Monthly Archives: June 2015

The poor person fully alive

The glory of God is the human person fully alive…
St. Irenaeus

The glory of God is the poor person fully alive.
Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero

About seven weeks before he was martyred in the chapel of a hospital for poor cancer patients in San Salvador, Monseñor Romero received an honorary degree from Louvain in Belgium.

His speech is an astute explication of the ministry of the Archdiocese of San Salvador. At the end of his remarks, he notesd:

Early Christians used to say Gloria Dei, vivens homo (“the glory of God is the living person”). We could make this more concrete by saying Gloria Dei, vivens Pauper (“the glory of God is the living poor person”).

Today is the feast day of the second century bishop of Lyons, Saint Irenaeus, who wrote:

The glory of God is the living human person, for humanity’s true life is the vision of God.

As I was preparing to lead a Celebration of the Word in the village of Joyas Galanas this morning, I found myself reflecting on these quotes in light of today’s readings, especially the Gospel.

Mark 5: 21-43 tells of the healing of two very different women.

The leader of the synagogue, Jairus, comes to Jesus asking him to heal his dying daughter. He is a man with connections and power who seeks help for the life of his child.

On the way, an unnamed, unknown woman touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. She has no power; in fact she is one of the despised. She is a woman; she has been hemorrhaging for twelve years and therefore was ritually impure; she is poor, having spent all her money on useless doctors. She is an outcast – but an outcast with faith.

Jesus seeks to know who touched him, who was healed. He restores her to the community and, as Gustavo Gutierrez noted, has rescued her from anonymity. And then he acknowledges her faith.

She is healed not only of her illness but also of the malady of isolation and marginalization. Indeed, Jesus addresses her as “daughter,” this woman who probably was cast aside by all too many people, maybe even her family.

But what happens next is instructive. Jairus is told that his daughter has died. Jesus tells him, “Do not fear. Just have faith.”

The woman with the flow of blood was praised for her faith, but the synagogue official has to be reminded to have faith!

Jesus then proceeds to heal the daughter of Jairus, taking the child by hand.

The glory of God was shown that day in Galilee – a child was restored to life and a poor sick woman was restored to health and to the life of the community. The woman recovered her dignity.

Thus we are called to choose life, to provide for the life of our sisters and brothers, especially the poorest, and to recognize the dignity of all persons.

We are called to live as Jesus did, even remembering the little details

Before leaving Jairus’ home, Jesus told them to give the child something to eat.

That’s the least we can do.

Rafael Palacios, Salvadoran martyr of the base communities

On June 20, 1977, Padre Rafael Palacios was gunned down on the streets of Santa Tecla, El Salvador. He had worked with base communities and had recently been named pastor of a church whose previous pastor had been martyred.

convento painting

Padre Rafael identified with the poor and worked, accompanying them in their efforts to grow in a liberating faith through the base communities. One of his strongest actions was to arrange a Lenten Stations of the Cross with strong justice themes.

He was buried in a side chapel of the church of Santa Lucía in Suchitoto where his family lived and where he grew up.

DSC00586Blessed Monseñor Romero said this of him in a homily:

“In him 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.”

Today I’d like to share parts of the hymn that was written in his honor:

La verdad de la
anunciaste siempre fiel;
por seguir a Jesucristo
te mataron, Rafael.

The truth of the Gospel
you announced, always faithful.
They killed you, Rafael,
for following Jesus Christ.

1. Los campesinos han doblado,
anunciando si dolor
ante el cuerpo acribillado
por el odio y el rencor.
No entendieron su lenguaje,
no aceptaron su misión,
no aguantaron su mensaje
que exigió liberación.

The campesinos have bent down
announcing their sorrow
before his body riddled [with bullets]
because of hate and resentment.
They did not understand his language;
they did not accept his mission;
they could not stand his message
which demanded liberation.

2. Como a Cristo flagelaron
con un látigo feroz
con calumnias te azotaron
para hacer callar tu voz.
Caminaste hacia el Calvario
como caminó Jesús
señalado por denarios
la metralla fue su cruz.

As they scourged Christ
with a fierce whip,
with slanders they whipped you
to silence your voice.
You walked toward Calvary
as Jesus walked,
branded by money,
shrapnel was your cross.

3. Que tristeza Santa Tecla
mucho rezo y devoción
pero matas el profeta
cuando exige conversión.
Hoy nos grita con su ejemplo
vivan con sinceridad.
Nuestro Dios no está en el templo,
sino en la comunidad.

What sadness for Santa Tecla,
with much prayer and devotion.
But you kill the prophet
when he called for conversion.
Now you cry out to us with you example:
live with sincerity.
Our God is not in the church building
but in the community

4. Trabajaste por el Reino
fue en tu vida un gran ideal;
por un mundo más fraterno
denunciaste siempre el mal.
Tus palabras ahora queman
con su fuego de verdad,
el Reino de Dios comienza
al construir fraternidad.

