Author Archives: John Donaghy

Saint Francis and the evangelization of love

For the nine days leading up to the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, I hope to share some quotes from some books that have aroused my Franciscan spirit.

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Eloi Leclerc wrote a fascinating book on Saint Francis, The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi, which provides insights into his spirit, providing some reflections on what the saint of Assis might have said or thought.

At the close of the book, he puts these words in the mouth of Saint Francis:

“The Lord has sent us to evangelize the world. But have you already thought about what it means to evangelize people? Can’t you see, Brother, that to evangelize a person is to say to that one: ‘You ─ yes, you too are loved by God in the Lord Jesus.’
“And you must not only tell that person so, but you must really believe it, and not only believe it, but conduct yourself with this person in such a way that this person can feel and discover there is something within that is being redeemed, something more majestic and noble than had ever been dreamed.
“Thus will this person be aroused to a new awareness of self. Thus will you have proclaimed to that one ‘the good tidings of great joy.’ This will be possible only if you offer that person your friendship, a true friendship, unbiased and without condescension, a friendship rooted in profound confidence and esteem.
“We must go unto all people, but that is not easy. The world of people is a huge battlefield for wealth and power, and too much suffering and atrocity can eclipse the face of God. In going to everyone we must above all never appear to them as a new species of competitor. We must stand in the midst of them as the peaceful witnesses for the All Powerful, as those who covet nothing and scorn no one, people capable of truly becoming their friends. It is our friendship that they are waiting for, a friendship that should make them feel they are loved by God and redeemed in Jesus Christ.”

The evangelization of the love of God must be accompanied by our love for all, so that all of us may recall that we are loved by God.

This is what Saint Francis did; this is what Pope Francis asks us to do. This is what we need to remember:

We are loved by God in the Lord Jesus.

A glimpse of God’s tender love

Today I took a group of men to help in a project of fencing the diocesan grounds in Santa Rosa. I didn’t get to ask someone to arrange this until yesterday, but he got seven folks to come.

They worked a long day in the heat – enduring the lack of organization of those responsible for the project. They were the last to leave – at about 3:30.

I had bought two packages of sweet bread to give them as we left. I apologized for the lack of coffee and expected that they’d take the bread home to eat. But I guess they were hungry and shared about two pieces apiece.

One young man in his mid or late twenties was in the front seat beside me. He ate one bread and then turned around and had someone put the other bread in his bag. For my daughter, he said.

He has two kids, including a six-year old daughter. He’s been married (in the church) for seven years.

But here he was setting aside a bread for his daughter, even though he was probably hungry and tired. He thought of her – not himself.

I am moved by this little act of fatherly love, which reflects God’s love and affection for each one of us.

As I prayed over this tonight, I remembered another experience a few years ago, while visiting El Salvador. I was on a bus returning to Suchitoto where I was staying. A young man had two small little girl shoes in his hands. He looked at them and touched them with such tenderness.

So is God’s love for us – full of tenderness, overflowing in mercy, gifting us with love, sometimes in the form of a sweet bread or a pair of shoes.

Quinceanera homily

Today I will preside at a quinceanera, the celebration of the fifteenth birthday of your women. We don’t have a lot of these celebrations in our parish – and they are often accompanied by Mass, but our pastor has commitments in the diocese and asked me to preside.

I have done it once before and found a beautiful ceremony. But these readings really touch me: Isaiah 43: 1-4; Psalm 139 (138), John 15: 9-17.

Here are my notes – in English for my homily this afternoon.

You are a child of God – a daughter of God. You are made in the image of God.

Today as you celebrate your quinceanera, remember that your worth, your dignity, your value do not depend on what you look like, what you do, what you wear, who your friends are.

Do not fear if you don’t have what others have. Do not fear if you are not as wise, as pretty, as popular as other young women.

You are a precious jewel in the eyes of God. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “you are of great value and I love.”

God made you – and no one is like you. “You are marvellously made,” formed by God from your mother’s womb, “knitted in her womb,” as the psalmist says.

And that is good. God loves us and we should not fear.

But it is not enough.

