Author Archives: John Donaghy

The prophet and the national feast

“I hate, I spurn your feasts.”
Amos 5:21

In most of the world, outside the US, the first reading for Mass is from the prophet Amos, 5: 14-15, 21-24. Reading Amos is not the most patriotic way to celebrate the feast of the Independence of the US. Amos did not mince words, but spoke up for the poor and oppressed, in the face of patriotic piety and a pious patriotism that melded the nation of Israel with a religiosity that said little or nothing about justice and the poor.

“Let justice prevail at the gate,” where pleas for justice were heard, proclaims the prophet.

Where is there justice, especially for those at the margins, at the borders? Does justice prevail or do we face, in the words of the prophet Daniel Berrigan, “the dark side of imperial ‘normalcy’.”

According to the code of palace and temple, it is normal that integrity be despised and just judges be derided (or removed) normal that the weak be crushed and ruinous tithes imposed, normal that oppressors and extortionists flourish.
(Minor prophets: Major Themes, pp.144-145)

The solution is simple, says Amos 5:24:

…let justice surge like water,
and goodness/righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

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The healing power of Christ – the Eucharist

Taking communion to the sick and elderly is part of my ministry as a deacon, serving those at the margins of our world.

In the past three months I have taken communion to three persons who died shortly after my visit. I was also able to participate in their funeral. It is a great privilege to share the Eucharist with the dying a Viaticum, food for the journey.

But there was another visit which reveals to me the healing power of the Eucharist. I visited in April but I learned of this yesterday while taking Communion to the sick in San Agustín. There I encountered a young woman,  a catechist from a remote village of the parish.

She told me that her mother, who has been suffering severely for years from complications from an operation, has been able to get around and even get to church since the day when I brought Communion in April.

The older woman and her husband live far from the center of the village and you have to walk at least part of the way.

I had visited the couple twice before, in 2016. The first time was on Good Friday and they arranged my transport to their home on a horse. The second time was the day after I was ordained deacon. Both times I was accompanied by their son, Juan Ángel, a delegate of the Word in the village who was also preparing to be an extraordinary minister of Communion. He died a few months after my visit.

This April, after a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion, I went to visit them again. This time I could take my car part of the way but we had to walk about 20 minutes uphill.

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I arrived and we talked for several minutes. I mentioned that I had the Eucharist with me if she wanted to receive Communion. She seemed hesitant. She told me she had not gone to confession for some time – because she couldn’t walk the 45 minutes or more to the church and the priest had not had the opportunity to visit her at home. Here, in Honduras, there is often the belief that you must confess before receiving communion.

So she had had no opportunity to go to confession for years. I mentioned to her that what should stop us from receiving Communion is when one has committed a mortal sin and not confessed it. I, in questions which were both serious and a bit playful, to consider if she had committed a mortal sin. Had she killed someone? Had she slept with someone other than her husband? Had she denied God?

I wasn’t expecting her to answer me – they were rhetorical questions. But she said that every morning she prays and asks God’s forgiveness.

Such faith.

I then told her that we would go forward with the prayers and, when it was time for communion, she could decide.

We prayed and, when it was time for communion, she received the Body of Christ.

I left with a deep sense of her faith and of the way that Christ has been present for her – and for me.

When I heard yesterday from her daughter that she was getting better and could get up and even get to the church for celebrations, I was amazed and grateful. Receiving the Lord in Communion gave her the grace to get up, gave her the strength to move out from her house, gave he the healing to reincorporate herself in the life of the community, especially the church.

What is tomorrow’s Gospel? The healing of the woman with a hemorrhage, twelve years suffering but trusting in the power of Jesus, if she could only touch Him.

Jesús touched Doña Reina and she got up. How the Gospel fits her experience. I hope she can recognize that tomorrow.

The Eucharist, the Body of Christ,  heals and reincorporates us into the Body of Christ, the People of God, the Church.

The Lord has been good to us. We are very glad.

John the Baptist, Hannah Arendt, and birth

ChartresBaptist001This weekend we Catholics celebrate a birth, the birth of John the Baptist. Beside the birth of Jesus and the birth of Mary, John’s is the only other birth the Catholic Church celebrates liturgically.

The saints are traditionally celebrated on the day of their birth into heaven – the day of their death. But we celebrate john the Baptist on two days during the Church year – the birth of John the Baptist on June 24 and his Beheading on August 29. Just to show you how weird I am, the Beheading of John the Baptist is one of my favorite feasts – after all, I am named after him and lose my head every once in a while.

But this weekend we Catholics celebrate his birth. As I pondered this, I recalled one of the most amazing insights of one of my teachers, Hannah Arendt.

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For this Jewish German-American philosopher, one of the most significant aspects of the human condition is our natality. In her classic work, The Human Condition, she speaks of the importance of forgiveness, to free us from the past, and promising, to open us to the future. These allow us to act – not beholden to the past and stuck to fate, nor paralyzed by the unpredictability of the future.

