Monthly Archives: April 2020

Will we rise up?

Today’s Gospel of the encounter of two disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is full of meaning. A friend, Jim Forest, even has a book inspired by that encounter, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life.

But this morning I was again surprised by God.

These past two weeks I have tried to read the Gospel in various translations in several languages – most notably Spanish, English, and Greek. These long days at home are a great opportunity to ponder the scriptures.

The story is well known. After Jesus broke bread with them and disappeared, they recognized him and noted how their hearts were burning. And then?

According to the US lectionary New American Bible translation, “they set out at once.” The Spanish lectionary reads “se levantaron inmediatamente” – “they got up immediately.” But the Greek reads “ἀναστάντες” – “rising up.” (Luke 24:33)

It’s the very same work that Peter used about Jesus in his Pentecost sermon, “ὃν ὁ θεὸς ἀνέστησεν” – whom God raised up.

The reaction of the disciples was a resurrection in their lives and they returned to the city where their hopes seemed to be shattered and where they encountered persecution and maybe even death. But they returned to Jerusalem with the Spirit of the risen Lord.

May this Spirit raise us up – especially when we feel downcast, as did Cleopas when he first encountered the Lord on the road.

As Pope Francis said in a homily on April 29, 2017:

“When we reach the depths of failure and helplessness, when we rid ourselves of the illusion that we are the best, sufficient unto ourselves and the centre of our world, then God reaches out to us to turn our night into dawn, our affliction into joy, our death into resurrection. He turns our steps back to Jerusalem, back to life and to the victory of the Cross (cf. Heb 11:34).”


File:Zünd Gang nach Emmaus 1877.jpg



Rejoicing and religious liberty

“They rejoiced at being found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”
Acts 5:41

This phrase from today’s first reading got me reflecting on the complaints I hear from church people about the world being anti-religious.

From afar, I have watched how for many years many churches in the US have been complaining about threats to their religious liberty. Frankly, I find this self-serving and mistaken.

There are, and have been, serious threats to religious liberty. I think of the martyred lay people, religious women, and priests in Latin America in the seventy years as well as those martyred in Africa and Asia. I’d also include members of other religions who suffer persecution and harassment.

But to identify religious liberty with the ability of the church to do whatever it wants to do even if based on a theological position, however flimsy, is – in my mind – pure arrogance. In these days of shelter-in-place I am especially disturbed by those who see the closing of churches for health concerns during the COVID-19 crisis as a threat to religious liberty. But that’s not the only case.

The first Christians rejoiced at their suffering for the sake of their profession of faith. They were arrested, held in jail, flogged – and later killed. But they rejoiced.

Self-serving complaining was not part of their make-up. They experienced the life of the risen Jesus and the victory over sin and death and they wanted to live fully and joyfully.

They saw that bearing witness to the truth of God is not easy, especially when it moved them to speak out and to bear witness to an alternative way of living their faith, welcoming the outsider as Jesus did.

What if those who cried out for religious liberty really lived that faith?

But I think the problem is that what is perceived as an attack on religious liberty is often a reaction to a narrow understanding of faith. It is not the message that is attacked but the messenger.

I often ask myself when I encounter opposition, “What am I doing to provoke such opposition?” Do the people really reject what is essential in what am I saying? Or, are they reacting to the way that I am stating what I perceive as the truth? Or, is there something in the lives of the persons opposing me that provokes this reaction?

Jumping to the conclusion that a critique of religion is a violation of religious liberty is to consider oneself free of all sin, all blame, all responsibility.

When I find it in myself, I recognize that I am not acknowledging my sinfulness, my faults, my need for God and for others.

And this can be freeing. Even more, this can make real suffering for the sake of the Name a cause for rejoicing.

Peter released from prison

Peter released from prison, Vatican Museum

Living with the insecurity of the poorest

This morning I woke up with the thought that the whole world is now experiencing the insecurity which most of the world has been experiencing.

Years ago I heard one way to distinguish the poor and the non-poor: the poor wake up each morning and don’t know if they’ll be able to survive the day, if they’ll be able to get food for their family, if they will live through the day. The non-poor wake up and have no serious questions about where their food will come from, where they will live, how they will earn their daily bread, if they will survive the day, alive and healthy.

This is, of course, an over-simplification, but it opens us to understanding poverty.

Poverty is extreme vulnerability and includes the lack of security.

Most of us want security – some, more than others. That’s why we accumulate things and have our cupboards full.

What happens when insecurity raises its head?

We look for other forms of security. The accumulation of weapons by nations and individuals is one way we try to make ourselves secure.

We seek to have what we think we will need, to the point of hoarding. The rush for toilet paper in the US is symbolic.

We look for diversions, spring break trips, alcohol, pornography, for the temporary security of escape from what we feel threatening.

But the poor confront insecurity every day. And this crisis makes it even worse.

How do they respond? Here’s what I’ve seen.

Some become passive – and even justify their poverty as the will of God.

Some cling to a false faith – that God will rescue us, if he wants to, and the elect will not be affected.

