Monthly Archives: March 2017

Scrutinies and courage

This morning I went to a village, El Limón, where we celebrated the Scrutinies for four young men who will, God willing, be baptized in the Easter Village. This afternoon I served as deacon and preached here in Plan Grande where we celebrated the Scrutinies for two young men.

The Scrutinies are special prayers and exorcisms for those preparing for baptism. The community prays for them and they kneel. The priest or deacon lays hands on their heads as they kneel in prayer. We pray that they be freed from the power of the Father of Lies.

For me it was moving to pray silently, laying my hands on the heads of the young men in El Limón. I prayed that God would work through me to give them the strength and courage to continue their journey to baptism. It was also moving because before the celebration we had a discussion because of some problems in the classes they should have been receiving. The community made a decision that allowed these young men to continue toward Baptism. I pray that what we did will help the community grow toward greater unity. But what was important was finding a way to really support and welcome these young people.

In Plan Grande, I was moved when Padre German spoke directly to the two young men calling them to be courageous as the man born blind was courageous.

I preached in both places and one thing that really impressed me was the man born blind in the Gospel (John 9: 1-41) . He comes on the scene as a worthless blind beggar. But cured by Jesus, but with the his own cooperation – going to the pool of Siloam and washing his eyes, he affirms his dignity in the face of people denying that this seeing man was the man born blind. “I am.”

But what really impressed me was how he stood up to the authorities who wanted not only to chastise him as a sinner but wanted, using him, to chastise Jesus and charge Jesus as a sinner.

The man who had been blind stands up to the religious leaders, claiming that Jesus was a prophet. And when they asked him again about the cure, he, probably fed up that they didn’t listen to his explanation he first time, asks them, almost sarcastically, if they want to become disciples of Jesus.

What courage – from a man who had been a useless blind beggar.

And then, when he had been expelled by the religious leaders, Jesus seeks him and reveals Himself to the man who had been blind as the Son of Man.

That is the message for these young people – and others seeking to be baptized.

Jesus is the Son of Man, the Light of the World, who give us the courage, who leads us to see not only the presence of God in our midst but also to see our dignity and gives us the courage to be who we are – children of the Light (Ephesians 5: 8).

Pray for these young men and the more than thirty others who will be baptized in Dulce Nombre at the Easter Vigil.

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The angel entered the house

The angel entered where Mary was
Luke 1:28

Most of our images of the Annunciation have Mary in a contemplative state – with arms crossed, kneeling, or – anachronistically reading a book. I especially love Fra Angelico’s fresco in the San Marcos Convent in Florence.

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There is a Byzantine icon of the angel greeting Mary at a well, based on a story in the Protevangelium of James.

But I really wonder if they have all got it wrong.

What would a woman be doing in a house? Most likely, cleaning, washing clothes and dishes, preparing meals, and maybe even sewing, repairing clothes, or spinning wool. But I have seen almost no images with Mary doing any one these things when the angel Gabriel arrives.

There are also a few icons that have Mary with a distaff.

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Coptic icon of teh Annunciation 91995) by Bedour Latif and Yousef Nassief

There is also a painting by JW Waterhouse which has Mary kneeling with what appears to be a spindle on the ground beside her. (But there is also the anachronistic book.)

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Yet the angel entered and found Mary in her house.

The angel found Zacharias in the temple. Angels appeared to Joseph in dreams.  Angels appeared to the women at the tomb of Jesus. But the Angel Gabriel makes a house call to Mary.

I was thinking of this as I prepared to preach this morning in Debajiados. Without conferring beforehand, Padre German mentioned at the beginning of Mass that the angel came into Mary’s house.

We can encounter God – and God’s messengers – anywhere, especially in our daily lives. We don’t have to be praying; we don’t have to be reading a spiritual book; we don’t have to be kneeling or with our arms crossed over our chests. God comes whenever and wherever.

That is part of the message of many saints and mystics, including Brother Lawrence, famous for his Practice of the Presence of God amid the pots and pans.

But a spirituality which doesn’t take the Incarnation seriously makes many think that we have to be pious to hear God. Piety helps, but attentiveness is more important. And perhaps even more important is being open to God who comes in the little things as well as in the great surprises.

And so let us make sure that we are attentive when the angels enter our house.

 

Joseph – just, docile, free

Joseph, the silent actor, was just, docile, and free.

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Today, because March 19 fell on a Sunday, we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Yesterday, however, we celebrated the feast of Saint Joseph in the village of San José Quebraditas, where I preached.

