Monthly Archives: March 2019

Loving enemies, My Lai, New Zealand

Love your enemies.
Jesus

A day after the killing of almost 50 in mosques in New Zealand by a white terrorist, fifty- one years after the massacre of almost 350 civilians in My Lai, South Vietnam, by US troops, today’s Gospel reading (Mathew 5: 43-48) ought to challenge us.

How can we live as people of peace if we do not love even our enemies, as God showers rain and love on all of us?

The perfection of God is in love – and so we can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, merciful as God is, if we too love our enemies and do good to them.

Perhaps the best commentary on this text comes from a poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist spiritual master and advocate for his people, Thich Nhat Hanh. The poem, “Condemnation,” was written before the My Lai massacre in 1968. The full text can be found here, but here are several verses which, in my mind, reflect the call of Jesus to love even those who hate us and do us harm. They are also a call to live that love in concrete.

Listen to this:
yesterday six Vietcong came through my village.
Because of this my village was bombed — completely destroyed.
Every soul was killed.

Here in the presence of the undisturbed stars,
in the invisible presence of all the people still alive on earth,
let me raise my voice to denounce this filthy war,
this murder of brothers by brothers!
I have question: Who pushed us into this killing of one another?
Whoever is listening, be my witness!
 I cannot accept this war.
 I never could, I never shall.
 I must say this a thousand times before I am killed.
 …
Men cannot be our enemies — even men called ‘Vietcong!’
If we kill men, what brothers will we have left?
With whom shall we live then?

The final words are at the heart of the love of enemies:
If we kill our sisters and brothers, with whom shall we live?

I wonder if we citizens of the United States must ponder these words of Jesus even more seriously. Have  we exported violence – not just by the killings in Viet Nam and other places throughout the world, not just by exporting arms to dictators in the Mid East and in the Americas, but by exporting hatred of the other, the stranger, the enemy?

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Sculpture at Coventry Cathedral

Preaching to the poor about fasting

I live in a parish where most of the people are poor. How can I talk with them about fasting during Lent? How can I preach about fasting this Lent?

Earlier this year I was working with a few groups of people to prepare them for Lent. When I got to talking about fasting, I asked them, “How many of you eat meat every day?” No response. “How many eat meat three times a week?” A few hands went up. How many eat meat once a week?” A more, but there were still some who had not raised their hands. They probably have meat once every two or three weeks.

I explained, first of all, I explained that abstinence means not eating meat and that fasting in the church’s understanding is eating one full meal and two smaller meals and no eating between meals. I thought this understanding in necessary because some have the idea that the fasting in the church means not eating anything.

It helps to explain that fasting is not just something physical. The readings from Isaiah 58 the next two days make that clear:

“This, is the fasting that I wish:  releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

This morning, preaching at the 10 am Ash Wednesday Mass in Dulce Nombre, to the Delegates of the Word from most of the villages. They had come in to Dulce Nombre, from some of the furthest parts of the parish, to get ashes to bring to their communities for a celebration this afternoon or evening.

I spoke about fasting from what keeps us from opening our hearts to the Lord so that we can celebrate our death and resurrection in Christ in a special way at the Easter Vigil.

If we fast from gossip, from the desire for vengeance, from the tendency to scold other, from quarrelling – we are going a long way to letting our hearts be rent.

But I also noted that on fast days we are called to only eat three times a day. So I put in an admonition to give up the mid-morning snack and the churros – chips and the like sold in small bags.

I am not sure this is the best way to speak about fasting and abstinence among the poor – but it’s a start.

But I also need to add, that fasting should open our hearts to God and to others. The third discipline of Lent – with prayer and fasting – is almsgiving, or, as we sometimes say here, charity.

But I think that is inadequate.

Almsgiving presumes a distance between the almsgiver and the one begging. I wonder if we would be better off, spiritually, when we think of sharing with the poor, who are part of our family.

This is what struck me this morning, while reading a passage from a Lenten sermon of Pope Saint Leo the Great, found in Benedictine Daily Prayer:

For such a holy fast there can be no better companion than almsgiving. But we must note that “almsgiving” or “mercy” here includes the many pious actions which make possible a familial equality among the faithful, whatever be the disparities between them in worldly wealth.

Our fasting should open us to our family in need.

But I wonder if many of the people I know need that message. How many times have I seen them helping someone in need – even a gringo whose car is broken?

I think some of them know better than I what St. Leo the Great also said in the same sermon:

Those who are less able to give material things can rival their richer neighbors in good will and love.

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Among the poor – in the Eucharist

By the prayers and example of Saint Katherine Drexel,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and the oppressed,
 and keep us united in love
in the Eucharistic community of your Church…

 Today is the feast of Saint Katherine Drexel, daughter of a rich Philadelphia banker. But, with his example of daily prayer and the example of her step-mother who served the poor three times a week in her home, she developed a faith that strove for justice.

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Alarmed at the poverty and oppression among Native Americans and African Americans, she asked the pope to send missionaries. His response was to the point, “Why not become a missionary yourself?” She did and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

This morning, the prayer for her feast day noted above, struck me.

We ask to be enabled to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed – not for them, but among them. This is a struggle with them, taking part with them – not as leaders, but accompanying them.

It is also a prayer to keep united in love, in the Eucharist. Mother Katherine Drexel had a deep devotion to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the presence of Christ uniting us in love with all people.

Justice and the Eucharist – two dimensions of the holiness of Saint Katherine.

Justice among the poor and Eucharist in union with the whole Body of Christ – these are for me, especially as a deacon, the central dimensions of my life.


The image is taken from an article in Franciscan Media, found here.