Some hoard. Some steal. Some resent the good fortune of their neighbors and resort to backbiting and speaking ill of others.

Some revolt – taking to the streets to clamor for food.

Some find ways to work the system so that they get what they need, and more than they need, from institutions that are providing help. They complain when institutions put the needs of the poorest first.

Some respond and share food and more with their neighbors in need.

Some even get together and try to work out ways to work together for the good of all – especially those who are suffering the most.

How then are we responding?

Are we making sure that we have enough or are we also looking for ways so that other can have what they need?

Are we just responding to the immediate needs or are we looking for ways to forge a society where we work together for the good of all?

Are we doing all we can to assure our health and our salvation or are we looking for ways to work with God and with God’s people for the health and salvation of all the world, especially those on the margins of society?

Are we looking to a new world where justice and peace flourish and where we share at the common table of this good earth

Today the world can recognize that we are in this boat together. We cannot have our isolated, sterile, germ-free fortresses where we can flourish while others suffer. We are in this together.

For us believers, it should be clear that our salvation depends on God and how we respond to others.

There is a story that someone appears before God and awaits God’s judgment. But God asks, “Where are all the rest?”

There is another version in which God asks, “Where are your wounds?”

Where are all the rest in our lives of faith and love? Where are the wounds we have suffered responding to the needs of the impoverished and oppressed?

Where am I?






The liberation of the Great Sabbath Rest

Today, even in ordinary times there is no Mass, no Communion – only the Liturgy of the Hours.

Nothing – the body of Jesus is in the tomb.

Father Damasus Winzen OSB, founder of Mount Saviour Monastery, reflected on this “great Sabbath rest.”

To the people of the [northern] hemisphere, always active and wanting to be kept busy, a day with nothing is a frightening prospect.

That’s where we are in almost all the world – a day with nothing. Curfew, confined to the house, with virtually nothing to do.

Many of us will fill the nothingness with time on the internet, watching movies, reading books, making bread, cleaning those rooms and those windows we’ve neglected for so long.

But are we missing something by trying to fill up our days? How can we make this time “a source of spiritual blessing for the individual and the family”?

I can give no answers, only a few thoughts, more for me than for others.

Though I am an introvert and have been called a hermit, I like to be in control, to get things done. I was thus in my element this week when I was asked to help drive food stuffs and soap to remote villages with some people working with the municipality.

But yesterday and today, I am alone in the house. I only went out once to say hello to neighbors and buy water. I am making bread.

So the words of Father Damasus challenge me. (Please excuse the non-inclusive language; it was written in 1957.)

Through his work, man exercises dominion over this world. By ceasing from all work on the seventh day he strips himself of his power and surrenders himself and all he owns to God’s supreme rule. The “rest” on the Sabbath is not a breathing spell to gather new strength for another week of effort. It means a consecration of man to glorify God, the opening of a new dimension, that of the Kingdom of God….
Let us then enter with Christ into the rest, and let us use this day to put the god of progress, who drives us into a whirl of external activity, down from his throne that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ may take our human destiny into his own almighty hands…. Christians are not slaves in the prison of this world. We do not try to build the tower of Babel to make a name for ourselves. We do not try to keep our destiny in our own hands. We are not “self-made men.” We recognize that these is something beyond the reach of our own activity, the realm of divine grace, which we enter through faith….
We do not mean that to say that all activity as such is bad. Man is called to work. It is unique distinction. But without the Sabbath he is bound to lose control over his activity. Work will become an end in itself, and lose its blessing. It becomes a wall between man and God, a veil which hides from his eyes the goodness and kindness of God, our Saviour, until the lights go out over man’s world and he, who has grown accustomed to trusting in himself alone, falls a victim to despair. The sabbath shows is that there is something beyond all human activity, the peace of God our Father, into which we enter through faith in his infinite love. He who has counted every hair on our heads holds us in the palm of his hand, so that even the darkness of the tomb is filled with the light of hope.

There is hope.

On my kitchen counter, the bread is rising. I did my part – and now I let the dough rest. And in its rest it will, God willing, rise.

So too, may our rest from the hectic world these days be the place where God rises to make a new world, a world where the poor have enough, where we don’t have to go out and give people food, but where people work and share – signs of the Reign of God.

The bread is rising.


Living Holy Saturday 1

Last week, in a Skyped spiritual direction session, my director asked me how I was feeling.

“Waiting,” I replied.

She then asked me if it was like the waiting of Advent or another type: “Are you in the womb or the tomb?”

“In the tomb,” I answered.

In one way I feel like Lazarus in the tomb waiting to be revived by the Lord. But I think it’s more of being with Jesus in the tomb – between His death and resurrection.

Maybe that’s the best way for me to live Holy Week this year.


I’ll try to reflect on this throughout Holy Week.

We have an almost complete curfew here in Honduras. One person can go out in the morning to a neighborhood store and there is the possibility of travelling outside once a week. But one must stay at home – waiting.

