Monthly Archives: August 2017

Staking my life on God’s story

I am in the middle of several books, as usual.

I am slowly going through José Antonio Pagola’s Jesús: una aproximación histórica, an amazing reading of Jesus, that has helped me in my preaching and work with the people. It provides a hopeful way of reading the life of Jesus. There is an English translation.

During the clergy study week, I began to read Walter Brueggemann’s The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word. What a gem.

What struck me was his way of presenting prophetic teaching not in terms of issues but in terms of what narrative rules our lives? Does our narrative reflect the biblical narrative of God and Jesus at the center of meaning of all creation and history?

This also means that we ask whether ours is a narrative of hope – or a narrative of fear?  Our preaching and our life of faith – are they based on a loving response, with gratitude, to love?

One phrase struck with me. Considering the question of historical reliability of the texts, he notes:

…so far as we care about reliability, we finally assert that whatever may be the “data,” we stake our lives in it, and live, as best we are able, in the world mandated by this narrative.

What do I stake my life on? Do I stake it on a God who became flesh as a poor child in an occupied land and who went about doing good – preaching the Kingdom and healing, and who gave his life for us?

What narrative rules my soul?

Brambles as rulers

In the Jewish scriptures there are clearly at least two approaches to kingship. The king is God’s chosen one, his anointed; the king is an abomination – if not a disaster.*

Today’s first reading, Judges 9: 6-15, belongs to the second strand. The people want a king but Jotham, as he looks upon them making his half-brother Abimelech their king, provides a critical parable.

The trees want to anoint a king but the olive trees, the fig trees, and even the lowly grape wine refuse. Why should we give up the gifts that we offer the people – oil, figs, and wine. We are serving the people by offering what we have.

But then the trees approach the thorn bus, the bramble for protection and shelter. But the bramble gives little protection from the sun and, as the Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests, is “a ground cover of the sort that propagates forest fires.”

Abimelech had already proven how fiery he was – killing seventy half-brothers. Now he is the one chosen as king, accepting a kingship which his father, the judge Gideon, had refused.

Should I draw any conclusions or should I leave all to your imaginations?

* Note the difference between 1 Samuel 9-10 and 1 Samuel 8.


Grace abounds

Sometimes I get taken aback at the grace and graciousness that abounds here.

Yes, there is poverty, there is violence, there is selfishness. But, grace abounds.

Saturday a week ago I went to San Juan Concepción, planning to go to a meeting – which actually wasn’t there. I went looking for someone and, trying to turn around, I backed into a deep drainage ditch and my right rear wheel was hanging there. I was in dire straits. But men and boys from the community came out, got some stumps and planks of wood and, jacking up the car, they pushed me out.

Thursday, after preaching at the 7 pm Mass in Dulce Nombre, I started home at 8:30 pm in the dark. On an inclined curve, the car headed into the right bank. I stopped before I hit the hill. But, trying to back up and start up again, the car slid into the edge of the left side of the road. I tried to move – but no luck, even with four-wheel drive. A motorcyclist stopped who is from Pan Grande; he had to walk his motorcycle up the incline. But he returned and tried to help me move, even getting rocks form the nearby field to try to get traction. No luck. Two more guys on a motorcycle stopped and tried to help. By this time, Padre German, our pastor arrived with two guys. Finally, they managed to pull the car out and I could return home to Plan Grande.

Friends, neighbors, and strangers stopped to help (though one car came by and got up the incline with no problems, but didn’t stop.) I continually am amazed at the kindness of the people. As I have written several times, one of my major sources of security is in the people – willing to help a gringo, without compensation.

Then, this morning I presided at the Celebration of the Word with Communion here in Plan Grande. After the Prayer of the Faithful, the tradition is to sing a hymn of thanksgiving and take up the collection. As the hymn was ending I looked up and saw Don Salvador, a bent over older man – probably in his eighties – bending over in the middle of the aisle to tie the shoe of a little boy. I stopped and waited until he finished. Then I went to get the hosts from the tabernacle. But I felt as if I had witnessed in Don Salvador’s simple gesture the sacrament of service.

These small acts of kindness, generosity, and care sustain me – and shows me the presence of God here.

Grace abounds.

There is sin, evil, violence, racism, poverty, crime. But, as Georges Bernanos concludes his novel, The Diary of a Country Priest, relating the final words of the priest: “Grace is everywhere.”

Dominic in prayer

The Convento of San Marco in Florence has the most incredible frescos I have ever seen, painted by the Dominican friar, Fra Angelico, and his school.Saint_Dominic_(Detail_from_The_Mocking_of_Christ)

What is most remarkable is that the paintings are on the walls of the cells where the Dominican friars studied, prayed, and slept. They are aids to contemplation for these friars noted for their preaching. Preaching without contemplation is worth little.

In one cell there is a famous image of Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. He is attentively and carefully reading a book, in his lap. He is said to have carried with him the Gospel according to Saint Matthew and the Letters of Saint Paul.