She, influenced by the thought of Saint Augustine, saw the importance of beginnings, of birth – citing The City of God:

            “that there be a beginning, man was created before whom there was nobody”

Therefore,

“With the creation of man, the principle of beginning came into the world itself, which, of course, is only another way of saying that the principle of freedom was created when man was created, not before.” (The Human Condition, p. 177)

Thus the fact of birth, the birth of a person, is a sign that something new is happening, something new is possible. We are not bound by the past. No matter what the powers of this world try to do to make us conform to their will, something new is possible.

The birth of John the Baptist is a sign that God is making something new. His father insists on John as his name, a new name that was not found among the relatives of Zachariah. “His name is John.” That’s it. Something new, breaking with tradition, breaking with the normal.

As Arendt wrote:

The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, “natural” ruin is ultimately the fact of natality, in which the faculty of action is ontologically rooted. It is, in other words, the birth of new men and the new beginning., the action they are capable of by virtue of being born. Only the full experience of this capacity can bestow upon human affairs faith and hope… It is this faith in and hope for the world that found perhaps its most glorious and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their “glad tiding”: “A child has been born unto us.” (The Human Condition, p. 247)

With the birth of John, God unleashes into the world the possibility of living anew, living differently, living beyond the norms of society.

What does this look like?

As Zachariah sings in his canticle (Luke 1: 68-79) , it means forgiveness of sins – not being tied any longer to our faults and sins; it means the in-breaking, the dawning of compassion in a world of pain and oppression; it means walking in the ways of peace, not war. Something new is about to happen.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Celebrating the birth of John, we celebrate that God has visited his people and is making all things new. We are no longer controlled by the past of our sins or the past of unjust social structures. We are free to act with love, seeking peace, including all – reconciling children with their parents. As the angel told Zachariah, his son will “turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1: 18)

May we live, in that freedom, the freedom to make all things new.

In the face of death, celebrate

Last night I presided at the Celebration of the Word with Communion in the main church in Dulce Nombre. Every Thursday they have Adoration of the Eucharist all day and a Mass or Celebration of the Word in the evening.

It is a custom here to celebrate birthdays at the end of Mass, including their names in the intentions. I was given a note with two males with the same last names. There was also the name of another male with the same last names among the deceased. I wondered if the two celebrating birthdays were twins and if the deceased was their father.

Not so.

The two men celebrating birthdays were young men in their twenties. I had seen the spouse of one of them at Mass in Dulce Nombre before. They had been born two years apart and both were celebrating this week.

But the shock was that the deceased was their younger brother who had been murdered last week in one of the major cities of Honduras.

After the celebration I apologized for not being sensitive enough. But I told them to still celebrate – in the face of the murder of their brother. Then I said something like this.

We cannot give in to the power of death by not celebrating. By celebrating life, your birthdays, you are saying to death. We cannot let the power of evil prevail by refusing to celebrate. Celebrating life is a Yes to life, to God – and a powerful No to evil and to the Evil One.

I don’t know where these words came from, pure grace.  But the more I meditate on this the more I become convinced that the power of the Risen Christ and the celebration of life is central, a way not to let evil overwhelm us. For the powers of evil, “the principalities and powers” of this world, want to take away our hope.

 

Celebrating life is a powerful antidote.

Father Rafael Palacios – Salvadoran martyr

On June 20, 1979, thirty-eight year old Father Rafael Palacios was gunned down in the streets of Saint Tecla, El Salvador, one of many priests, religious, and catechists killed in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s.

Raised in Suchitoto, he studied for the priesthood in the diocese of San Vicente and was ordained in 1963. But his commitment to the poor brought him and other priests in conflict with their bishop who suspended them. He was later accepted in the archdiocese of San Salvador.

In my unpublished work on the parish of Suchitoto, I wrote this about Padre Rafael.

        Fr. Palacios was ordained a priest in Suchitoto on May 26, 1963. He then began working as a priest in Tecoluca, in the diocese of San Vicente. But his liberating style of evangelization brought him into conflict with his bishop, Monseñor Arnoldo Aparicio, who suspended him and nine other priests who were outspoken in their commitment to the poor.  Palacios was forced to leave the diocese but was taken in by the parish of El Calvario in Santa Tecla. His work there also brought him trouble. As Plácido Erdozaín relates:

“Members of his local community, born of the city’s poor, worked out an interpretation of Jesus’ imprisonment based on their own lives of exploitation. On Holy Thursday, 1979, they acted it out in a passion play in the parish of El Calvario. The old accusations surfaced again and Rafael was criticized by some of his fellow priests and some members of the hierarchy.
“He was a hard worker, poor, very quiet, and built like a prize fighter. He spoke right to the point, Despite the accusations, he kept on working as before, but now with the poorest of the poor, those who lived in and around the markets, and those who had been evicted from their miserable dwellings. He refused to be tied down by territorial or liturgical restrictions. His goal was to create communities of free Christians, there where they lived, suffered, resisted, and struggled for liberation.