There is very little in the Gospels about Joseph. We never hear a word he might have spoken. He is the silent witness of the Incarnation of the Son of God. But he listens – even to dreams – and acts.

In the Gospel for the feast, Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a, we hear of a man who is just, docile, and free.

Matthew calls Joseph a “just man” or, as some translations put it, a “righteous man.” Joseph is just with the justice of God – not with a merely human justice.

The merely human justice of the law of his day would have condemned Mary to death by stoning – as an adulteress. But Joseph had already chosen a different kind of justice, the justice of mercy and compassion. He had planned to put her away privately.

But Joseph was also docile to the call of God. In a dream an angel calls him to take Mary as his wife. Joseph had proposed a good thing for Mary, but God calls his to go further. Joseph is open to God’s call; he is docile, teachable, and so takes on his role as guardian of Jesus, the Son of God make flesh. For Joseph, his pray to God is not “my will be done,” but “thy will be done.”

In all this we find a free man. Joseph was not so tied to his own ideas that he could not give them up to the dreams of God. Joseph was not so bound by his own culture or his own plans that he could not let God change his plans and move him to respond in an unexpected, loving, and free way to God’s call to change his plans. Joseph is free. As Father Alfred Delp, SJ, wrote from a Nazi prison, “Without complaint he lets his own plans be set aside.”

We would do well to imitate Joseph – the just, docile, and free person who listens and acts.


The photo was taken on March 19, 2017, in San José Quebraditas, Concepción, Copán, Honduras.

The quote from Father Alfred Delp, SJ, comes from The Prison Meditations of Father Delp  and is also found in Alfred Delp, SJ: Prison Writings,  p. 63.

 

Restoring the Samaritan woman to community

Many people in the world – mostly women – get up early and go to the community well or water spigot to gather water. I remember, when I spent several months in rural El Salvador, Esteban calling out very early, “Get up. It’s time to fetch water.”

Several months later, the community had a common spigot. I remember the first day that water came. People were lined up with their colorful water jugs, waiting in line, at the tap.

Fetching water is a communal event. The people, almost exclusively women, gather at the well or the community spigot in the cool of the morning to fetch water and to share the news (and the gossip) of the community.

Woman at the Well

in the Vatican Museum

And so in today’s Gospel (John 4) it is strange to find the Samaritan woman coming alone in the heat at noon. Something was wrong.

And then she encounters a solitary Jew.

Can you imagine her consternation when he addresses her and asks for water? The Jews despised and looked down on the Samaritans and considered themselves superior in many ways – not least of all in their religion. And he is a man and men do not talk in public to women.

Yet Jesus initiates contact with this woman who was probably alienated from her village. After all she had had five husbands. Perhaps she comes to the well alone and at noon to avoid the condemning looks and the remarks of the other women.

But a Jewish man does not command her to give him water but, as one in need, asks for a drink.

A spirited conversation follows and Jesus offers her living water.

How long had she come alone to fetch water? How long had she endured being marginalized? How long had she felt shame for her situation?

Perhaps she was tired of all this and when Jesus offers her living water, she realizes the deep thirst within her that cannot be sated by coming to the well or by her five former husbands or the man she’s now living with.

Jesus opens her up to her deepest thirst, her deepest desire.

The water Jesus gives her is different. It is the water that quenches our deepest desires, our deepest thirsts. But more than that, Jesus notes

the water I shall give will become in [the person] a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

It is not a water merely from the outside; it is a water that opens up a spring in our very hearts, where we can worship God in spirit and in truth.

And what does this water do for us? Note what this gift of water did for the woman.

She left behind her water jug and goes into town.

She leaves behind the sign of her lonely struggle to satisfy her own thirst on her own terms. She goes and tells the people about the Messiah she has experienced.

She is no longer isolated. She is an apostle, a missionary to her people. The one who had been an outcast becomes the one who brings news of great joy.

And then she returns to the well – not alone but with the people of the village.

A stream of living water is flowing out of her, watering her neighbors who no longer look on her as an outcast, but join her in going out to meet this Jesus, who satisfies our thirsts.

And when they encounter Jesus, they too have their thirsts satisfied and find in themselves springs of that living water.

We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.

May we recognize our thirsts and our ways of trying to satisfy them. Even more let us open our thirst to receive the living water, and let that Living Water of Jesus flood our hearts so that we too may find in ourselves “the spring of living water that wells up to eternal life” and share it with all who thirst for real Water.

How long will you be here?

I came to Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, in June 2007.

Before I came, some people in the US asked me how long I planned to be there. My response was, “Until God calls me somewhere else.”