But this image of Saint Dominic is only a small part of the fresco which features Jesus blindfolded, crowned with thorns, being buffeted by hands and spat upon by a disembodied head.


Faced with this, Dominic is absorbed in contemplation, not looking at the mocked Christ, but still before God.

What could this mean for us?

My initial thoughts are that we are called to contemplate the suffering Christ but also the Word of God – so that we may absorbed in Him, in love. Not either/or – but both. Not just gazing at the wounded Christ, but trying to understand this mystery, with the assistance of the Scriptures. Most of all, this means sitting still – in tranquility.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46: 10)

When demands press in on me

Numbers 11: 4b-15
Matthew 14:13-21

Some days I feel like Moses in today’s first reading. The people are pressing in on him, demanding he give them meat. Manna is just too yucky and they people are tired.

How often when I feel people pressing in on me to do something, or when people keep asking the same question or ask a question that I had answered ten minutes before, do I want to say, “Get me out of here.”

Moses tells God just about the same thing. If you can’t fix this, then just kill me – get me out of here.

As I prayed over this reading, I immediately thought of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes when Jesus tells his disciples, “Give them something to eat.”

Then I turned the page and discovered that Matthew’s account of the feeding of the multitudes is today’s Gospel.

Jesus had been pressed upon on all sides by the sick seeking to be healed. His disciples, seeing the crowds, asks Jesus to send the people away. Feeding all these folks would be too much.

“Send them away” is their response to the pressing demands of the people.

But Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Don’t complain; don’t pass the buck; don’t try to get rid of the need by telling the people to take care of themselves. Do something.

But we only have five loaves and two fish, they offer as an excuse.

I can almost hear Jesus mumbling, “Don’t you get it. It doesn’t matter how little you have. You have the opportunity to respond. Respond as you can and give what you have. I – and my Father – will take care of the rest.”

How often I feel my limitations, my lack of personal resources to respond to needs. But in and through my limitations, God can work. God will provide – not me.

I have been reading some of Caryll Houselander recently and this quote – together with today’s readings helps me reflect on how to respond to pressing demands, in the spirit of Christ:

That is the eucharistic life— giving our littleness to God and rejoicing in Him, through our littleness giving Him to the world.

A poor and powerless church

From the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has shown a deep concern for the poor and an identification with their cause.

But this is not just responding to the poor. It is even more than identifying with the poor and going out to meet them. In his message for the 2017 World Day of the poor, Pope Francis has noted that we are required to have “a fundamental option” on their behalf.

But it is even more than that. As he said at his inaugural Mass, “How I would like a poor church for the poor.”

What is a poor church? It is not only a church that identifies with the poor, but it is not attached to power. It recognizes the power of the Cross, not the power of military, political, and economic might.

It is a church that takes seriously this phrase from the Pact of the Catacombs, an agreement made by several bishops during the Second Vatican Council.

In our behavior and social relations, we will avoid everything that could appear to confer privilege, priority, or even preference to the rich and powerful (for example in banquets offered or accepted, in religious services). See Lk 13:12-14, 1 Cor 9:14-19.

It is a church that takes seriously these words of the Orthodox bishop and theologian, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozk – Bishop Anthony Bloom), who died on August 4, 2003:

“It seems to me, and I am personally convinced, that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. [These are shocking words.] It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. As soon as the Church begins to exercise power, it loses its most profound characteristic which is divine love [i.e.] the understanding of those it is called to save and not to smash…”

Teach us to love

St. Alphonsus Ligouri, whose feast is celebrated today, is notable for the place he gave to love in his moral teaching. It flows, I believe, from his understanding of God.

In a sermon, found in today’s Office of Readings, he tells us:

Since God knew that man is enticed by favors,  He wished to bind him to his love by means of His gifts: “I want to catch [humans] with the snares, those chains of love in which they allow themselves to be entrapped, so that they will love me.”

Today is also the anniversary of the killing in 1996 of the Dominican bishop of Oran, Algeria, Pierre Claverie. He was a proponent of dialogue and solidarity with Islam.

In a letter, shortly before his death, he wrote:

“That is probably what is at the basis of my religious vocation… I wondered why, throughout my Christian childhood when I listened to sermons on loving one’s neighbor, I had never heard anyone say the Arabs were my neighbors.
“It is my conviction that humanity can only exist in the plural. As soon as we claim to possess the truth or speak in the name of humanity we fall into totalitarianism and exclusion. No one possesses the truth; everyone seeks it.
“So that love vanquishes hate, one must love to the point of giving one’s life in the daily combat from which Jesus himself did not escape unscathed.”

In a world filled with hate and resentment, in a world that fears the “other” – especially if the other is a migrant or the other is from another religious tradition, these words need to help us grow in love.

It is not easy because it sometimes demands a change in us. As the martyred bishop reminds us:

“There is no life without love. There is no love without letting go every possession and giving oneself.”

May God give us the strength and the courage to love.