Monthly Archives: January 2017

My cloud of witnesses

This morning as I read today’s first reading from the lectionary (Hebrews 12: 1-4), I began to think of the “great cloud of witnesses” that challenge and sustain me. I began to list them and came up with nineteen. I am sure that I could add many more – including some witnesses who are family members and some who are still alive. But here are those who have passed on to the Lord who help me be who I am called to be. (I have linked each witness to a meditation I wrote on this blog.)

  1. Mary, the Mother of God

Mary in her canticle, the Magnificat, challenges me to live God’s Reign among and with the least of God’s people, for “God lifts up the lowly.”

  1. St. Francis of Assisi

Identifying with the poor crucified Christ, Francis calls me to love God and the poor.

  1. Dorothy Day

A living sign of God’s love and God’s call for peace, Dorothy Day calls me to open my heart to all the poor.

  1. Blessed Charles de Foucauld

The hermit of the desert, Charles de Foucauld, challenges me to be a person of contemplation in the midst of the poor, willing to give my life for them.

  1. Thomas Merton

The Trappist monk, Father Louis [aka Thomas Merton], challenges me to uproot the roots of war and violence in my heart, reminding me that the “root of war is fear.”

  1. Blessed Oscar Romero 

The martyred archbishop, Monseñor Romero, calls me to be willing to be the seed that falls to the ground and dies.

  1. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

The Austrian peasant martyr, Franz, reminds me to say “No” to all that opposes God, as he refused to serve in Hitler’s army.

  1. Blessed Jerzy Popielusko

The Polish priest martyr, Father Jerzy, reminds me that the call to Solidarity is central to our lives, even if it means suffering and death.

  1. Trappist Father Christian de Chergé

Killed by Islamicist extremists in Algerian, Father Christian challenges me to love even those who wish me ill and to open my hearts to all people of faith.

  1. St. Benedict Joseph Labré

This poor beggar, a street person in Rome, St. Benedict challenges me to accept all persons, even those who smell terrible.

  1. St. Benedict the Black 

This humble African-Italian Franciscan, St. Benedict the Black (sometimes called St. Benedict the Moor), has challenged me to recognize and defend all persons, no matter their race or economic condition.

  1. St. Martin of Tours

This early bishop, Saint Martin, challenges me to share with the poor and to refuse to kill.

  1. St. Thomas More

This lawyer martyr, St. Thomas More, a “Man for All Seasons,” challenges me to be faithful to my conscience, even as he tried to make reasonable compromises.

  1. Father Alfred Delp, S.J.

This Jesuit priest, Father Delp, challenges me with his writings from a Nazi prison to be a voice in the wilderness.

  1. St. Brigid of Kildaire

This Irish nun, Saint Brigid, inspires me to see Heaven as a “Lake of Beer,” with a special place for the poor.

  1. St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles

This woman, Mary of Magdala, the first to witness the risen Lord, challenges me to listen to the Good News from the mouths of women.

  1. Pastor André Trocmé

This Reformed Church pacifist pastor, Pastor André Trocmé, challenges me to open my heart and my life to the stranger and the persecuted, as he help the village of Le Chambon, France, rescue hundreds of Jews.

  1. St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J.

This Chilean Jesuit, Padre Hurtado, challenges me to be a person of faith seeking justice.

  1. St. John the Baptist

The precursor of Jesus, Saint John, challenges me, so that I may decrease and the Lord may increase.

There are hundreds more surrounding me, but these are those whom I most cherish on this day.


I would also like to refer you to my meditation on prostrating before the altar during the Litany of the Saints on the day of my ordination as a permanent deacon.


The Will of God

This morning before getting up from the bed, I found myself praying, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”

After fixing coffee and showering – in that order,  I sat down to pray and read the first reading for the day, Hebrews 10: 1-10, in which the author cites, twice, a passage from Psalm 40: “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”

Then in the Gospel, Mark 3: 31-35, we find Jesus saying that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Wow! Doing the will of God must be central to our life of faith.

In our parish, when the candidates for baptism or confirmation are introduced, we ask them to respond to their name with the phrase, “Aquí estoy, Señor, para hacer tu voluntad” – “Here I am, Lord, to do your will.” Some respond forcefully, even with a fist bump, but others, perhaps a bit more shy, barely say it above a whisper.

But the question is “How do we know we are trying to do the will of God?” All too often I confuse my will with God’s, thinking that I know what he wants and it’s what I want.

