Monthly Archives: May 2016

A revolutionary song

Today is the feast of the Visitation. In haste, Mary – pregnant with Jesus – goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth – pregnant with John the Baptist.


It is a feast of hospitality, solidarity, joy.

The passage in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1: 39-56) ends with the Magnificat, Mary’s canticle in praise of a revolutionary God.

During my retreat last week to prepare for my diaconal ordination, I picked up Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s book of essays Abounding in Kindness: Writing for the People of God, and came across her beautiful and pointed essay on the Magnificat, “Hearts on Fire: A Revolutionary Song.”

I recommend the essay but want to share a few quotations that touched me:

Young, poor, female, member of a subjugated people, [Mary] belongs to a group given a negative valuation by worldly powers. Yet it is to precisely such a woman that the living God has done great things. (p. 301)


Through God’s action the social hierarchy of wealth and poverty, power and subjugation, will be turned upside down. (p. 302)

Mary speaks of a God who has transformed this world and keeps transforming it.

May our souls glorify this Lord who turn things upside down, who in Mary’s song gives us “a profound sense of the odd mercy of the God of Israel who graciously chooses to be in solidarity with those who suffer and are of no account.” (p.301)

The photo is of a painting for the church in El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador.

The love of St. Damien


“Damien simply loved them
as souls redeemed by Christ
and was prepared to do anything for them.”
Butler’s Lives of the Saints: New Concise Edition

On May 10, 1873, Father Damien de Veuster landed on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. He was scheduled to be there three months every year, being relieved by three other priests. However, after a short time there, he asked the bishop to allow him to do his ministry there full-time.

Molokai was the place where lepers, those with Hansens disease, were sent to die. Father Damien came upon a horridsituation. The lepers were abandoned. There was a hospital but the care was minimal. There was no work. At times, lepers were cast off the ships and had to find their way onto the beach through the surf.

Father Damien found a situation where drinking and promiscuous sex were rampant, where the dead were not always buried, and where life was not valued.

He founded a funeral society to bury the dead; he managed to have the government expand the health care; he began projects.

But what was essential is that he “simply loved them.”

That was probably not easy. People like Dorothy Day who work directly with the poor know that. The poor are not always saints – nor are they always sinners. They are not always easy to live with or work with.

There are the people always looking for a handout. There are the people who call incessantly over a project. There are the people who do not follow up on commitments. There are the people who are dictators in their communities. There are those who drink too much.

The response has to be love.

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams,” wrote Dostoevsky.

But love is our salvation. A God who is Love came onto our Molokais, finding us in horrid situations. And He loved us.

And He calls us to love.


A psalm for Father Dan Berrigan

Today Fr. Dan Berrigan’s body will be laid to rest.

To celebrate this I read the psalms for Morning Prayer of the Office for the Dead. The final psalm, 146, seems particularly fitting for this priest, prophet, poet, prisoner.

“I will make music to God while I live.” (verse 2)

His poetry and his writings have been music to my ears, opening them more fully to God.

“Put no trust in princes…” (verse 3)

Fr. Dan did not trust princes, especially those who are armed to the teeth with weapons of death. Fr. Dan’s life spoke of a deeper trust – in a God of Life.

“It is he who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry…” (verses 6-7)

I am not sure whether the psalmist is speaking of the Lord or of those who put their hope in the Lord. Does it matter? We are to be holy as the Lord is holy, to be just as the Lord is just, to share our bread as the Lord has shared bread with us.

“…the Lord sets prisoners free…” (verse 7)

Even more, we are called to set prisoners free. The Resurrection of Christ icon has Jesus setting free Adam and Eve and all the holy ones who went before Him. He breaks the gates of Hell.

“the Lord gives sight to the blind,
raises up those who are bowed down;
the Lord protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan.” (verses 8-9)

Fr. Dan opened the eyes of many of us so that we can not deny that we are called to raise up those bowed down by violence and poverty, we are called to protect the stranger and migrant in our midst, we are called to uphold the least of all.

“It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.” (verses 8-9)

Fr. Dan loved justice and his acts of holy disobedience were often attempts to thwart the path of the the wicked.

“The Lord will reign forever….” (verse 10)

My guess is that this is what Fr. Dan prayed for.

May the Reign of God, a reign of love, justice, peace, come.

I think we’ve seen glimpses of this Reign in the life of Father Dan.


The translation of the psalm is adapted from the Grail translation.