Monthly Archives: November 2016

Dorothy Day and the disarmed kingdom

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
Isaiah 11

The peaceable kingdom, where wolf and lamb lie die together and a little child leads them, is one of the most poignant readings for Advent.

In the midst of violence and upheaval all around us, in the midst of concerns about the future of the US and the world, in the midst of a deep sadness in the face of so many deaths here in our parish in Honduras in the last month or so, God offers us a vision of hope, a vision of peace.

So today’s readings help console me and move me to action. How can I help the lions and the lambs live together in peace? How can I help the lions disarm their hearts – as I seek to disarm my heart?

Also, today is the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Dorothy Day on November 29, 1980. Her life among the poor, her advocacy of peace and nonviolence, and her deep love of God continue to inspire me and give me hope.

Dorothy Day wrote in 1938 of the disarmament of the heart.

“Today the whole world is in the midst of a revolution. We are living through it now – all of us. History will record this time as a time of world revolution. And frankly, we are calling for Saints…. We must prepare now for martyrdom — otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if … attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother [or sister] who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend [themselves] with any forceful means in [their] power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.”

this disarmament of the heart makes sense only in light of the Lordship of Jesus, the Word made flesh among the poor. The infant born in a stable is the source of our salvation and our safety.

As Dorothy Day write in 1966, she wrote in one of her Advent Meditations for The Ave Maria Magazine:

“When I go to the crib this year I will think, as I always do, that we are not dependent on the governments of this world for our safety, but “the government will be upon His shoulder.”

Disarming my heart, can I find safety and security in God this Advent?

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Waking up and kneeling down

Advent is a time to wake up. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans (13:11), “it is the hour for you to rise from your sleep.”

But what do we need to wake up from?

In his famous epiphany moment on a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas Merton noted,

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.

It was for him like “waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world.”

For him it confirmed his common humanity with all who live, with all members of the human race. He was not someone special and being a member of the human race was not something to be despised. Even “God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race,” he noted.

We are in this together.

This morning as I welcomed almost fifty young people into the catechumenate in Dulce Nombre, I reminded them that they were no longer alone. They are part of the community of faith. They can wake up from the nightmare of isolation.

But that means that we also are called to wake from the nightmare of individualism and self-isolation.

When we do that, what happens?

Merton put it well:

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…. There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

I reminded the catechumens that when they were signed with the cross by their sponsors during the rite, the sponsors got on their knees before them when they traced the cross on their feet.

Advent is a wake-up call – to fall down in reverence before all people who are shining like the sun, like the Sun of Justice, Jesus, who comes with healing on his wings. (Malachi 3:2)

The elusive patroness of philosophers

Today the church commemorates Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a patroness of philosophers.

As a philosopher, I rejoice that a woman is our patron. But there’s one problem: Saint Catherine might never have existed! Now that’s a philosopher’s dilemma.

According to the legend, Saint Catherine became a Christian after an intellectual search led her to Christ. The Emperor, fascinated by her beauty, had her brought before him. Stirred by his lechery he asked her to be his consort. (What a good virgin martyr’s story without a lecherous emperor.) When this didn’t work, he urged her to give up her faith. She was so convincing in her argument against this that the emperor brought in fifty philosophers who were so moved by her arguments that they became Christians and were martyred. Catherine was thrown into jail where she converted the emperor’s wife, her jailer, and two hundred soldiers. Frustrated by all this, he planned to kill her by a machine made of spoked wheels, but it flew apart and she was untouched. Then the emperor had her beheaded. And, not make things even more fascinating, angels took her body and buried it on Mount Sinai.

Saint Catherine was a very popular saint in the middle ages and into the modern era. But the Catholic Church first suppressed her feast but then restored it in 2002. Alas, such is the fate of women philosophers.

Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, ends his short entry on St. Catherine, a saint who may never have existed, thus:

[Saint Catherine] may continue to represent the subversive power of women’s wisdom, a voice which many would like to silence lest it subvert the whole world with its irrefutable logic. So Catherine continues to inspire and illuminate us with her edifying story, like the light emanating from a distant star which no longer exists.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.

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Mosaic of women saints in Ravenna

Thanksgiving in difficult times

Almost twenty-fie years ago, I learned a profound lesson in thanksgiving in the midst of poverty.

In 1992 I spent a seven-month sabbatical in El Salvador, six months helping in the parish of Santa Lucía, Suchitoto, where I assisted the Salvadoran pastor and five US women religious.

They sent me out to the furthest part of the parish – a four hours walk from Suchitoto. They arranged for me to stay with Esteban Clavel (May he rest in peace) and his wife, Rosa Elbia, for several days each week.