This points me to the real need we have to learn and teach discernment. All too often I find that our teaching of the faith and the moral life seem more aligned with a black-and-white, law-based approach.

Discernment is hard in such a climate. That’s why I want to spend more time this year learning how to discern better and learning how to assist the people I serve with learning the practical wisdom of discernment.

Many years ago, as I considered coming here to Honduras, I re-read Dean Brackley’s The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspective on the Transformative Vision of Ignatius of Loyola. I’m thinking of re-reading it, perhaps for Lent, as a way to deepen my life of faith. (It’s also now available in Spanish, from UCA editores in El Salvador.)

I would also appreciate any suggestions for other resources – books, articles, activities – in English or Spanish, to help our ministry here.

And keep discerning – it’s a life long project.



The subversive power of virginity

dsc00821Today is the feast of St. Agnes, a virgin–martyr who was killed at the age of thirteen about the year 304.

The opening prayer of the liturgy notes that God chooses the weak in the world to confound the strong, a belief deeply embedded in the theology of the incarnation and in the reflections of St. Paul in his letter to Philippians (chapter 2) and throughout his second letter to the Corinthians, where he notes:

 “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”(2 Cor 11:30)

In his reflection of Saint Agnes in  All Saints, Robert Ellsberg reveals the subversive power of this virgin martyr:

In the story of Agnes, however, the opposition is not between sex and virginity. The conflict is between a young woman’s power in Christ to define her own identity versus a patriarchal culture’s claim to identify her in terms of her sexuality. According to the view shared by her “suitors” and the state, if she would not be one man’s wife, she might as well be every man’s whore. Failing these options, she might as well be dead. Agnes did not choose death. She chose not to worship the gods of her culture. The God she worshiped sets an altogether different value on her body, her identity, and her human worth. Espoused to God, she was beyond the power of any man to “have his way with her.” “Virgin” in this case is another way of saying Free Woman.

May this free woman, Agnes, move us all to worship not a God of power and violence, but a good of weakness and love.

I will return to this theme later, but I have to leave early this morning for the celebration of the closing of the centennial year of our diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima.

Notes for a baptism homily

This afternoon I’ll be preaching and baptizing in the aldea of El Zapote Santa Rosa. Praying over today’s readings I find them pertinent for baptizing new members of our church.

Hebrews 8: 6-13
Mark 3: 13-19

Here are some notes, in English, for my homily.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls his twelve apostles – by name. We just called these young children by name – to welcome them into the Body of Christ. They do not come as a group, nor as anonymous. They come as persons with a name.

And they will be welcomed into a community, which experiences the new covenant that the Letter of the Hebrews speaks of.

They will be welcomed and baptized into Christ, not only to free them from sin but also to welcome them into a new relationship with God. As the prophet Jeremiah recalls the promise of God:  “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

It is a relationship of deep intimacy. God’s way, God’s law – the law of love – will not be an external commandment constraining them. It will be written in their hearts and when they  live it they will be free.

We need to welcome these young people. But, even more, we need to live that covenant, that law of love, so that they can grow in love.

We need to be people of love, of solidarity, deeply in love with Jesus and open to love as he did – even loving our enemies. We need to have a community here in El Zapote where these children will see the New Covenant at work, where all know the Lord, from the least unto the greatest.

And so, we will now baptize these young people into Christ Jesus, so that they may God’s people and show forth signs of God’s Reign here in El Zapote.


The Virgin of Tenderness

One of my favorite icons of Mary is the Virgin of Tenderness, also known as the Vladimir Mother of God.

There is a stunning icon of the Virgin in the church of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, written by Yaroslava Sumach Mills.

The iconographer worked with the parish to write an icon that fits so well into the church – for example, the color of Mary’s mantle matches the color of the rosewood of the altar.

Yaroslava came to Ames and spoke about her work and even provided the parish with a series of photos of the icon being written. She also left a line drawing of the Vladimir icon.

I brought a copy of that line drawing to Honduras and have passed it on to the catechists in the parish of Dulce Nombre so that the children can color the icon or make copies.

Wednesday, I went to the village of Pasquingual to lead a Celebration of the Word with Communion for the father of one of the Delegates of the Word there. On the wall of the church there were several drawings, including this one of the Vladimir Mother of God, by Nicol, one of the children there.


I was overwhelmed. Nicol captured the life and spirit of the icon.

You  can compare this with the line drawing she had


or with this detail of the original


We may have a young iconographer in our midst.

And so we pray,

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us and for all the world.


Put the poor in the center

Rise up into the midst of us.
Mark 3:3

The poor and the sick are on the margins. We’d rather not see them.

