Monthly Archives: August 2018

Bowing before the Lord

I was in New Orleans for six days in July.

New Orleans was a shock.

I was somewhat saddened by what seemed misguided – if not sometimes sordid.

I saw many people walking around, or standing outside, drinking. I was surprised by the number of people with tattoos all over their bodies. I was surprised seeing the palm readers and zodiac advisors just outside the cathedral.

I don’t consider myself a prude. I enjoy a beer or a glass or two of wine. But something didn’t seem right. I did see same-sex couples holding hands, but that didn’t bother me at all. (I know a number of such couples.)

But what most saddened me was the large number of people on the streets either passed out or sleeping. A good number of people were also sitting on the sidewalks with hand-written signs asking for a dollar.

What to do?

I gave to one or two. I tried to have eye contact with others. But as the week went on I found myself pausing and bowing when I saw someone asleep or passed out on a sidewalk.

Just as I bow before the altar at Mass and genuflect before the Eucharist, I found myself moved to reverence God present in the least of these.

I’m not sure that it changed my way of responding to their requests. I’m a little too hard-hearted and cheap. But I’m beginning to recognize that the Lord is present and I need to respond to them as I would to the Lord.

That’s not going to be easy.

There is the story of the experience of Thomas Merton at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, that can help me. As he wrote in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, 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 like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream….

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….

That’s almost what I wanted to do during the last two days in New Orleans. That’s what I need to learn and practice every day.


In front of St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City

Transfigured or vaporized

In the Catholic liturgical calendar August 6 is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, recalling how Jesus showed himself to three apostles in a radiant light, revealing the glory of God.

August 6, 1945, is a day that should live in infamy. On that day, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, not a military target. More than 90,000 were killed almost immediately. Many continued to suffer the effects of radiation for many.

On August 6, 1978, Blessed Pope Paul VI, died. He had called the bombing a “butchery of untold magnitude.”

In 1981, Pope Saint John Paul II said, when visiting Hiroshima:

“To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace. To remember what the people of this city suffered is to renew our faith in humankind, in their capacity to do what is good, in their freedom to choose what is right, in their determination to turn disaster into a new beginning. In the face of the man-made calamity that every war is, one must affirm and reaffirm again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable. Humanity is not destined to self-destruction.”

Two years later, in their 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace, the US Catholic bishops noted the importance of changing the climate of the US, so that it might “express profound sorrow over the atomic bombing in 1945.” They then wrote:

“Without that sorrow, there is no possibility of finding a way to repudiate future uses of nuclear weapons or of conventional weapons in such military actions as would not fulfill just-war criteria.”

A few days after the dropping of the bomb, the French novelist and philosopher Albert Camus, who had resisted the Nazis, wrote:

…Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only goal worth struggling for. There is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments – a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason.

In September, Dorothy Day poignantly wrote in  The Catholic Worker:

Everyone says, “I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?” How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgement, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgement on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

“You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save.” He said also, “What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.”

Blessed bishop martyr of Argentina

In a few months, Latin America will have several more martyrs beatified by the church. Four of these are from Argentina, including a layman, two priests, and a bishop.

On August 4, 1976, Monseñor Enrique Angelelli, bishop of La Rioja, was killed in what was made to look like a car crash. Some documents on the deaths of the three others who will be beatified with him, Wenceslao Pedernera, a campesino who was director of the Diocesan Rural Movement, and Fathers Carlos de Dios Murias and Gabriel Longueville. The documents were not found in the car wreck.

Monseñor Angelelli was one of a few bishops in Argentina in those ways who had taken the side of the poor and the oppressed. His witness and defense of campesinos still stir up anger by right-wing forces in Argentina and throughout the world.

But he was, above all, a bishop of the people with his motto – one ear in the people and the other in the Gospel.


Together with Monseñor Oscar Romero of El Salvador who will be canonized this October, Monseñor Angelelli was a voice for those with no voice, willing to give himself completely for God and the people.

As he wrote, “The thought crosses my mind that the Lord needs a bishop in jail or killed in order to make us wake up to our episcopal collegiality and live it more deeply.”

Where are the followers of the crucified and risen Jesus today? All too often we are all to comfortable.

I wrote a longer reflection two years ago in this blog post.