Author Archives: John Donaghy

Fear of the other

Today’s first reading from Exodus (1: 8-14.22) reminded me of the politics of refugees and migrants which seems to be overtaking parts of Europe and the United States.

A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his people, “Look how numerous and powerful the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in the event of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so escape from our land.”

The fear of the “other” and the assumption that they are bent on our downfall are so ingrained in much of the public discourse that I wonder if there is something else going on. Rulers and powerful countries seem to be unsure of themselves and so anything different is a threat.

But most of all they forget the good things that the “other” has done and is doing, just as the new Pharaoh forget Joseph. They look at the negative, fearful of their own downfall. The attitude is that it is either “us” or “them.”

But where is God?

On the side of the other.

As we will hear later this week (Exodus 3) God hears their cries:

“The cry of the children of Israel has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them.”

Where are we?

Native peoples and the church

In the US and Canada, today is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), In Perú and other parts of South America, and among the Franciscans, today is the feast of Saint Francisco Solano ((1549–1610).

Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, was the daughter of a Mohawk pagan chief and an Algonquin Christian, who after becoming a Catholic left her village in what is now Auriesville, NY, and went to live in a Catholic village near Montreal, Canada. There she lived out her short life. She had hoped to found a convent, but was not permitted. Having made a public vow of chastity, she died young. She is a sign of the openness of the native peoples to Christ and the Church – but she also suffered from the misunderstanding of her native peoples who could not comprehend her refusal to marry and from the Church that was not open to her desire to further religious life among the native peoples.

Fray Francisco, after several years of positions of authority in his Franciscan order in his native Spain, went to South America and spent about twenty years among the peoples of Perú and Tucuman (in parts of Argentina and Paraguay). There he approached the native peoples with respect, often announcing his arrival playing his violin. He was transferred to Lima where he found disfavor among his superiors for his strong words against corruption and injustice.

These two very different saints remind me of the importance of a Church that is missionary but which respects the peoples and their cultures and recognizes the dignity of all people.

In the history of the Church there are many examples of a colonialism at the heart of some missionary activity which resulted in massacres of native peoples and destruction of native cultures. There is also the witness of people like the Dominican bishop Fray Bartolomé de las Casas who spoke out strongly against colonialism and slavery and other efforts to undermine the dignity of the native peoples.

And so today it is beneficial to meditate on the words of Pope Francis in 2015, speaking in Bolivia at the World Meeting of Popular Movements:

I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”. I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so- called conquest of America.
I also ask everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to think of those many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom. The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America. An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon.

Being consoled

Yesterday after going to two meetings of the councils of zones in the parish, I stopped by the home of a young woman in her early twenties who is confined to her bed.

When Rufina made her first communion last month, I promised to bring her a rosary. I brought the rosary as well as Communion.

When I arrived at the house, there was a large crowd by the door. I approached cautiously because I wondered if something was wrong or even if the young woman had gotten worse. But as I approached, smiles and handshakes ensued and they escorted me to her bedside.

We talked a while and I gave her the rosary and she thanked me profusely. She also had someone get a little stool so that I could sit beside her.

I offered to share Communion with her and she responded with enthusiasm. The local communion minister had come on Thursday and shared Communion, but this daughter of God was so happy to have the opportunity again.

We prayed – but not alone. Her mother, several brothers and sisters, and a few nephews and nieces (including a five month old) shared in the prayer. One teenage boy noted that it is very good and important to pray. I was impressed.

After Communion, we prayed and I blessed her. Her mother invited me to come back any time.  I promised to send a sheet with the mysteries of the Rosary so that Rufina and the family could them together.

I left consoled.

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest….
I am meek and humble of heart.”
Matthew 11: 28-29

Making god in our image

Today’s first reading on Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22: 1-19) is one of the most difficult passages in scripture for me. How could a god of love call for the death of a son? Soren Kierkegaard offered his own explanation in Fear and Trembling. I have to re-read this, but I’m not sure that I can accept his interpretation.

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I prefer to think that Abraham projected on God the contemporary image of what the gods were – personages to be appeased by bloody sacrifices. The Canaanites gods – much as the Aztec gods – demanded human sacrifices lest great evils fall upon the earth.

