Monthly Archives: October 2017

The wedding garment of love

Matthew 22: 1-14

To be invited to a wedding feast would be a surprise for most of the poor people who came and listened to Jesus. A wedding feast would be beyond the means of most of them and you got an invitation to the feast if you were one of the friends of the king.

But Jesus also addressed the parable of the banquet to the religious leaders who would probably get any number of invitations to banquets.

In the parable the invited make all sorts of excuses to avoid the banquet; some maltreat and kill the king’s messengers. So the king sends out his servants to invite those in the highways and byways – not ordinarily invited to banquets. And the hall is filled.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like that kind of banquet where God does not want any empty seats. For the peasants of Galilee this would have been an impossible dream – but it is the dream of God.

Yet there is a discordant note. There is a man without a wedding garment.

The poor invited to the banquet would obviously not have good clothes to wear. I believe, the king would have offered everyone a tunic to wear, where all would be equal.

But what is this wedding garment?

In this both, Saint Augustine and Blessed Monseñor Romero agree.

The wedding garment is love.

In Sermon 90, Saint Augustine preached:

“Whatever can this wedding garment be? For an answer we must go to the apostle [Paul}, who says, ‘The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” Only that kind of love is the wedding garment.”

In his homily on October 15, 1978, Monseñor Romero said:

“God desires the garment of justice. God wants Christians to clothe themselves in the garment of love.”

All are invited; all are welcome; but the God of Love, who offers us love and will fill us with love, asks that we put on love.




Hannah Arendt – a woman in dark times

hannaarendtsudomenica16ye8October 14, is the birthday of Hannah Arendt, philosopher, social thinker, great woman. Born in Germany in 1906, she died in New York City on December 4, 1975.

I had her for classes and seminars at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in the early seventies. I chose that school over others because of her presence. I was not disappointed.

Her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil had a major impact on me when I read it in the mid-sixties. Not only did it reinforce my concern for standing up against injustice, in a strange way that I cannot now explain, it moved me toward active nonviolence.

I consider her essay “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” with its references to Eichmann and Socrates, as one of the best essays to understand our times – and I mean 2016 and beyond in the US. When I taught the course Introduction to Philosophy, I often used that essay at the end of the semester, together with Ignacio Ellacuría’s essay “What is philosophy good for?”

But what I most remember about her was that she was a real person who was open to others.

At the end of the semester, she opened her apartment to the seminar students where we ate, drank, and talked. She loved the interplay of ideas. I was struck when I read of her death. She died entertaining people in her home. She died as she lived.

I also remember the time when, before class began, a young man came into the room with a Resistance button. This was during the Viet Nam War and the Resistance button was often worn by those who resisted the draft. She gave him a warm welcome and, if I remember well, hugged him.

But what happened at a speech in an unlikely place proved to me that she was a great woman, a great human being.

In 1972 Arendt received an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. AT the same ceremony Catholic Worker co-founder, Dorothy Day, received the university’s Laetare Medal.

As a result Hannah Arendt was invited to speak at one of the New York Catholic Worker’s Friday night Clarification of Thought presentation. This was not the first time, Hannah Arendt had a connection with the worker. When her husband died in 1970, she donated his clothes to the Catholic Worker.

The Catholic Worker was in the Bowery. The Friday night meetings drew a wide range of people – Catholic Workers, people of the street, activists, and this evening a bunch of philosophy grad students from the New School.

I have no recollection of her topic. But what I do remember was one of her responses during the questions after her talk.

The Catholic Worker Clarifications of Thought could attract some very vociferous questioners, some not altogether coherent. One man began questioning Arendt and continued doing so with great vehemence. The woman leading the evening tried to get him to shut up – though her request was very respectful. But he insisted and the woman – was it Eileen Egan? – again tried to get him to stop his line of questioning. But Hannah Arendt broke in and said that he could and should continue his questions.

I don’t remember her exact words but she said them with such respect for the person and such openness to dialogue – no matter how heated. She was truly a woman who listened.

I remember that night with an appreciation of a woman who lived the search for truth, who lived as one who truly believed in thinking as the dialogue of the self with the self, a dialogue that ends up being open to others.

Hannah Arendt, I miss you. i would love to hear your thoughts on the reality of the world today.

May your writings continue to bring light to a world “in dark times”.

A mystic of the ordinary

A few months ago I read a collection of writings of the English mystic Caryll Houselander, who died on October 12, 1954. I was knocked off my feet.

Here is a woman who could see the reality of God in everything, especially in the ordinary events and things of daily life. Even more she has a deep sense of the presence of God in the sacraments and in the sacramental nature of all creation.

