Author Archives: John Donaghy

Jesus and Jonah

Thoughts on the readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-3; Mark 1: 14-20

Evangelization, sharing the Good News, involves conversion, change. In fact, conversion is part of the Good News.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus begins his mission proclaiming “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus knows that “The world in its present form is passing away” and that’s good. That will be good for everyone of us.

Jonah flees the Good News. He is satisfied with the current situation.

He is called by God to go to Niniveh, the enemy of his people, to call them to repentance. No way, he says and flees to the ends of the earth. But God has other plans; a storm and a big fish intervene. The fish throws him up on the shore. When God calls him to go to Niniveh again, Jonah goes, probably reluctantly. There he gets a big surprise. Niniveh repents and is not destroyed. The enemy has a second chance. Jonah is not at all happy and goes out and pouts.

He is comfortable with bad news – the destruction of an unrepentant enemy. But he can’t tolerate good news – that they repented and lived.

He is content to point out the faults of the other and that’s what he preaches. I don’t think he really believes in the possibility of something good coming out of other people. It’s much easier to attack others, to point out their faults, to show where they are wrong – rather than showing them how they can turn away from what keeps them from really living as God wants.

Jesus is all so different. He begins by preaching that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He offers them an alternative. He shows them the way.

All too often I see people in the church pointing out the sins of others, their moral evils, their failings. This is easy to do – since

But the way to lead people to the Kingdom is, I believe, to show them the beauty of the Reign of God and what they what do to get there.

It is also easier to point out others’ faults and sins than to identify our own. Jesus spoke clearly about this.

The mixed heritage of St. Thomas à Becket

Saint Thomas Becket is one of my favorite saints. The play by Jean Anouilh, Becket, later adapted into a movie, as well as T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, are classics for me. I saw both plays and the movie and even acted in the play in high school.

What I find most remarkable about Saint Thomas Becket is that he was able to move from a position of privilege, as chancellor of the kingdom, to being a pastor of souls, praying and fasting, and looking out for the poor.

He refused to hold on to the power he had had as chancellor and didn’t seek to use his privileges, as well as his friendship with the king, as means to advance himself.

He was treading in the tricky swampland of the relations of the church and the state.

He was not willing to subjugate the church to the state, but insisted on the rights of the church and, doing so, he undercut the absolutism of the English monarchy. For that I am grateful.

But he insisted that clerics be tried by church courts and not by the courts of the realm.

I am not sure exactly why he did this – perhaps to avoid control by the state. But, from the perspective of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, I have a problem.

How often, in the face of clergy abuse of children and those in situations of vulnerability, have church leaders tried to hide the perpetrators from the news and from the courts? This has happened in the US and in other countries across the globe. I believe, it still continues, as the church doesn’t face the sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse that church leaders have done not just to children and adolescents, but also to persons in situations of vulnerability, including women religious and seminarians. All too often this has been done to “protect the church,” but all it does is to hide the festering wounds of abuse.

I wonder that St. Thomas Becket would think of this. I have no idea, but today I pray that he may intercede for the church. May the church abandon all quests for power and prestige. May the church put itself at the service of the abused, the marginalized, the impoverished. May the church be a church that admits its faults.

This morning I came across this quote from St. Thomas Becket on a Facebook friend’s page. He is supposed to have said this to a friend on his way to being ordained archbishop of Canterbury.

Hereafter, I want you to tell me, candidly and in secret, what people are saying about me. And if you see anything in me that you regard as a fault, feel free to tell me in private. For from now on, people will talk about me, but not to me. It is dangerous for men in power if no one dares to tell them when they go wrong.

The last line is wise advice to the church, even today:

It is dangerous for men in power if no one dares to tell them when they go wrong.

Christmas in the cave of Bethlehem

Last Saturday we celebrated the feast of Christ the King in our sector of the parish, which includes four aldeas. We had a Celebration of the Word with Communion and then a short meeting. Padre German had hoped to have meetings in all the sectors; he would go to five; Fernando, a seminarian with us this year, would go to three; and I’d take the last three. Because of impassible roads, I didn’t get to the other two sectors that were assigned to me.

At the meeting in Plan Grande spoke of a few things and I mentioned that we should carefully on how we would celebrate Advent and Christmas.

Here there is a tradition of the Posadas, from the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas eve. People gather and, usually with images of Mary and Joseph, go to a house (and sometimes several houses) seeking posada, a place for the holy family to stay. There is a song that is sung, alternating with the people outside and those inside the house. Finally, the door is opened and prayer and celebration continue.

This is a very popular devotion and many people come out for it. Before the hurricanes, aware of the dangers of COVID-19, we were thinking that we would encourage villages to not have one big Posada but Posadas in several parts of each barrio at the same time. Each village will have to decide how to do this.

But then I started a discussion about celebrating Christmas. From somewhere, I was inspired to say that this year we need to think about celebration Christmas in light of the cave of Bethlehem – not in terms of the splendor with which we usually celebrate.

Site of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Jesus came among us in the poverty and simplicity of a manger, a place where animals feed. It may have been a stable, part of the house, or even a cave. But I think the image of a cave might be helpful for us this year.

Woodcut by Ade Bethune

I will try to develop this theme in reflections throughout Advent. I invite you to share your reflections with me.

Let my tongue loose

I have been very careful during the last few months in my posts, trying to avoid anything that would be considered partisan. I did post critiques of policies I think have been disastrous and sinful. But I had decided, because of my status as a deacon, to avoid naming names.