You worked for the Reign;
it was a great ideal in your life;
for a more fraternal world
you always denounced evil.
Your words now are on fire
with your fire of truth;
the Reign of God begins
by building fraternity.

5. Aunque tu cuerpo han matado
vivirás en el Señor
y los que te han escuchado
resucitarán tu amor.
Una cruz va adelante
nos invita a caminar;
una antorcha muy brillante
ilumina nuestro andar.

Even though they have killed your body,
you will live in the Lord
and those who have heard you
will raise up your love.
A cross goes before
and invites is to walk;
a very bright light
lightens up our way.

The sacramentality of a child’s shoe

I am in El Salvador for a few days. Two good Iowa friends visited me last week and now are visiting friends in El Salvador.

I brought them to Suchitoto and stayed two days to visits my friends – as well as one family who are mutual friends.

Yesterday on the bus back to Suchitoto from San Salvador, a man sat down next to me. Before he got off outside San Salvador, he opened his small backpack and pulled out a child’s shoe. He seemed to handle it with such love and care that I could not help think of the child, perhaps a two year old boy, who would wear it. I was also touched by the love this man had for the child.

During the rest of the ride I kept returning to the shoe. It had become for me a sign of God’s presence. This show represented the gift of life of a young child, the gift of love of his father, and the presence of small signs of God’s love everywhere, even – maybe especially – among the poor.

I hope that I do not forget that moment in the #129 bus where God’s love became present to me in a child’s shoe.

Another Salvadoran martyr

On June 14, 1980, Franciscan Friar Cosme Spessotto was killed praying in the church of the parish of San Juan Nonualco, El Salvador, where he had served for many years.

An Italian by birth, he arrived in El Salvador in 1950 and spent his life in service of the poor until his martyrdom.

He served his flock, visiting the sick (as a good priest should), brought in the cultivation of grapes (as a good Italian might), helped some construct dignified houses, and buried the dead (as a good Christian should even though it might be dangerous). He even denounced the grave injustices committed by the Salvadoran Armed Forces.

In May he entered a hospital for a liver problem and was fond to suffer from leukemia. But he went back to visit his parish, where he was martyred by members of the Treasury Police.

He returned even though he had received three death threats, warning him not to return to San Juan Nonualco.

After his death this note was found among his possessions:

“I have a feeling that at one time or another fanatical persons can take away my life. I ask the Lord that at the opportune moment he give me the strength to defend the rights of Christ and his Church. To die a martyr would be a grace I don’t deserve. To wash away with the blood, poured out by Christ, all my sins, defects, and weaknesses of my past life would be a gracious and gratuitous gift of God.”

Another martyr who identified himself with the God of the poor.

Ephrem, the mad deacon

[Ephrem] remained a deacon all his life,
and to escape episcopal consecration
he is supposed to have feigned madness.
Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Syrian deacon and doctor of the Church, Ephrem.

Ephrem is noted for his many hymns in which he used to teach the faith and to combat heretics, some of whom had written hymns for their cause.

He wrote commentaries on much of scripture and was renowned for his preaching – so much so that he was called the Harp of the Holy Spirit.

Though he lived in a cave outside Edessa, he did not separate himself completely from the world. In fact a few months before he died he organized a major relief effort for famine victims.

In many ways, his service of the Altar with his hymns, his service of the Word with his preaching and commentaries, and his service of Charity with his care for famine victims and others exemplify what a deacon is and what a deacon does.

He did not seek higher “rank” within the Church, finding his service as a deacon – as a servant – was his calling, his vocation.

He wrote a prayer which is used during Lent among the Orthodox and which expresses the spirituality of a servant of God:

O Lord and Master of my Life,
give me not a spirit of sloth, lust for power,
and idle talk.
But give me, your servant,
a spirit of charity, humility, patience, and love.
O Lord and King,
grant me to see my own faults
and not judge another,
for blessed are you forever.

There is not madness in such a prayer – but much wisdom.


Our hope for you is unshaken;
for we know that as you share in our sufferings,
so also you share in our consolation.
2 Corinthians 1: 7

Sharing in others’ joys and sorrows, in their sufferings and consolation – that’s what solidarity is.

I think today’s first reading, 2 Corinthians 1: 1-7, is one of the most profound explications of what solidarity is.

Solidarity is not feeling sorry for someone. It’s not just looking at others’ pain and suffering.

No, it’s identifying ourselves with others – as Jesus totally identified Himself with us by becoming human.

When we identify with others, God helps us break the bonds of division and find real healing and reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II put it well, in his encyclical On Social Concern (Sollicituo Rei Socialis), ¶ 28:

         Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all….
Solidarity helps us to see the “other” — whether a person, people or nation — not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our “neighbor,” a “helper”, to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.

We are in this together. So as Christ Jesus cast His lot with us, so we too are called to cast out lot with all the people of the world – especially those most in need.

This is the way to real peace. That is the way that brings real joy.

Burying the dead as resistance and prophecy

This past week the first lectionary readings were from the book of Tobit, a book found in the Catholic Bible from ancient times.

