Monthly Archives: January 2016

Tough words of rejected prophets

When St. John Bosco told his mother, a poor widow, that he planned to become a priest, she told him, “If you have the misfortune to get rich, I shall not set foot in your house again.”

When Thomas Merton, in 1949, wrote to the class of Sister Marialein Lorenz,

“I believe sometimes that God is sick of the rich people and the powerful and wise men of the world and that He is going to look elsewhere and find the underprivileged, those who are poor and have things very hard; even those who find it most difficult to avoid sin; and God is going to come down and walk among the poor people of the earth, among those who are unhappy and sinful and distressed and raise them up and make them the greatest saints and send them walking all over the universe with the steps of angels and the voices of prophets to bring his light back into the world again.”

When Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth of the mercy of God even for a foreign widow from Sidon and a foreign general from Syria (Luke 4: 21-30), his hearers wanted to throw him off a cliff.

The foreigners, the widows, the poor hold a special place in God’s love. We who are rich need to be more carful and caring, opening our hearts (and our pocketbooks) to the poor, being with them, sharing their joys and sorrows.

Isn’t this what real love, God’s love, is all about.


Today is the feast of Don Bosco who died in 1888 and the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton in 1915.

The horrors of King David

I was horrified this morning as I read 1 Samuel 11 – not just the edited version of the lectionary, but the whole chapter.

King David was terrible.

  • He sends out his troops in battle but stays home in Jerusalem.
  • He sees the wife of a foreigner who is fighting for him and lusts after her.
  • He sends messengers to get her to come to him. He goes to bed with her.
  • When he finds out she’s pregnant he tries to find a way to hide it.
  • He sends for the foreigner who is fighting for him and tells him to go home and have sex with his wife. He even sends a present after him.
  • The foreigner, more just than David, refuses and instead sleeps with the other troops at the palace door. The foreigner had sworn by God and by king David that he would not do it and he is true to his word – as well as to God and king David.
  • Then David gets him drunk so that he’ll go home, have sex with his wife, and cover up David’s adultery.
  • The foreigner, although drunk, refuses.
  • David is distraught. So he sends a message to his commander by means of the foreigner that tells his commander to find a way to do away with the foreigner, disguising it as an act of battle. David not only commands a killing; he sends the message through the person who he wants killed.
  • David’s commander arranges for the foreigner to be killed by a strategic move during a battle. Other soldiers are also killed.
  • David gets the word. He’s first angry at the defeat but is appeased when he finds out the foreigner is killed.
  • After the foreigner’s wife finished the time of mourning, David took her into his palace as another of his wives.

David was a sinner – and Psalm 51 is perhaps the only decent response to these acts.

But are we any better?

You may have noticed that I did not use the names of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba his wife, or Joab. David treated them not as persons but as things to be manipulated for his pleasure and power.

Do we do that?

Also, are we not often like David in other ways? I remember the honest answer of Jimmy Carter to the question about whether he had ever committed adultery. Carter recalled that he had committed adultery in his heart.

And how many times are we not like David in trying to cover up our sins and the results of our sin? We may not kill someone to do this but we sometimes try to manipulate persons or the facts in order to cover up our sins. Or we may try to kill another’s reputation by blaming our faults on another.

I think I see some of this happening in the US primary campaigns and in the corrupt politics here in Honduras. But I must also ask myself, “How much am I like king David?”

Horror of horrors.

But God is merciful.

Have mercy on me God in your kindness;
in your compassion blot out my offense….
Psalm 51

Teaching how to fish is not enough

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…
to preach Good News to the Poor.
Luke 4: 18-19

There are bishops who are good news to the poor.

Five years ago today Bishop Samuel Ruiz, retired bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, passed on to his Lord.

A defender of the indigenous, he was loved by the poor but vilified by the rich and powerful. He developed a diaconate program among the indigenous in his diocese, which was eventually squelched by Vatican authorities. But when Pope Francis visits Mexico he will, according to reports, visit the tomb of Jtatic Samuel.

I visited the tomb in late January 2012 and saw it adorned with flowers.