Perhaps Abraham thought that the Lord God was like the other gods, vengeful, demanding sacrifice. Thus he was ready to butcher his only to appease this god.

But I wonder if he harbored a few doubts. As he and Isaac leave his servants with the donkey, he tells them, “We will worship and then we will come back to you.” We will return. And when Isaac asks where is the sacrificial victim, Abraham replies, “God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” The providence of God and not the ideas of Abraham will triumph.

After I meditated briefly on this passage this morning, I also read the Gospel (Matthew 9: 1-8), where men bring a paralytic to Jesus. The Lord tells the man, “Courage! Your sins are forgiven you.”

The scribes were scandalized. Who can forgive sins except God? How can sins be forgiven without a sacrifice in the temple? How can God work through a human and ignore the sins of this paralytic who is obviously a sinner?

They cannot see a God who forgives out of love, a God who does not require bloody sacrifices, a God who wants people to be restored to community with God – “Your sins are forgiven” – and to community with others – “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”

God does not act as we think he should. As Abraham notes, “God provides,” – or, as an alternative translation puts it, “God sees.”

We do not need to prove ourselves before God. We need to draw near, hear the voice of God, and see the lamb for the sacrifice. That lamb, in the tradition, is a sign of the Lamb of God who does not demand sacrifice but, out of love, hands himself over to be sacrifices.

God will provide.


 

The image is from Ravenna, the church of San Vitale.

This reflection is influenced by my meager understanding of the work of René Girard.

 

Drowning, baptism, family, and the cross

Rambling notes for a homily for the thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, July 2, 2017.

Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10, 37-42

I love swimming; I used to swim laps in a pool for 10 to 30 minutes. That’s one thing I miss here in Honduras. I also like to swim in the ocean, diving into oncoming waves, body-surfing back to shore.

But one day a few years ago, I was on an excursion in Tela, Honduras, and the boat left us on one side of a tunnel that we could swim through. Halfway through I was belted so hard by the waves that I wondered whether I wound drown.

The Christian life is not like swimming laps in a pool. Sometimes it’s going into the dangerous and turbulent waters – the water of Baptism – where we experienced the danger of life in Christ, drowning in the baptismal waters to die with Christ

In the early church the catechumens were baptized by submerging them three times under water, dying with Christ, to live with him. As St. Paul says

…we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

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Going down into the waters of baptism, they perhaps felt as if they were going to die and, in one sense, they did die to the idols of their time – power, violence, money, empire. But, leaving the waters of baptism they began to live in the risen life, with a new way of seeing the world and a new style of life – with love, without fear, in solidarity with all, especially the poorest, no longer alone. They lived in Christ, not under the power of the empire and the current customs.

Thinking in this way, we can understand better what Jesus says in the Gospel.

In the church we place great value in the family, even celebrating the year of the family. But Jesus appears to say something against this:

Whoever love mother or father more than me is not worthy of me; whoever love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Father José Antonio Pagola wisely notes:

…it’s not enough to defend the value of the family in itself, because the family can form itself in many different ways in real life.
There are families open to service of society and families turned in on their selfish interests. There are families which educate in egoism and families which teach solidarity. There are liberating and oppressive families.
…for Jesus, the family is not something absolute and untouchable. It is not an idol. There is something above and before the family: the Reign of God and His justice.

What is decisive is not family in the flesh, but the great family which we have to construct among all the sons and daughters working together with Jesus in opening paths toward the Reign of the Father.

If we don’t live in families as persons renewed by our baptism, we live in accord with an idol – seeking our security there, grabbing on to money and power in order to have a “good” family life which is not open to other, which is enclosed on itself.

Jesus also tells us that we have to carry the cross, we have to give our lives and not live tied to our plans and our ideals. We have to be open to a God beyond us.

But in the words of a Salvador song in honor of Monseñor Romero

Many of us seek a god of the pocketbook,
A god who fits in with our idols,
A god who is content with what we pay our workers,
A god who approves our abusive crimes…

But we have a God who is a demanding God, but our God demands love and mercy and justice. And demanding this, he was crucified.

But we sometimes want a faith without the cross. Or, as Richard Niebuhr wrote, we seek a religion without aa sting, and we preach ““A God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

But the Cross is central – not as a sign of death, but as a promise that by dying, by giving himself away, God raises us up.