Some places have sealed off the entrances to the cities, permitting only medical or other emergency traffic. That’s been the case for nearby San Agustín for a few days and now they are sealing off the city of Santa Rosa de Copán.

I am fine, with basic food stuffs and an extra canister of gas for cooking (that the pastor lent me yesterday). I have electricity, water, internet. I also have some great tomatoes that are grown here in Plan Grande.

But it’s a time of waiting – with not much to do.

Thinking about Jesus in the tomb, I picked up a small booklet I got years ago from Mount Saviour Monastery – The Great Sabbath Rest by Fr. Damasus Winzen, OSB, the founder of their monastery. The essay was written in 1957, but the first paragraph hit me.

Among the many blessings offered through the restoration of Holy Week is the pause of Holy Saturday. Since the Paschal Vigil has been moved back to its original place in the Easter night, Holy Saturday has become for the great majority a day without any liturgy. To people of the western hemisphere [rather, the northern hemisphere], always active and wanting to be kept busy, a day without nothing is a frightening prospect. Many may be inclined to consider a day without Mass and without communion a loss to their spiritual life.… It is good therefore to explain the nature of Holy Saturday and the role it plays in the context of Holy Week, and to indicate some ways to make this day a source of spiritual blessings for the individual and for the family.

As people lament the lack of Mass and communion, maybe we need to look at what Holy Saturday is and how we can make this a “Great Sabbath Rest.”

I hope to consider this more deeply throughout the week.

The seven sorrows of Mary – then and now

The Friday before Holy Week is, in many parts of Latin America, the celebration of Our Mother of Sorrows – la Virgen Dolorosa.


Icon by Father Bill McNicols

We remember especially the seven sorrows of Mary, when she experienced profound dolor.

  1. At the presentation of Jesus in the temple, when Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart. (Luke 2: 22-35)
  2. When the Holy Family fled into Egypt to escape the fury of King Herod. (Matthew 2: 41-50)
  3. When Jesus was lost in the temple when he was twelve years old. (Luke 2: 41-50)
  4. When Mary met Jesus when he was carrying the Cross to Calvary.
  5. When she stood at the cross of Jesus, her son. (John 19: 17-30)
  6. When the body of Jesus was taken down from the Cross. (Mark 15: 42-46)
  7. When the body of Jesus was placed in a borrowed tomb. (John 19: 38-42)

It would be good for us to contemplate these mysteries today and during the coming week, not only from the perspective of Mary almost 2000 years ago, but also from the perspective of all those who are suffering these days.

Consider what Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, said in 2015, to 100,000 pilgrims at a Marian shrine in Myanmar, spoke of “seven swords that pierce Mary’s heart in Myanmar”:

The seven swords of Our Lady of Sorrows in Myanmar, are:

  • crony capitalism, so few families have everything;
  • the refusal to resolve conflicts through dialogue, but with the use of violence;
  • unjust laws that continue to deprive the poor of their lands;
  • the criminal economy of drugs and human trafficking;
  • discrimination of ethnic minorities;
  • the destruction and looting of natural resources;
  • the lack of opportunities for education and employment for the poor.

These are also the swords that pierce the heart of our people here in Honduras and in many parts of the world.

Mother of sorrows, be with us.



Solitude, caves, and a fiery furnace

One of my favorite places in Assisi is the Carceri, a site of caves above Assisi where Francis and some of his early companions went for periods of silent prayer.

Steps down to the cave of Fra Masseo

Steps down to the cave of Fra Masseo

When I visited in February 2013, I found, by providence, the cave of Brother Masseo. I walked down the icy steps and found myself praying. As I moved deeper into the cave, I had a strong sense of the presence of God. It was, for me, one of those thin places where heaven and earth touch in a very special, even tangible way. I stayed there and prayed.



In October 2018 I had another chance to visit the Carceri, after the Mass of the canonization of Monseñor Romero in Rome.

I easily found Brother Masseo’s cave and intended to read the scripture of the day and pray there. I found a stone on which I sat. I prayed – and fell asleep for a bit. The time passed and I had spent much more time there than I had planned.


Again, I had found the thin place.


Now, in forced isolation – curfew – I am finding it hard to stay in one place and even harder to be centered in the middle of all this.

So I decided to read again Thomas Merton’s Wisdom of the Desert. Providentially I found this quote:

“An elder said: The monk’s cell is that furnace of Babylon in which the three children found the Son of God; but it is also the pillar of cloud, out of which God spoke to Moses.”

Today’s first lectionary reading is the story of the three young men thrown into the fiery furnace in n Daniel 2.


What struck me while praying it this morning is how they had such trust in God, not knowing the outcome of what they might suffer as a result of their faithfulness.

“If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.”

And so, in the fiery furnace, they found themselves accompanied by a fourth person, as the king noted:

“I see four men unfettered and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”

Can we so trust in God that we can recognize him accompanying us in this time of loneliness and trial?


Photo  by Lawrence OP of a sarcophagus in the Vatican Museums, found at