Monthly Archives: October 2015

Saints who touched me – Benedict the Moor

November 1 is the feast of all saints. I’d like to share a few of the saints who have touched my life.

I grew up in the midst of the piety of the 1950s where we said the Rosary in the family during October, where we learned about the saints in Catholic school, and where there was a large statue of Saint Therese of Lisieux in our parish church.

I had an attraction to the Franciscans at this time, which continues to this day. I even got to the first Mass of Father Cyprian Harkin, ofm, the nephew of a woman who worked with my Dad.

Somehow I learned of the Franciscan Saint Benedict of Sicily or, as he was known then, Saint Benedict the Moor – now called Saint Benedict the Black, who lived in Sicily from 1526 to 1589.

Born in Sicily of parents who had been freed from slavery, he joined a group of hermits living under St. Francis’ Rule for hermits. Shortly after, the pope disbanded all small groups of hermits, and Benedict joined the Franciscans.

Benedict, though illiterate and a lay brother, was chosen novice master and later guardian of the friary. But he finally asked to return to the kitchen to do what he loved – cook.

Father Cyprian found a statue for me which I had stored with friends when I left for Honduras in 2007. On my recent trip to Ames, I found the statue and it is now in my prayer room – next to a Guatemalan statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Bolivian angel.


Why did St. Benedict mean so much to me in the late fifties?

This was the time of the civil rights movement and Benedict was obviously an example of holiness that is not limited to whites.His holiness also reinforced my concern for civil rights and racial equality.

Looking back, there are several other aspects of his life that touch me even now.

He was illiterate but that did not stop him from being holy or from being an example and guide for others. God does not need education to work wonders of holiness – though education helps.

In addition, he found holiness amid the pots and pans, preparing food for his brothers. He was a real servant.

I am so happy to have his statue here – as I try to be of service to the poor and to the faith community here.

I ask God for the grace to be loving and humble as Benedict was and be open to the poor.

world without event

Today is the feast of St. Alfonso Rodríguez, a Jesuit lay brother, who died after being the porter of the Jesuit College in Majorca for forty-five years.

I’m not sure if I could be a porter – and probably not for forty-five years. It seems so boring. the only challenges would probably be the beggar coming for help.

But in “the years and years” that went “by of world without event,” Alfonso lived in God’s love.

He inspired the young men who were in the college and became the spiritual director of not a few of them, including St. Pedro Claver who went to the New World and became the “slave of the slaves,” a life much more interesting than Alfonso’s.

Yet both of them saw the hand of God in the daily events of life, in the little details – Alfonso opening the door and greeting the visitors as well as attending to the young Jesuits, Pedro going down into the hold of the slave ships and bringing them medicine, food, lemons, and brandy.

Sometimes we want to do tremendous deeds that get recognized by the world (and by God, of course). But in the little things we find God and can respond to God’s call.

I think of the couple I know who care for their child with Downs syndrome, of the young man here in Honduras who cares for his grandmother and his aunt with Parkinson, and of so many who find God in the little things of life.

They seem to live in worlds without special events, but they find holiness – and challenges – in the daily deeds that call them to love.

Yet God (that hews mountains and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crown career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

“In Honour of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez”
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

By the side of the road

In today’s Gospel (Mark 10: 46-52), the blind beggar Bartimaeus is seated at the side of the road outside of Jericho.

Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem – where, as he told the apostles, he will be put to death. It’s a perilous journey.

But Bartimaeus has nothing to lose in recognizing Jesus, the Son of David. And so he cries out, begging for mercy, addressing Jesus in Messianic terms, which would get Jesus in trouble in a short time.

But people tell him to shut up. The truth of his message is all too dangerous.

Yes, some might have not wanted to have Jesus bother with this blind beggar, this riff-raff. But I wonder whether Bartimaeus’ naming of Jesus as Son of David didn’t also bother them.

As Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote in his commentary on today’s readings:

Recognizing Jesus as the Christ comes from the last ones in society, from those who are the side of the road, from those whom some seek to shut up.

The powers of the world want us to follow along, to be afraid to speak the truth, to be afraid of the powers that can put one to death.

But a blind beggar at the side of the road has nothing to lose and so teaches us the way, the road, to fullness of life.

When Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus jumps up. He is willing to approach this dangerous man who will soon be crucified.

When Jesus asks him what he wants, Bartimaeus tells him that he wants to see.

But hasn’t Bartimaeus already “seen” the truth?

Today, I pray that we may be more like Bartimaeus, willing to make a nuisance of ourselves in proclaiming the One who brings life and healing and, above all, mercy.

Then we might accompany Bartimaeus following Jesus on the road – to Jerusalem.


A different reflection on today’s Gospel can be found here at Deacon Greg Kendra’s blog.

The joy of love for celibates

Although I have been celibate all my life, I will have to take a solemn promise of celibacy if I am ordained to the diaconate, perhaps next June.