God calls each of us to love, to give ourselves to others as Jesus gave himself for us. We do not show who we are by what we look like, but by the way we love, the way we live out the dignity we have as children of God, as friends of God.

You, and every one of us here today, are chosen by God.

And so “let us love each other.”

Rethinking Saint Michael

There are many dioceses in the US that are reinstituting the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel that was used for about eighty years at the end of low Masses.

Prayer, in the face of temptations, in the face of the assaults of the Accuser (Satan), are important and essential.

But I wonder if this is the right approach. I think there must first be a re-thinking of Saint Michael.

In many images of Saint Michael he is depicted as a white winged man with a sword, aimed at a dark-skinned devil at this feet. That hit me one day when our pastor, who is dark-skinned presided at Mass in the church of St. Michael in one of the villages of the parish.

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It makes me reflect on the racism that has plagued this continent (and other parts of the world) where white is holy and black is evil. What do dark-skinned or black people think and feel – consciously or unconsciously – with a white angel of good and a black angel of evil? In a classist and racist society as we have here in Honduras, it could be devastating.

Secondly, Michael often has a sword, about to strike the devil. Does he thus kill him? Does this unconsciously justify killing of enemies, demonizing them and thus making it easier to kill them.

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It also can lead to a self-righteousness that forgets the need for self-examination. It sets up two opposing parties, forgetting the wisdom that the Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, discovered while among Stalin’s prisoners, writing in The Gulag Archipelago, that

 “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains … an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”

In the biblical tradition, Saint Michael is invoked as protector of the people of God.

Megan McKenna, in Angels Unawares, noted how Monseñor Oscar Romero sought the protection of Saint Michael for his beleaguered and persecuted flock in El Salvador in the late 1970s:

Oscar Romero, the bishop of San Salvador, called on Michael the archangel as the defender of his diocese and people in their struggle for life. He proclaimed that San Miguel Archangel fights on their behalf and stands with them. His presence was and is summoned to defend all the sanctuaries, temples, churches and cathedrals of the land and all the people who gather there to praise God in the midst of violence and death. It is Michael, Romero said, who stands at the entrances to the churches and before their altars as guardian and protector of God’s own servants.

“We believe in what is seen and unseen and so rely on the presence of God’s angels to express and live out our faith. It is Michael who, with his great censor of smoking fire, offers to God all the supplications, prayers, works, sufferings and hopes of all the people and who defends us from danger and evil. Michael serves only God and bends to Jesus Christ and all who serve him. He has fought and stays with those who struggle to be faithful until once again all things will be subject to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God whose blood is testimony to our life. We are protected from the dragon and all that would seek to harm us—of this we are assured” (Romero, freely translated).

Maybe we also need to ask what are his weapons in defense of God’s people. What are the weapons of the spirit that will protect us? Truth, love, solidarity, justice, compassion? I hardly believe that we will be defended by attacking or, worse, killing or silencing our adversaries. They might actually be a positive challenge, calling us to conversion.

Thus I am concerned at the militarizing of the life of prayer. Prayer is a battle ground. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a converted soldier, did use the image of the two standards, but that is, as I understand it, to help us make a decision. Whose standard will we follow? Will it be the standard of the Cross, which to me appears to be a standard of self-giving love, not of violence against another.

Maybe, in place of the old St. Michael’s prayer we should the even older invocations of the St. Michael chaplet, cited in Megan McKenna’s work:

  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of seraphim, may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of cherubim, may the Lord vouchsafe to grant us the grace to leave the ways of wickedness and run in the paths of Christian perfection.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of thrones, may the Lord infuse into our hearts a true and sincere spirit of humility.
  • By the intercession of Michael and the celestial choir of dominions, may the Lord give us grace to govern our senses and subdue our unruly passions.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of powers, may the Lord vouchsafe to protect our souls against the snares and temptations of the devil.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of virtues, may the Lord preserve us from evil and suffer us not to fall into temptation.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of principalities, may God fill our souls with a true spirit of obedience.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of archangels, may the Lord give us perseverance in faith and all good works, in order that we gain the glory of paradise.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of angels, may the Lord grant us to be protected by them in this mortal life and conducted hereafter to eternal glory. Amen.