Don Samuel's tomb

Tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz

I wrote about him in an earlier post, where I also mentioned Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey, another witness for the poor. But today I want to share this reflection of Don Samuel which appeared in Catholic Peace Ministry Newsletter, June 2000:

      It’s a very well known saying that if someone offers you a fish, you don’t take it. You ask him to teach you how to fish.
So, Pedro learns how to fish. He goes to the store and he says, “I want to buy a net and I want to buy a hook,” And the owner of the store says, “Uh, what’s going on here, Pedro? You learned how to fish?”
He says, “Yeah, I learned how to fish.” Then the owner says to him, “OK, but what you didn’t know is you have to sell me a portion of your fish.” And Pedro says, “OK,” and he goes out and starts fishing.
He’s on the edge of the lake and soon he feels somebody tapping on his shoulder and somebody is standing there, telling him, “What’s going on here? You can’t be fishing here. This is private land.” And so they push him off.
Pedro has been given a skill, but that’s not enough. You can work on the “development” of the individual person, but the other half of that is working on the structural injustices.
The only question at the end of our lives is about entering the Reign of God: the reign prepared for those who visited the least of their sisters and brothers in jail and who fed them when they were hungry, the reign which those who reject the poor will not enter.
So the ultimate question is not a question of orthodoxy [right belief] but of orthopraxy [right practice].
The final question is not was I right or wrong but did I love my sisters and brothers or not. Whether I was loving my brothers or sisters or not — that is the only question.

May Don Samuel inspire all of us to be Good News to the poor – accompanying them and working to change the structures that keep them impoverished.


The Black Christ of mercy


Today in Mexico and Central America we celebrate the feast of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, Guatemala, a shrine I have visited twice.

As I began writing this morning I heard a bus stopping by the school and went out to see what was happening. Sixty-seven people from Plan Grande are going to the shrine of the Black Christ in Quezalica, not too far from here. I’ve never been there but will probably go this year – since the church has been designated as one of the pilgrimage sites for the Jubilee of Mercy.

Cristo negroIntibucaThere is another shrine of the Black Christ in the diocese, in the city of Intibucá. I was able to see the image up close this past June during the diocesan youth assembly.

I vaguely recall that in El Salvador today is the celebration of El Cristo de las Misericordias, Christ of the Mercies.

I don’t know the full details of the stories of the many images of the Black Christ in Mexico and Central America (and in other parts of the world), but I do recall that there are images of the Black Madonna in Europe, mostly in France but including the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland.

Yet in many churches here in Honduras the images of Jesus and Mary are more like white Caucasians than ancient middle eastern Jews. I have even seen images of a white Lady of Guadalupe – who left her image on Juan Diego’s tilma as a morena, dark-skinned indigenous woman. Note this image of Christ the King made for the feast day in Dolores, Copán, in 2014.


So often we have domesticated Jesus, making him more like a white, northern European, than the Semite that he was. We make Jesus in our own image and likeness.

Today is a good day to recall that Jesus is God incarnate in our history, in a specific time and place, and that he comes identified with the poor and the outcast.

Jesus Christ, born among us, let us recognize you so that we can recall your mercy in coming among us as a poor human.


Sober up!

How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself?
Sober up!
1 Samuel 1: 14
(Tanakh translation)

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys was a woman with vision.

As a young woman in France she tried to join the Carmelites and the Poor Clares but was rejected by these cloistered communities.

A local priest suggested that she had a mission beyond the cloister and she formed a group of women who taught poor children in her hometown of Troyes. But church authorities looked down upon this effort to form a community of non-cloistered women. Just a few years earlier the Vatican had suppressed the “galloping girls,” the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded by Mary Ward.

But it was not a church leader but the French governor of Ville-Marie in Canada who opened up the way for her vocation. He invited her to come and teach children in the settlement that would later become Montreal.

She went and ministered to children, to the sick, and to the small village. She went back to France to recruit more teachers and eventually these women sought to establish a religious community, the Congregation of Notre Dame, Our Lady.

They again ran up against church authorities who were wary of non-cloistered religious women and Montreal’s first bishop, Msgr. Laval, tried to get them to join the Ursuline sisters. But St. Marguerite prevailed, noting that

True it is that the cloister is a protection, but could we find a more powerful guardian than the Mother to whom the Eternal Father confided the Sacred Humanity of his Divine Son?

The community flourished and more women joined them, including two Iroquois and a New England convert to Catholicism.

St. Marguerite died on January 12, 1700.

As I read her story I thought of Hannah in today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 1: 9-20 who had a great desire to have a child. She prayed so intensely before God that the priest thought she was drunk. (I also thought of another Canadian saint, Marguerite d’Youville, who founded the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart,  whose name in French soeurs grises could also be translated as the tipsy nuns.)

How many people, especially women, are considered drunk or crazy because they have dreams that they bring before God, longing for their fulfillment.

May we not stifle them but support them in their efforts to make their dreams a reality so that God may be praised by their works of love.


God’s loving

Beloved, we love God
because God first loved us.
1 John 4: 19

Real love is a gift and a response to a gift.

The problem is that sometimes we think we don’t need to be loved. Sometimes we think we are not worthy of being loved.

Both attitudes close us in on ourselves, isolate us.