In Jesus’ time, the sick, especially those with deformed limbs, were ostracized and liv dint eh shadows of society. And so, when Jesus calls on the man with the withered hand, he calls him out of the shadows and into the light of the community.

How often do I avoid the sick, those with physical or mental illness? I’d rather not see them, since their presence may make demands on me, demands of love and solidarity. They make me uncomfortable, perhaps reminding me of the unseen deformities in my life.

But Jesus calls the man with the withered hand out into the middle.

Sadly, most English-speakers will not here this message. The New American Bible translates the passage as ““Come up here before us.” The New Revised Standard Version renders it as ““Come forward.”

But the Greek is much more direct: Ἔγειρε εἰς τὸ μέσον – Rise up out into the middle.

In Spanish this is translated as “Ponte en medio” – “Put yourself in the middle.”

Only the Jerusalem Bible translation gets this: “Stand up out into the middle.”

The sick and the poor must be in the middle of our lives as followers of Christ the healer.



Take no offence

Today is the feast of St. Anthony of Thebes, often called San Antonio Abad here in Latin America to distinguish him from the Franciscan San Antonio de Padua.

This morning I came across this quote, found in Thomas Merton’s The Wisdom of the Desert:

ABBOT ANTHONY taught Abbot Ammonas, saying: You must advance yet further in the fear of God. And taking him out of the cell he showed him a stone, saying: Go and insult that stone, and beat it without ceasing. When this had been done, St. Anthony asked him if the stone had answered back. No, said Ammonas. Then Abbot Anthony said: You too must reach the point where you no longer take offence at anything.

It’s not that we should not speak up against injustice. What is important that we don’t take offense, don’t take things personally, don’t respond in kind.

I wonder if this might be extremely important advice, not just for me but for all who live in contentious situations. I’m thinking especially of post-election US.

A few days after the election I started to write a blog entry which I entitled “Frayed Nerves.” I never finished or published it. But I want to share some of my thoughts at that time in light of the wisdom of this desert father (who died in 356 at the age of 105).

So here are the notes for my “Frayed Nerves” post:

Before the election I avoided any direct commentary on candidates.

After the election, I have been surprised at the reactions I have received on Facebook to what I considered to be merely raising questions. I was surprised at the responses.

My motives were questioned in one response and I was told that a statement I had made was putting down the middle class that supported me. I didn’t know what statement was being referred to and so I wrote a response. The original comment was deleted by the sender.

In another I said that Obama had deported more than previous presidents. Someone questioned this and said “President Obama has deported no-one. The current laws of the U.S. passed by the Congress of the United States are responsible for any deportations from the U.S. Stop blaming a single man for things you don’t like in America. The President alone is not responsible. Why do people not understand this?”

I said Obama because he was president while this was being done, knowing that it is a question of more than one person. But I still believe that President Obama does have some responsibility.

I posted Archbishop Gomez’s statement at a service in which he said that children were going to bed scared. I got a response that said that this fear was learned or deliberately taught.

It appears that people’s nerves are frayed and people are often responding from their gut. I am saddened at this.

But there has been one person I’ve interacted with on Facebook who has been more thoughtful. He is, to put it mildly, much more conservative than I. He wrote one comment on a comment of a friend on something I posted that I found disrespectful. I gently responded and he deleted the comment.

He also responded in a way that I didn’t expect to a quote I posted from General Omar Bradley on war. In a later comment he responded to my concern about Trump with a comment that this is due to the media. I responded gently disagreeing. This was very refreshing.

But then I posted photos of caterpillars that were taking over the front of my house, asking if anyone knew what they were. I soon got people giving them names – male names at first. It was hilarious. I guess this was a needed outlet for frustration. Long live the caterpillars.

Frayed nerves may reveal that all too often we take offense – even when no offense was intended.

The question is whether we can be like the stone that Ammonas beat or whether we pick p the stone and throw it at another.

God and the naked Indian

Three Franciscan sisters helped me on Friday and Saturday to do some formation for leaders of our youth groups and communities in the parish.

I had asked Sister Nancy to provide some different prayer experiences for the young people. One she led was an imaginative approach to our understanding of God. She began inviting us to visualize how God might be seen in a tree.

I almost immediately thought of a tree in my neighbor’s year, a tree that I can see clearly from my terrace. It is called “el indio desnudo,” “the naked Indian.’


The bark often peels away and reveals several beautiful colors.


Also, at various times during the year the leaves are touched with red or yellow tints.