This prayer is directed at ourselves, not at others. It might be better, reminding us of the constant call to conversion. After all, Michael means “Who is like God?” Aren’t many of our troubles today in the church and in the world related to our temptation to look upon ourselves as gods, and not as servants of a God who became poor, emptying himself to live among us and handing himself over to be killed on the Cross.

Give me the poor Christ on the Cross instead of the soldier Michael.

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Biting serpents or visionaries

Yesterday, at Mass, as Padre German briefly noted how the serpents bite and kill those who were complaining, I began to think again about something that has been bothering me.

The people complaining in the desert are bitten by serpents and die. I wonder if what really killed them was not the snake bite but the complaining.

Complaining opens up a part of ourselves that gets filled with resentment, with anger, and – at times – fear.

This week I was at a deanery educational day on Laudato Si’. There was a lot of critiquing the environmental situation, which is disastrous here. But it seemed like complaining, just looking at what’s bad, what’s not right.

Yes, we should denounce injustice and evil. But I don’t think this should be our starting point or we will turn ourselves into self-righteous complainers.

I see this in a lot of posts on Facebook and it saddens me.

Where should we start?

With wonder, remembering the love of God manifested to us and recalling the small ways, the details, where God’s love is shown in the lives of God’s people.

Without that vision, we can get lost in despair, in hopelessness, in fatalism. We can become, in Spiro Agnew’s words, “nattering nabobs of negativity.”

But we have a vision – the vision of the peaceful kingdom of Isaiah, the vision of Jesus who came as Good News for the Poor.

In the midst of the bad news, we need to BE good news.

Yes, we must denounce injustice. We must expose the lies and the cover ups. But if that’s all we say and if that’s where we start, I fear that we will find ourselves overwhelmed.

But if we remember the marvels of God – with wonder at the beauty of creation, with gratitude for the holiness of those around us, with hope in Jesus who died and rise – I think we may become better channels of God’s love and justice for a world in need.

 

 

Holy days

I’ve been neglecting this blog for the last few months, writing more on my Hermano Juancito blog, but today I want to note that these next few days will be holy days for me.

I know that my Jewish sisters and brothers Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year a few days ago and that my Orthodox brothers and sisters celebrated the beginning of the church year on September 1. But yesterday was sort of a new day.

Yesterday, our parish celebrated the feast of our patron, Dulce Nombre de Maria, the sweet name of Mary. We had a procession and Mass.

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Today, I have no special responsibilities and missed a whatapp message to get the fertilizer for the parish coffee fields. Oops! I will probably go to Santa Rosa later today to get some food and supplies. The refrigerator is fairly empty. But it is a good day to reflect. Today would have been my father’s 102nd birthday. Born on September 13, 1916, he died on September 15, 1999. He was a good father and it was a blessing to be able to care for him in the last years of his life.

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Tomorrow is the feast of the Holy Cross, one of my favorite feast. The second reading is the famous hymn from Philippians 2: “Christ emptied himself.” The good news of the kenosis of Jesus, his becoming one of us, emptying himself for us, has been important for me. Many years ago, responding to a meditation which urged the reader to consider his epitaph, I prepared this tombstone, with the words of Philippians 2 in Greek – “he emptied himself” – and with the Spanish words – “he handed himself over,” sometimes translated as “he committed himself.”

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Saturday is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. It is the day my father died in 1999. It also reminds me of an inner city parish in Philadelphia, Our Mother of Sorrows, where I volunteered one summer in the mid 1960s, a place where I found myself working with a teacher and her African-American kids.

Saturday, I am scheduled to baptize two men in San Agustín, one of whom will be married later that day. I am also considering going to Dolores for their evening Mass, celebrating their co-patron.

Sunday, I’ll be going to Delicias, Concepción, bringing the Eucharist. They have a new extraordinary Communion minister but don’t yet have a tabernacle. I want to ensure that the people can received Communion that day from the hands of their neighbor.

Monday, I have a meeting with youth. I don’t know how many will show up.

But Monday is also the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi, recalling the day he received the marks of the crucified Christ in his body, making visible what he had been trying to live since his conversion at the little church of San Damiano.

These are holy days, when God is made present. May I respond with love.

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.

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