The Cross is not an ornament – it was an instrument of torture meant for those who were considered threats to power. But in Jesus, the Cross is the symbol – and the reality – of a God who conquers the power of domination, money, oppression, death, a God of love.

When we let this Christ live in us, we can be the family of God, full of love, charity, solidarity, and handing ourselves over, ready to risk ourselves for the Reign of God. We can be followers of Christ to the point of giving ourselves over to God and others, to the point of giving our lives every day to serve god and the poor.

There we find live, submerged in deep waters, in abundance.


The photo is of a baptism at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, during an Easter Vigil

Taking the initiative in hospitality

When he saw them,
he ran from the entrance of the tent
to greet them.
Genesis 18:2

One of the most famous icons in the world is Andrei Rublev’s The Trinity, which depicts the three strangers who were welcomed by Abraham. I have seen other depictions of this scene that include Abraham and Sarah.

AbrahamVisitors

But reading today’s first lectionary reading, Genesis 18: 1-15, I noticed that Abraham was seated in his tent and he noticed the three men standing nearby. They had not come to the entrance to his tent, seeking help. They were just there.

And Abraham ran. This old man runs – something not very seeming for a revered old man. He runs to greet them and invites them to wash their feet, eat some food, rest, and then go on their way.

How often do I think that hospitality is being attentive to those who knock on my door. But that’s a minimalistic understanding of the hospitality of God.

Abraham teaches us that hospitality is looking out from his tent for the stranger, for the wayfarer. It means taking the initiative to welcome the other. We need not wait until someone comes asking help or a cup of water. We are called to follow the example of Abraham and go out and bring in the stranger.

Isn’t this what Pope Francis has been telling us. We need to go out from where we are, from the walls of our churches and our homes?

Isn’t this what the current refugee and migrant crises call us to do – not building walls, but strangers – refugees and migrants – into our midst?

Isn’t this what I am called to do as a deacon – to go out, running like the old Abraham, to serve those who stand outside in the heat of the day?

Isn’t that what God does for us – running out of heaven, coming down to earth, to show us love and rescue us from sin and separation?

Do not neglect hospitality,
for through it some have entertained angels unaware.
Hebrews 13:2

 


 

The photo is of a miniature that I purchased in Jerusalem, in the Church of the Dormition, many years ago – the work of a local artist.

Jailbreak

Acts 12: 1-11 

Prison walls cannot contain the liberating power of the Gospel. Some of the most profound spiritual writings have been composed in prison, including some of Saint Paul’s letters, the poems of St. John of the Cross. The prisons of Nazi Germany were seedbeds of profound reflections on faith by the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Jesuit Alfred Delp, and Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian peasant objector to Hitler’s Wars.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we find several accounts of the miraculous release from prison of the followers of Jesus.

One of the most famous is today’s Gospel where an angel frees Peter from his chains and leads him out between sleeping guards. In the Vatican there is a fresco by Rafael depicting this event. In the center we see the angel touching Peter, just as Luke tells us in the text.

Peter released from prison

But the artist took some artistic freedom in the upper right panel, depicting the angel leading Peter out of prison. The angel told Peter to put on his sandals and his cloak; but Peter is walking barefoot, as is the angel.

Peter released from prison

In the text Peter follows the angel out, but in the painting the angel is leading Peter by the hand.

Peter released from prison

When I looked at my photo of this fresco this morning, I was stuck by that simple gesture of the angel.

God is leading Peter by the hand out of prison. God, with the intimacy revealed in the touch of the angel, can lead us out of prison. Sometimes this may happen literally, as in the other accounts in the Acts of the Apostles and, perhaps, in the escape from prison by Saint John of the Cross.

But often God is offering a hand to lead us out of the prisons of our lives, out of the sins that keep us confined, out of the cowardice that keeps us paralyzed, out of the limitations that we place on the power of God’s grace in our lives.

God can free us from all that keeps us imprisoned, as he freed Peter.

But God frees us not for ourselves. Peter returns to the community to announce to them the Good News of his release. So too, we are freed to share the Good News of freedom to a world enslaved by greed, violence, power, domination.

Get ready for the jailbreak and grasp the angel’s hand, God is leading us.