The passage that has remained with me comes from her autobiography, A Rocking-Horse Catholic:

I was in an underground train, a crowded train in which all sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging — workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that: not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them — but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too, here in this underground train; not only the world as it was at that moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come. I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere — Christ.

Christ is in everyone
— not only in those I love, but in those who are my enemies,
— not only in those who agree with me, but in those whose opinions I reject,
— not only in those who pray as I do, but in those who pray differently or not at all,
— not only in the just and good, but in the criminal,
— and present even in me.

Washing dishes and the baby Jesus

Yesterday was the birthday of Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peacemaker, poet, meditation master. Born in Vietnam on October 11, 1926, he is an example of what is often called “engaged Buddhism.” His advocacy of peace in Vietnam, his concern for the Vietnamese boat people, and other actions for peace were expressions of his Buddhism.

I came upon his writings during the Vietnam War and was struck by someone who refused to glorify violence from any side, but who sided with the suffering.

I also came across an account of an encounter he had with Jim Forest who was washing dishes, which Jim wrote about later.

Somehow Nhat Hanh picked up on my irritation. Suddenly he was standing next to me. “Jim,” he asked, “what is the best way to wash the dishes?” I knew I was facing one of those very tricky Zen questions. I tried to think what would be a good Zen answer, but all I could come up with was, “You should wash the dishes to get them clean.” “No,” said Nhat Hanh. “You should wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” … But what he said next was instantly helpful: “You should wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.”

This struck me to the heart. I like washing dishes, especially since living in New York City. In a cold apartment one of the ways to get warm in winter was washing dishes since the tap water was usually hot.

I still occasionally pause as I wash dishes to savor the delight of washing dishes – though I don’t often wash them as if they were the baby Jesus.

But now, as a deacon, these words have taken on a new meaning.

One of my responsibilities is to clean the sacred vessel after communion. As I move hosts from one sacred vessel to another, I often take gentle care, as if I were moving the Baby Jesus, as I would pick up a little child, holding them gently in my arms.

But there is more. One day, during the Mass to celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa, I was cleaning the ciborium which had a lot of little particles of the hosts. As I sought out each particle, even the tiniest one, I looked up and saw a group of kids in the middle of the aisle, with the volunteers of a home for kids, Amigos de Jesús. I thought immediately. I am taking care of each tiny particle in which I encounter Jesus; so too I am called to encounter and care for the tiniest child, in whom I can also encounter Jesus.

Saying yes to being a slave

The great mystery of God’s compassion is that in his compassion,
in his entering with us into the condition of a slave,
he reveals himself to us as God.
Henri Nouwen

Sunday I preached in two different communities.

Though I referred to the Gospel and the reading from Ezekiel, I concentrated on Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2: 1-11. It is a marvelous reading to share with a community, especially communities struggling with divisions. Deepen my joy, Paul tells the Philippians by having the mind and heart of Christ – being one in spirt, one in love, one in your aspirations. Christ didn’t cling to his divine power but, emptying himself he became a slave.

Yes, the Greek word is slave, δοῦλος – not servant/attendant, διάκονος. We often hear it as servant, which is fine, but “slave”? You’ve got to be kidding? That’s nearly incomprehensible.

As Henri Nouwen well puts it, but in terms of “servant”:

Our God is a servant God. It is difficult for us to comprehend that we are liberated by someone who became powerless, that we are strengthened by one who became powerless, that we find new hope in someone who divested himself of all distinctions, and that we find a leader in someone who became a servant. (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, p. 24)

But I was not ready to be taught what this means.

In the morning I went to preside at a Celebration of the Word and Communion in the village of San Marcos Las Pavas. It is one of most remote communities in the parish, about an hour from my house. The final leg of the journey is an uphill ride with lots of curves. As I turned the curve before the church. I was stopped in my tracks. The road was impassible; because of the heavy rains a landslide left only a small, muddy path to get to the church.


When I got the church my hands and shoes were muddy. As I stopped to wash my hands, an older man who I think is mentally challenged asked to wash my shoes. At first, I was reluctant and even began washing them myself. But then I remembered that Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Whom am I to not let this humble man serve me?

As I preached later about Jesus the servant, the slave of all, I made a reference to this man. He showed me the face of God – not in his poverty, but in his service. He is teaching me to drop on my knees to God as well as to wash the feet and shoes of others. He is teaching me to let myself be served, to let myself be vulnerable. He is opening me to see Jesus in entirely new ways.