For the first couple of years here, people kept asking me, “How long will you be here?” My response was “Hasta que Dios quiere” – “As long as God wants.”

Now I am seldom asked that question, since I’ve been around for so long and now I have a house in Plan Grande. But it is still something I need to ask myself.

But now as an ordained permanent deacon, I am tied to Honduras, specifically to the Church in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. And so it is easier to say that I am here until I die or God calls me elsewhere.

Patrick copyThis was brought home to me this morning, reading a passage from Saint Patrick’s Confessions found in Vigils of Benedictine Daily Prayer. I felt that Saint Patrick was speaking for me:

“I am ready, if found worthy, to lay down my life gladly and without hesitation for His sake, and I desire to spend it here until death if the Lord grant me that wish.”

That is my prayer – if God wills it.

I desire to spend my life serving in the Church for and with the poor

This is so especially when I have these morning visitors: chorchas – orioles.

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The economy kills Lazarus

There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen, who dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his gate was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores. He longed to feed himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
Luke 16:19-21

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The poor have names in the Kingdom of God. In the kingdom of money and power, we have the rich and famous. But with God, things are very different.

It is so easy to just dismiss the poor as a group and forget that they are real people, with names, with lives, with families. It is also so easy to fail to realize that an economy, the structures of an unjust economy that is based on inequality rather than solidarity, kills. An economy based on arms kills.

To help us make this real, I suggest we make our own the exercise that Bishop Robert McElroy shared with the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements on February 18, this year:

Now, when I quote the Pope that “this economy kills,” people very often say to me, “Oh come on, that’s just an exaggeration; it’s a form of speech.”
I want to do an experiment with you. I want you to sit back in your chair for a moment. And close your eyes, and I want you to think of someone you have known that our economy has killed: A senior who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is dying, working two and three jobs, really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids; young people who can’t find their way in the world in which there is no job for them, and they turn to drugs, and gangs and suicide. Think of one person you know that this economy has killed.
Now mourn them.
And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills.

——

The full text of Bishop McElroy’s astounding speech can be found on the San Diego Diocesan site here as well as here in Rose Berger’s blog..

The tamed ass of Palm Sunday

JesusDonkeyPalmToday I led a workshop for the catechists in Zone 4 of the parish. I do like this zone a lot because there are many catechists who have caught our vision of participative catechesis, that helps the children and youth encounter Christ – and not just memorize “facts” about the faith.

I decided to spend part of the time on helping the catechists develop new ways to use the Bible in their classes. I was in for a surprise – and a lesson.

I decided to use the Gospel accounts of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in a communal Ignatian contemplation approach, promoting the use of the imagination. Before we started I explained the use of our senses in imaginatively encountering Christ in the Gospels.

I read three accounts of the events of Palm Sunday, starting with Luke 19: 29-40, followed by Mark and Matthew – leaving time between the readings for prayer and imaginative contemplation. After the last period of silence, I invited them to share what it meant to them in groups of two or three. Then I opened up the prayer to sharing in the group.

Two young men had noted something that I had barely noticed. In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples are told they will find a donkey, a filly, a young ass – πῶλον, “on which no one has ever sat.”

They told me how they were first afraid – as Jesus was about to mount the donkey. If no one has ever mounted a donkey, the donkey will be very frisky and will try to throw the person off. It needs to be broken in before one can safely ride on a young filly. It is dangerous to try to ride on a donkey on which no one has ever sat. You need to get someone to break in the burro before you can ride it or use it to carry burdens.

They found themselves afraid for Jesus.

But then Jesus mounted the donkey and it was as gentle as could be – even carrying him over palms and mantles, in the midst of a noisy crowd, crying out “Hosanna!”

They were amazed.

I was amazed at this incredible insight that most of us who read the scriptures never notice. Jesus rides on a donkey that has not been broken in. In fact, in his gentleness he tames the beast.

Later I spoke with the two men and we reflected that in the Garden of Eden the animals were tame. But when sin comes into the world, we have situations in which donkeys will try to unseat anyone who tries to sit on them. But Jesus, restoring creation to its state of peace before the fall, can sit on this beast that has become tame.

Jesus tames us with his gentleness. He restores peace with his presence.

Later in the workshop I had the catechists break into three groups and work on the Palm Sunday story in three ways – drawings, retelling the story in their own words, and drama.

I ended up making an ass of myself in the drama!

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Significantly I ended the workshop with Matthew 11: 25-30 that begins with this verse:

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, but revealed them to the simple people.

 

Am I graced!