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Esteban and Rosa Elbia 

The Clavel family had recently moved into the community of Haciendita II and had made a home in the ruins of cattle stalls. The family was large and eight of the children were living there at the time. To avoid displacing someone from a bed I brought a hammock to sleep in.

Life was simple. Each morning I heard Esteban waking the girls to go and fetch water from a source about 30 minutes away. Later the boys would go out with their father to work in the fields. Meals were simple: tortillas and beans (usually with too much salt). I would often bring coffee and a few fruits or vegetables when I came, but the diet was very boring – except when the mangos were ripe. In the rainy season water would come into the house, under the door, and there would be a small river beneath my hammock.

I helped train catechists, visited other nearby communities, and sought to be a pastoral presence. I also went out a few times to help dig the trench for the village’s water project.

What I most remember – beside the love and the hospitality the people showed me – was my experience upon awakening.

When I work up in my hammock, my first thought was “Thanks be to God.”

It wasn’t for the discomfort or the food. It was just a thank you for being there – even in the midst of the poverty. I could even say thank you when my bowels were not functioning well.

I didn’t need to have things work well to be able to give thanks.

This past month I feel as if I am re-learning this message. I have had one funeral for a couple who were killed in their home. I went with my neighbors to the site of two men killed in Plan Grande and prayed at the side of the coffin of one of them. I visited the prison for a workshop on nonviolence and met one young man who has been in prison for more than a year without a trial and two other young men who seem to be imprisoned for what in the US we might have labeled legitimate defense. Yesterday I visited a seventeen-year old who is bedridden, possibly from kidney failure and an inflamed liver, and who suffers from anemia. Her nine-month old child, though, is doing well.

These days it is cold and rainy – with lots of mud.

Yet I feel grateful – to these people who welcome me and respond to me with such generosity. The other day someone gave me a bag of oranges and would not take any money for them. Yesterday, after giving a ride to a few guys returning from their coffee fields, one gave me two oranges.

In all this, God is present, sustaining me.

And for all this I give thanks.

Missionary martyr

The word martyr means “witness.”

Forty years ago, on November 20, 1976, Maryknoll missionary Father Bill Woods died in a suspicious plane crash in Guatemala. Even if it was not a deliberate attempt to kill him (and those with him on the plane), Fr. Bill is a martyr, a witness to the God who takes the side of the poor.

But this “Texas cowboy for Jesus,” (as his friend Bishop Mc Carthy called him) had been receiving death threats and had been warned by the US ambassador to Guatemala that his life was endangered.

But Padre Guillermo did not leave his beloved people, the indigenous whom he served in Ixcan, Guatemala, developing a new way of life for these people.

Before he died, he wrote a letter to the president of Guatemala:

“I love Guatemala and especially those peasants who are putting so much effort into developing a new life in the Zona Reina [in the Ixcán]. It would break my heart to have to leave the country. I repeat, my only interest is to help make the peasants better Christians, better Guatemalans, and thus help them produce more for themselves and for their country.”

Padre Guillermo is one of the witnesses of the love of Christ for the poor, a witness to the mercy of God, and a sign of the all for justice.

All the saints

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the most powerful moments for me when I was ordained was lying prostrate during the litany of saints.

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As I lay there, I felt myself surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – interceding for me and offering me examples of the love and mercy of God which I felt called to follow in a special way by being an ordained deacon – and not just an occasional servant. But this communion of saints includes not only those who are acknowledged by the church; nor does it only include those who has passed from this life; we are living in the midst of the saints, the “holy” people of God who struggle to live lives of mercy and faithfulness.

Today the Gospel is Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes and I’d like to recall some of the “saints” who have inspired me – some living, some gone to be among the saints in the heavenly presence of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Two couples who are trying in the midst of jobs to live as families who are open to the poor and to the demands of justice.

Blessed are those who mourn

Two friends who recently lost premature twins and have shown such great faith and tranquility but still experience the loss.

Blessed are the meek

Gentle-spirited Juan Ángel Pérez, a thirty-one year old delegate of the Word in a poor community, who died a few weeks ago.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice

Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop who found himself more and more taking up the cause of the poor and was martyred at the altar for his identification with the poor.

Blessed are the pure of heart

The Franciscan sisters I know and work with in Honduras who are examples of committed wisdom who “will one thing” – the presence of a loving God in the midst of the poor.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Servant of God Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, who lived among the poor and sought peace and justice for the poor.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the cause of justice

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant with a wife and family who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, and was imprisoned and beheaded for his faithfulness to a God of life.