Tobit had gotten into trouble for burying the Israelite dead in Nineveh, where he was exiled. The king was killing lots of his people but as Tobit relates:

I used to take their bodies away by stealth and bury them. So when Sennacherib looked for them, he could not find them. But a certain Ninevite went and informed the king about me, that I was burying them, and I went into hiding.

He was able to return when the king was assassinated.

Interestingly, this passage was left out of the readings this week.

But in Saturday’s reading, the archangel Rafael reveals himself and notes how he took Tobit’s prayers before the glory of God and “I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead.”

As I heard the Saturday reading, I recalled a few stories from my research on the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador.

During the civil war, a woman in town who was fairly conservative, Niña Flor, remained during the war. As one of the sisters who served there in the late 1980s and 1990s told me, she buried the dead, not matter what side they were on, even though this was dangerous.

Her sense of Christian duty led her to do this work of mercy even though the government frowned upon people burying the guerrilla dead.

The sisters – four Dubuque Franciscans and a New Jersey Sister of Charity – also buried the dead.

Burying the dead is not just a work of mercy. At times it can become an act of resistance to the powers that seek to control everything, even the bodies of the dead. It can be an act of resistance to those who seek to inculcate fear into people.

It can be an act of saying that people – even when they are dead – are worthy of respect, no matter what political, social, and economic powers may say.

Burying the dead is an act of resistance that is an act of prophecy – revealing to the world the hope in the resurrection of the dead – but also of the resurrection of the living, people who refuse to let death intimidate them.

That’s real resistance and real prophecy. That’s real following of a God of life.

Prophets of gloom

DSC01476I remember June 3, 1963, when the school bells tolled for the death of good Pope John.

Now Pope St. John XXIII is remembered as the pope who opened the windows of the Church, who opened the Church to go out into the world with the message of the Good News, who opened the Second Vatican Council, to the consternation of many in the Curia.

In his address to the bishops assembled at the council in October 1962, Pope John said

In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen – much to our regret – to voices of person who, though burning with religious zeal, are not much endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin…. We feel we must disagree with these prophets of gloom. In the present order of things, divine providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by human effort and even beyond human expectation, are directed toward the fulfillment of God’s highest and inscrutable design; and everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.

There are too many prophets of gloom these days. Too many see only the shortcomings of the world and of the Church. Too many want a Church aloof from the world.

I hear all too many people hear speak of the Church as being threatened by the world. I read of all too many in the US and beyond who fear the openness of Pope Francis.

Too many see only the evil, the dangers, the persecution.

I am not blind to the evil in the world. I read of the persecution of Christians in some lands – and I read of the exaggerated fears of Christians in the US. I see the violence of poverty and repression – and I read of those “Christians” who would deny the needs of the poor. I read of the billions spent by the US for its own military and for the militaries of many countries that only reinforce injustice – Honduras and Israel among them.

But I see the little signs of God’s Reign all around us. I see the strong words of Pope Francis against the evils of poverty and the devastation of nature. I see the people in many places standing up against violence and oppression.

I am beginning to trust in the Providence of God – but not as an excuse for evil and suffering. The Providence of God moves me to respond with love and hope, with the message that death and suffering do not have the final word, with the challenge that Pope John XXIII gave us from his deathbed:

 The moment has arrived when we must recognize the signs of the times, seize the opportunity, and look far ahead.

We must be people of vision, prophets of hope, challenging the evil, the injustice, and  the violence, with lives that show the world that something new is possible. We are not constrained by the past. We can participate in the New World that God is offering us.


The quotations from Pope John XXIII are taken from Robert Ellsberg’s  All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, a book I highly recommend. (Now in Kindle!)

Philosopher Martyr

It’s rather appropriate and challenging that the Church celebrates Saint Justin Martyr on my birthday.

Yes, I’m a philosopher by training, and one who, like Justin, likes Plato (though probably for different reasons.)

But I’m not yet a martyr – a witness to God made human, suffering and raised to life.

But I do find one statement of Justin in his first Apologia very challenging for me and for our world:

“Those who once rejoiced in fornication now delight in continence alone; . . . we who once took pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another and would not associate with people of different tribes because of [their different] customs, now after the manifestation of Christ live together and pray for our enemies and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us, so that they, living according to the fair commands of Christ, may share with us the good hope of receiving the same things [that we will] from God, the master of all.”

Today is also the anniversary of another martyr, a Colombian Jesuit who stood up for the poor in the face of violence. Padre Sergio Restrepo, SJ, was killed in Tierralta, Colombia, on June 1, 1989. Shortly before he was killed, in his final retreat, he wrote:

He was a navigator,
beached on solid ground.
He always searched for love
along the unknown paths
of the ineffable rose of the winds.
He believed in life.
He made friendship his motto.
His existence was a dream.
And, at his death,
he returned his soul to God
and returned to the earth
what the earth had given him:
an ephemeral name
and a handful of bones.

May I learn to live the witness of the martyrs – in every day of my life.