Although this is a bit overwhelming, it is becoming more real and more fulfilling than I could have imagined.

It does have a downside, which Fr. James Martin attributes to Father Paul, the abbot, in his recently released novel The Abbey:

His novice director told him that the biggest challenge of religious life lies in knowing that you’ll never be the most important person in anyone else’s life.

That’s humbling – and a bit fearful since I would like to be considered important in others’ lives.

But it is not so much a question as being loved as loving in response to God’s love.

Today I came across this quotation from G. K. Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi, which refers to the saint’s frolicking in the snow:

A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfill the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not: ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will do things like this, or pretty nearly like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love.

One of the most delightful scenes in the film The Great Silence is when the Carthusian monks frolic in the snow, laughing all the time.

Celibacy should not make us dour and sad. It should give us life and laughter. For a man or a woman will not – or should not – take a vow or promise of celibacy if she or he is not in love with God.

James Keating’s The Heart of the Diaconate is particularly helpful in considering this:

Celibacy is a way of being human; not a way of avoiding our incarnate state. Anyone who chooses celibacy for reasons other than being captivated by the beauty of God and looking into that beauty as one’s chosen pleasure is setting oneself up for disappointment and sadness

It’s a question of falling in love with the beauty of God.

And though he is referring to married deacons, Keating makes it clear that our love and the love of Christ for us are central to any consideration of celibacy – or, I would say, chastity, whether married or celibate:

Celibacy only makes sense in light of one being deeply affected by the Person of Christ; so affected, in fact, that the man receives from him the fulfillment of all desire. This is why one question for all married men seeking entrance into the permanent diaconate must be: Is Christ enough for you? Do you have or are you going to develop a contemplative prayer life deep enough to satisfy your spiritual-erotic needs for self-transcendence? This is mainly a question about vulnerability before the love of God and one’s own capacity for self-knowledge.

And so I ask myself: Am I open enough, empty enough, vulnerable enough to let myself be loved by God – and make him central to my being?

That’s my question today – as I prepare for being installed as a lector at one of the confirmation Masses this weekend in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, one step on the road to the diaconate.

May God help me love and let myself be loved.

Cigar Box Ray

Forty years ago today, on October 20, 1975, a forty-five year old Iowa priest was martyred in Morochata, Bolivia.

A farm boy from Independence, Iowa, he got a bachelor’s degree in farm management from Iowa State University in Ames.

He became a priest of the archdiocese of Dubuque and served for a few years there before serving in Bolivia for several years as a Maryknoll associate. After this he served in a parish in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which was served for many years by priests of the Dubuque archdiocese. There he helped found a school for the poor.

Father Ray Herman

After several years there he went to the town of Morochata, with its fifty scattered missions, where most of the people spoke Quechua. He visited the villages about once a year and also formed a network of seventy of more indigenous catechists.

On October 20, 1975, he dedicated a ten-bed hospital in Morochata which he had helped found. That night he was strangled and shot in his bed in the rectory.

It is not clear why he was killed. He was fairly apolitical, but in those days, when a US-supported dictator ruled in Bolivia, anyone who worked with the poor might be considered suspect.

He was buried back in Iowa. A priest friend, Father Leon Connolly, brought back all his possessions, except for books and clothing, which would fit into a cigar box. Father Ray was an inveterate cigar smoker.

What simplicity! What real poverty! What giving of himself for the poor!

But for him, it was sheer joy. As he once told a visitor,

“I have wanted to give everything to our Lord, and only since I have come to Morochata do I feel that I am really happy, and to some degree at least, successful in giving all to Christ,”

Would that we could imitate his entrega – how giving himself for God and the poor.


Today is Columbus Day – a day when many celebrate a man who got lost and thought he was in India. His “discovery” led to the death of millions of peoples in the “Americas” and to the beginning of an exploitation of the resources of an entire hemisphere.

But I wonder if the problem is that he “explored” and “exploited” to fill up an emptiness in the soul – not just his but the soul of an empire.

These thoughts led me to remember what Thomas Merton wrote in The Wisdom of the Desert:

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.
“Proof: the great travelers and colonizers of the Renaissance were, for the most part, men who perhaps were capable of the things they did precisely because they were alienated from themselves. In subjugating primitive worlds, they only imposed on them, with the force of cannons, their own confusion and their own alienation.”

But this is not just something characteristic of the explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’ also points to the emptiness of our hearts as a factor in the consumerist culture:

The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality.

And so today is a day not to celebrate explorers but to explore in the depths of our hearts where God calls us to love and to embrace the Other, not to conquer or consume.

A living Gospel

Yo quiero ser un evangelio viviente
I want to be a living Gospel

Last night in El Zapote Santa Rosa, celebrating St. Francis their patron, the first hymn they sang in their procession had this refrain – “I want to be a living Gospel.”