Palacios worked somewhat outside of the normal canonical parish structures. However, in 1979 he was persuaded to take over the parish of San Francisco in Mejicanos after the killing of Father Octavio Ortiz in January. While pastor in Mejicanos, he also coordinated base communities in Santa Tecla and in Santa Lucía, San Salvador. He also served as the representative of the Pastoral Reflection Group to the National Committee of Christian Communities. He was also a committed member devoted to the Pastoral Reflection Group, sometimes called “the thirty” and was its secretary at the time of his death.

Fr. Palacios was killed on June 20, 1979, in the streets of Santa Tecla, on his way back from a meeting of the communities he worked with. The UGB, Unión Guerrera Blanca, the White Warriors Union, took responsibility for his murder.

A hymn written in his honor notes his attempts to have people understand their faith and live it, not as mere individuals seeking to save their souls, but as members of the community seeking the Kingdom of God. “Nuestro Dios no está en el templo / sino en la comunidad. Our God is not in the church building but lives in the community.”

He is buried in the church of Santa Lucía in Suchitoto. For several years there was a mural with the images of Padre Rafael and Monseñor Romero on the wall of the convento of the church of El Calvario in Suchitoto.

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The resiliency of the Reign of God

DSC08133I have a small tree in a pot on my terrace. It was large at one point, but nearly withered. Then it grew back, but something happened  a few weeks ago and the whole top of the small tree broke off. I thought it was dead, but I left in out and even watered it when there was no rain.

The tree is growing back.

While preparing for preaching this weekend I ran across the last verse of the first reading, Ezekiel 17:24:

[I, the Lord,] make the withered tree bloom.

But I first read it in a Spanish version:

…reverdezco el árbol seco.

Loosely translated,

“I make the dry tree green again.”

There is so much going on to dry out our souls these days – not only the news about separating families of immigrants in the US, the deaths of so many from violence and poverty, the war on the poor that is happening in so many places in the world. How many are feeling dried and drained by worries about their children, by trying to make ends meet, by so many squelched dreams? And then there is the personal dryness – Where is God? Why do I feel so helpless about all this? Is there anything one person can do?

In the midst of this, God promises to make the dry tree green again, to refresh our thirst-plagued spirits.

And we are reminded by the parables that God works through little things, like grains of mustard.

As Pope Francis writes in Gaudete et Exsultate (16), “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.”

And we can remember the wise advice of Dorothy Day:

“Young people say, ‘What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform these actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”

I remember especially these words from prison of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant martyred in 1943 for his refusal to serve in Hitler’s army.  cThey can both challenge and sustain us, to be resilient workers in the Reign of God:

“Today one hears it said repeatedly that there is nothing any more that an individual can do. If someone were to speak out, it would mean only imprisonment and death. True, there is not much that can be done anymore to change the course of world events. I believe that should have begun a hundred or even more years ago. But as long as we live in this world, I believe it is never too late to save ourselves and perhaps some other soul for Christ. One really has no cause to be astonished that there are those who can no longer find their way in the great confusion of our day. People we think we can trust, who ought to be leading the way and setting a good example, are running along with the crowd. No one gives enlightenment, whether in word or in writing. Or, to be more exact, it may not be given. And the thoughtless race goes on, always closer to eternity. As long as conditions are still half good, we don’t see things quite right, or that we could or should do otherwise….
“If the road signs were stuck ever so loosely in the earth that every wind could break them off or blow them about, would anyone who did not know the road be able to find his way? And how much worse is it if those to whom one turns for information refuse to give him an answer or, at most, give him the wrong direction just to be rid of him as quickly as possible?”

Jesus, Eichmann, and sanity

“He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3: 21

Jesus was healing the sick, touching lepers, listening to the outcasts, challenging the rigidity of religious leaders. He was on the margins. And so his family was worried about him and wanted to take him home and drive some sense into him. “He is out of his mind.” He’s really out of it. He’s nuts.

As I meditated on this reading this week, preparing to preach this Sunday, I recalled an extraordinary essay of Thomas Merton, “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann,” found in Raids on the Unspeakable.

Merton was deeply moved by Hannah Arendt’s reports on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a mastermind of the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz and other death camps. Originally appearing in The New Yorker, Arendt’s reports are found in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

But what most struck Merton was the apparent sanity of Eichmann. He was no psychotic, but was adjudged perfectly sane by a psychiatrist who examined him.

Yet Jesus’ relatives thought just had lost his mind.

Merton’s remarks are relevant – not just for Eichmann and Jesus, but also for us today.

I am beginning to realize that “sanity” is no longer a value or an end in itself. The “sanity” of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane … perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally “sane.”

Are we sane like Eichmann or out of our minds like Jesus?