Romero, the archbishop killed at the altar on March 24, 1980.


Yet a few days before his martyrdom, a Jesuit missionary from Catalonia, in Spain, was abducted and killed in Bolivia.

Father Luis Espinal, Padre Lucho, was abducted from a jeep in La Paz Bolivia in the evening of March 21, 1980. He was tortured in El Alto, near La Paz, and his bullet-ridden body was found the next day.

Luis Espinal was a print and television journalist, as well as a movie critic. His work revealed the oppression and injustice at the root of the Bolivian political and social system of his day.

His assassins tried to silence his voice, as they often try to silence the voices of truth and justice.

Father Luis Espinal’s martyrdom has been overshadowed by that of Monseñor Romero but his witness and his words can inspire us to live the truth of the Gospel in our daily life – no matter the cost.

It may have seemed imprudent to Padre Lucho – as wellas to Monseñor Romero – to be quiet in the face of persecution and death. But, as Fr. Luis Espinal once wrote this prayer:

Everyone speaks to us of prudence, Lord, but of a prudence that is not yours, that we search for in vain in your Gospel. Jesus Christ, we give you thanks because You did not stay silent so as to avoid the cross, because You lashed out at the powerful, knowing that You were gambling with Your life…. You do not want a prudence that leads to omission and that makes imprisonment impossible for us. The terrible prudence of stilling the shouts of the hungry and the oppressed…. It is not prudent to ‘sell all that you have and give it to the poor.’ It is imprudent to give one’s life for one’s God and for one’s brothers and sisters.

May God give all of us the true prudence that give us the courage to stand up for justice and not the “prudence” of the world that keeps us silent in the face of suffering.

In silent service

Today, in Honduras, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph as Fathers Day – as is only fitting.

St. Joseph, Gracias, Lempira, Honduras

St. Joseph, Gracias, Lempira, Honduras

In many families here the father is absent – some have gone to the big cities or the United States to seek a job to support their families, others have abandoned the woman (or women) who bore their children. In some families the father is aloof but I have seen many instances of fathers showing a profound tenderness for their wife and children.

These days I find myself developing a deeper sense of devotion to Joseph. He is, after all, my confirmation patron saint. He was also the patron saint of the high school I attended.

But, above all, I am beginning to appreciate how he could – in silence, in loving service – put aside his plans and open his life to the call of God.

He was not attached to a false sense of his “autonomy” or to doing what he wanted to express his individuality. He recognized that responding to the call of God and changing our plans can open us to the grace in the deepest recesses of our souls.

He is the saint who worked in the shadows but put God first in a life of loving service.

I think Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, writing from a Nazi prison, puts it well:

Joseph is the man on the outskirts, standing in the shadows, silently waiting, there when wanted and always ready to help. He is the man in whose life God is constantly intervening with warnings and visions. Without complaint he allows his own plans to be set aside. . . .
Willing, unquestioning service is the secret of his life. It is his message for us and his judgment of us. We have crabbed and confined God within the pitiable limits of our obstinacy, our complacency, our mania for ‘self expression.’ We have given God only the minimum of recognition…

Joseph’s silent yes to the angel speaks to me of the call to be “here” for others, quietly accompanying them, in love.