El Zapote St Francis

In a way that is what Saint Francis is about, being a living Gospel, incarnate in the reality where people live. The subtitle of Lawrence Cunningham’s work Saint Francis  puts it well: “Performing the Gospel Life.”

But for Francis it was not an easy incarnation since it involved following the poor Christ, the God who became poor in Jesus.

How incredible is the Christian faith. We believe in a God who became flesh, who was born poor and lived poor. He could have had anything and saved us in any way, but he became one of us, one of the poor among us.

This week I spent a night with the volunteers at Amigos de Jesús, a home and school for children near Maquelizo, Santa Bárbara. I had shared with them a reading from Padre Pedro Arrupe about the poverty of Christ, part of which can be found here.

One of the women shared with us what she had been reading from a book called The Imitation of Mary. She noted that Mary, saying yes to the Incarnation of Jesus in her body, could have asked God for anything, but she chose poverty.

That remark reflects what Francis wrote in his Letter to All the Faithful:

Though rich beyond counting, He chose poverty, as did His blessed Mother.

How can we, the privileged from the United States, be a living Gospel, be Good News to the poor?

Francis was in many ways like many of us from the north – privileged. But he chose to serve the lepers, to live as one of the marginalized, and to follow the poor Christ by living poor.

What can we do?

Nonviolence and courage

gandhi seven deadly social sinsOn October 2, 1869, Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi was born.

We know him better as Mahatma Gandhi, but Mohandas became the Mahatma, the Great-Souled One, only after going through a series of events that purified his soul and moved him to respond in loving nonviolence to the injustices around him.

When I was an undergraduate student, I came across Gandhi and Nonviolence, Thomas Merton’s selection of quotes from Gandhi’s Nonviolence in Peace and War.

What struck me then was Gandhi’s insistence that nonviolence is not passivity. Nonviolence – ahimsa – is an active response to injustice, even to the point of giving one’s life.

Gandhi insisted that it was not nonviolence to give in to injustice. For him it was better to resist violently than to let the violent continue their oppression and death-dealing. Of course, nonviolence is better and preferable.

As he wrote:

A non-violent man or woman will and should die without retaliation, anger or malice, in self-defense or in defending the honor of his women folk. This is the highest form of bravery. If an individual or group of people are unable or unwilling to follow this great law of life, retaliation or resistance unto death is the second best though a long way off from the first. Cowardice is impotence worse than violence. The coward desires revenge but being afraid to die, he looks to others, maybe to the government of the day, to do the work of defense for him. A coward is less than a man. He does not deserve to be a member of a society of men and women.

This insight has been important for me since I tend to avoid violence and conflict. But Gandhi makes it clear that true nonviolence – ahimsa – is satyagraha, holding on to truth – even at the cost of our lives.

And so today, remembering the birth of Gandhi, I feel called to reflect on courage and resistance to evil – out of love and intent on the truth.

It’s not easy. It’s a continual conversion, a continual letting go, a continual asceticism. It’s, for me as a follower of Christ, a way of following Jesus, who gave himself up even to the Cross – out of love.

A cloistered missionary

Love is my vocation!
St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Sister Thérèse of the Holy Child, the Little Flower, a cloistered Carmelite nun who died at twenty-four in an obscure convent in Normandy, France, is an unlikely patroness of missions and missionaries.

Yet, this spunky young woman who entered the cloister at fifteen had a sense of mission that many of us in the mission field lack.

She had dreams of being a martyr, a missionary, even a priest – but knew that her vocation would be lived out in her convent – praying and doing the daily chores.

She wanted to join the new Carmelite convent in Hanoi, Indochina (now Viet Nam), but her ill health and tuberculosis would not permit such an endeavor. And so she prayed for the missions and corresponded with two priests missioned in Viet Nam.

But for her, the mission was the “little way,” the way of love in the midst of everyday activities.

“I applied myself above all to practice quite hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.”

Being a missionary doesn’t always mean being out there in the midst of desperately poor situations. It doesn’t mean always teaching or bringing the Eucharist to distant communities.

For me it means preparing materials for catechists, planning training sessions for catechists, meeting with catechists to plan the confirmation Masses, meeting with the pastor to plan events in the parish, driving seven hours each way to take some small coffee farmers to Tegucigalpa, checking out the Maestro en Casa education centers to get ready for the next round of scholarship applications.

It also entails washing clothes, getting the car checked and repaired, cooking meals, getting photocopies and buying supplies in the city for workshops, and more mundane activities.

But the question is whether I am doing this with love, whether the little things I do are suffused with love and a commitment to the poor. What am I doing and not doing to respond to the people here.

And so I am reminded of this quote of Dorothy Day, from her book on this saint, Therese:

“The significance of our smallest acts! The significance of the little things we leave undone! The protests we do not make, the stands we do not take, we who are living in the world.”