But when we open ourselves to receive love, great things can happen. God’s love can get through our self-sufficiency or our self-deprecation.

But that also means that we need to reflect God’s love to others so that they can be opened to love.

God loves us first, but that love can be passed on.

So today, let yourself be loved and let yourself love.


Fear or joy

When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
[The Magi] were overjoyed at seeing the star.
Matthew 2: 3,10

When Herod heard of the birth of Jesus he was filled with fear and his fear contaminated the whole city. Not finding out where the Child was, he sent troops from afar to try to kill him.

When the Magi saw the star they were overjoyed and, entering the house, adored the child Jesus.

DSC00816Herod in fear sought death; the Magi, filled with joy, share their gifts.

What will we choose today: fear and death-dealing or joy and sharing?

That may be the real question for the Epiphany.

Love awakened

In this is love: not that we have loved God,
but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10

Love is essentially God’s gift. Our love is a response to that gift and should reflect God’s love.

Today’s Gospel shows the love of God, Jesus full of compassion, feeling in the depths of his being for the people, without a shepherd. In his love he sought to feed them – but not without the cooperation of the disciples.



Thirty five years ago today, on January 5, 1981, Lanza del Vasto died. An Italian he studied philosophy but really didn’t find his meaning in life until after going to India and meeting with Gandhi and other holy men. His pilgrimage is related in Return to the Source.

Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” the Servant of Peace. Later, he and his wife Chanterelle, with others founded the Community of the Ark, as a kind of Noah’s Ark in the midst of the violence of the times.

The community eschewed many modern conveniences and sought to live a nonviolent life, finally establishing a community in a beautiful and isolated valley in southwest France. They lived without electricity (except to grind their wheat), families and single people, with a regimen of work and prayer.

But they did not isolate themselves from the world. Lanza del Vasto and the community participated in many nonviolent campaigns in France. He also went to Rome in the early sixties to fast for peace; he was given an advanced copy of Pope John XXIII’s peace encyclical, Pacem in Terris.

When I visited the community in 1973, I participated in the daily life of the community, praying and working in the garden. But the last day and evening I spent with community at a demonstration in the nearby Larzac, where the people were fighting against the militarization of their lands.

Shantidas’ message was not an easy one, but I think it was based in his deep faith in Christ, a faith which opened itself to all faiths.

An example of this is noted in this short description of love from his Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious:

Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm words for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.

Love should wake us up to feel with the compassion of God and be of service to God’s people.

it is not easy – as Dorothy Day reminds us by her citation from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov:

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thin compared to love in dreams.

May we wake up and love!


Misers and thieves

St. Basil the Great, Father of the Church, defender of the faith, was also an outspoken defender of the poor.

He was a bishop of compassion and solidarity with the poor. In a time of famine he opened a soup kitchen and served meals to the hungry. He founded a hospital for the sick poor.

But he was deeply disturbed by the inequality he saw around him and called for redistribution of wealth and of the goods of the earth.

“What is a miser? One who is not content with what is needful. What is a thief? One who takes what belongs to others. Why do you not consider yourself a miser and a thief when you claim as your own what you received in trust? If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so?

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the one who is naked. The shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are so many injustices you commit.”

Pope Francis has often reflected the challenge of Saint Basil as when he wrote in Evangelli Gaudium; The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 202:

As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.

How will we live out this challenge this year in our personal lives and in the life of our nations?

Birthing beginnings

A new year, a time for rebirth.


Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition, notes the importance of birth. Inspired by St. Augustine she affirms that

Because they are initium [beginning], newcomers and beginners by virtue of birth, men take initiative, are prompted into action….

It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected from whatever may have happened before. This character of startling unexpectedness is inherent in all beginnings and in all origins…. The new always happens against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability, which for all practical, everyday purposes amounts to certainty; the new therefore always appears in the guise of a miracle. The fact that man is capable of action means that the unexpected can be expected from him, that he is able to perform what is infinitely improbable….

Each birth is a new beginning, a recognition that something new, something never experienced before, has come into the world, shaking it up.

We get all too accustomed to the way things are, all too set in our ways and a child is born, turning everything upside down.

So too a celebration of the New Year can be a time to act in a new way, to make resolutions to change things.

Making resolutions is a sign of hope that we are not controlled by our past, that God opens up a way for us.

Keeping resolutions is a sign that God can convert us, change us, move us to be and to act in different, unexpected ways.

It is this fitting that todays Gospel has the shepherd running in haste to the manger. They have been told that something new has happened. A child is born! And if that isn’t enough, this child is God made flesh and is lying in a manger, a feed trough.

Something new is possible because something new has happened. A child is born.

And we can live and act anew – birthing new beginnings.