It is a beautiful tree – especially at some hours in the morning when the rising sun shines through the leaves and highlights the bark.


But, reflecting afterword in a small group, I recognized that God, the naked Indian, is deeply engrained in my spirituality.

God comes among us as a poor man. He emptied himself and revealed himself in the simple. He is the God who became vulnerable. He becomes the naked Indian.

There is also a further sense that the glory of Jesus is revealed when the bark is stripped away, revealing the glory beneath.

A second part of the meditation was to consider what tree I am. I identified immediately with “el indio desnudo,” but a smaller tree than God. As I reflected later I recalled the call to become vulnerable, to let myself be stripped of pretensions and more.

This all brings me back to a passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-8) that shapes my life:

Have the same sentiment and wisdom as Jesus, the Messiah:
being in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God a something to be clung to;
but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave;
being found in the likeness of humans,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death,
even death on a cross.

The self-emptying God has become a naked Indian with all that means, because in many parts of Central America the native people are despised and the term “Indio” is used to express disdain.

Jesus comes among us as the despised naked Indian – and call us to be like Him.

As I finished writing this reflection I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton from his essay, “A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra Concerning Giants,” in  Emblems of a Season of Fury:

The tourist never meets anyone, never encounters anyone, never finds the brother in the stranger. This is his tragedy, . . .
So the tourist drinks tequila, and thinks it is no good, and waits for the fiesta he has been told to wait for. How should he realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesus.





The newness of the Babe

These are some notes, in English, that I used for my two homilies yesterday, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

The New Year here comes in with firecrackers and lots of noise.

But in the church today we also celebrate something new.

Although the church year began 5 weeks ago, a week ago we celebrated something completely new – as in the second reading: God came down and became a human being.

The Church in her wisdom realizes that there are certain events you cannot celebrate in one day – so today is the eighth day, the octave.

We celebrate this newness
–  God become human, not remaining in the clouds, lounging in a hammock.

But we celebrate in a different manner.

His birth was greeted by angels appearing to shepherds
and he was born in a manger

There were no firecrackers, just the silence of the night.

But even more he came down as a poor baby in a manger.

The shepherds may have been expecting a splendid child, like the kings
– but the splendor they recognize is in the face of a baby.

It’s something that we can best understand if we follow the example of Mary.

She turned all these things over in her heart.

And so today we celebrate Mary the Mother of God,
the woman who said yes and thus was God’s choice for the incarnation of his son.

Jesus is God, but he is completely human – born as a babe,
but a baby who reveals God to us in a different manner
– not with the splendor and panoply of a rich king
but with a simple couple who find no room at the inn.

Here is God-with-us

Today is a feast of God’s tender love for us, of the newness of His love.
– He wants to be with us, in a family,
– He wants to show us his face – more, he wants the splendor of his face in a tiny babe.

Today is also the day of Prayer for World Peace, which we will actually celebrate in the diocese on Saturday. But this is the day, this is a time to begin anew:
– To seek peace.
– To be like the shepherds, willing to open their eyes to see God in a tiny babe,
– To seek the Light that has come into a world of darkness, a light that helps us see how to live together as children of God.

And so we seek the blessing that we find in the first reading, a blessing used by Saints Francis and Clare:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord shine his face on you and have mercy on you.
The Lord look upon you with kindness and give you peace.

And may we recognize the shining glory of God in the babe born in Bethlehem and in the faces of all the poor of world whom we gaze upon with kindness – as God gazes on us.

I am not

I am not…
John the Baptist
John 1: 20-21

Three times in today’s Gospel (John 1: 19-27), John the Baptist says, “I am not…”

Pop psychology is often very much concerned about having an adequate self-image and would probably be concerned about these words of denial of John.

However, I believe that acknowledging who I am not can be liberating, can let the power of God work within us and through us.

Being clear that we are not the messiah, the prophet, the savior is a first step to acknowledging who we really are.

I remember one day in the 1980s when I was working in campus ministry and was very concerned about the wars in Central America and other parts of the world. A student I worked with asked me, without any malice, “What country are you saving today?”

Though I might not have taken to heart his challenge, in the last few years his question has opened my heart to recognize that I am not the savior – of a country, of a person, of a parish.

This frees me to be who I am called to be. It relieves me of any personal or societal expectations.

It has opened me to see, today, that I am called to be one whom God uses to open the way of the Lord.

This is freedom – because the Lord is the One who acts and saves.


Not me.


And I am just the servant of the Lord.