But now the election is over and I feel no such reluctance.

No matter who is declared the winner of the presidential race, the US and the world have not won. Perhaps they may have lost less but they have not won.

The battle in the US is not of one party against another. I believe it is a battle of the principalities and powers of this world that encourage domination, violence, and division. This will demand ongoing resistance to all – and I mean all – the forces of evil and especially to the roots of these evils in the structures of our societies and in our hearts.

No party and no candidate can be the savior of the nation or the force that will make America great again. I object to the support a Catholic sister publicly gave to Biden as well as to the sometimes veiled, sometimes blatant, support of some priests and bishops for Trump.

I especially object to demeaning rhetoric of any kind – mostly that manifested by adherents of Trump but not lacking in some Democrats – that appears to have fomented diabolical divisions. I use the word “diabolical” intentionally, for many have demonized those who oppose them. It also makes the accuser appear to be claiming to be holy and correct. It is not irrelevant to note that “Satan” means, literally, the accuser. In a canticle used at Thursday Vespers from Revelations 11, we pray that “the accuser of our brothers and sisters be cast out.”

The Democratic party has lost much of its connection with much of the working poor and with many Catholics by some ideological stands, most particularly its stand on abortion. Many middle class workers, including Catholics, have lost faith in the Democratic party because they see it as a party of the elites. This opinion is not dispelled when some Democratic leaders speak disparagingly of the supporters of Trump.

Many in the Republican party have, in many ways, let themselves by captivated by a false religion that may say they is for the unborn but they support policies that promote disdain for those who are different and that discriminate against the poor, the refugee, and people of color. They may oppose abortion but they don’t see the evils of war, militarism, and the death penalty.

But adherents of both parties have let themselves be sold an ideology of power, of violence, and of individualism. Some Democrats have idolized choice when it comes to abortion and some Republicans have idolized individualized choice when it comes to economics and guns.

The sense of the common good seems to have been forgotten by some as has been the sense of responsibility for oneself as well as for one’s neighbor. It’s me, me, me.

In addition, many in both parties have not given up the idolatry of the US as the savior of the world – or, at least, the nation that calls the shots.

This can be seen in US foreign policy under both Democrat and Republican regimes. I think of the ways that Hillary Clinton supported the 2009 coup in Honduras as well as the way many politicians of both parties have supported wars, especially in the Mid-East. Many in both parties have applauded executions of opponents like Osama Bin Laden.

What is my politics? Not Republican, not Democratic, but very much inspired by my faith in a God who became poor, who healed the sick and hung around the wrong people, who suffered under an empire, and who rose from the dead to say that death and the powers of death do not have the final word. He also forgave those who killed him.

I cannot support demonization of anyone. I don’t hate Trump, though that is a temptation. More than anything, I want to cry when I hear what he says and does. I also wonder what he might have suffered.

But I can, and will, speak out against what I see as evil and unjust. That is the call of people of faith.

Saint Óscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, put it well, in his homily of January 22, 1978:

A preaching that does not point out sin
is not the preaching of the gospel.
A preaching that makes sinners feel good,
so that they become entrenched in their sinful state,
betrays the gospel’s call.
A preaching that does not discomfit sinners
but lulls them in their sin
leaves Zebulun and Naphtali
in the shadow of death.

A preaching that awakens,
a preaching that enlightens –
as when a light turned on
awakens and of course annoys a sleeper –
that is the preaching of Christ, calling:
Wake up! Be converted!
That is the church’s authentic preaching.

Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict,
must spoil what is miscalled prestige,
must disturb,
must be persecuted.
It cannot get along with the powers of darkness and sin.

The Violence of Love, pp. 45-46

Following Christ and listening to the prophets is essential.

But above all, I want to accompany those who experience the effects of the structures of sin in our world. And so, I will continue to be with the people in my little corner of the world, as they experience the death of children, the loss of livelihood, the lack of medical care, the corruption of leaders, and more.


Visiting the sick, burying the dead, preaching Good News of hope to the poor, helping people see their inherent dignity as children of God.

Above all, I want to make these two passages of Scripture real in my life.

“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly you’re your God.”

Micah 6: 8

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4: 8-19 (Jesus citing Isaiah)

It’s a lifelong task, requiring love and courage. I ask God to help me be faithful.

Saint Martin de Porres and the U.S. elections

Today I realized that the US elections this year are being held on the feast of Saint Martin de Porres.

I propose that we pray to him for a miracle – the healing of the United States.

Saint Martin is the patron of all those who work for social justice. What the US needs is a conversion toward justice.

Saint Martin suffered discrimination for being the child of a Spanish conquistador and a freed black slave from Panama. Black lives must matter.

When mice infested the Dominican friary where he lived, he captured one and told the mouse to lead its companions to the garden where he would feed them. The mice soon left for the garden. Our common home must find a place for mice and humans.

One day a friar saw a dog, a cat, and a mouse eating from the same dish that Saint Martin had provided them. Reconciliation among enemies is a challenge of our faith, reconciling red and blue, and all the nations of the world.

Saint Martin was called “the father of the poor” because of his care for the marginalized – the poor, the sick, the indigenous, the slave. Will we become a nation that puts the needs of the poor before the desires of the rich?

Saint Martin healed the sick, using his training as a barber-surgeon and the knowledge of natural medicine his mother shared with him, as well as the healing powers that God gave him. The world needs to provide health to all those in need.

Saint Martin was humble, even offering to be sold as a slave when the friary had no money. Humble service is the sign of a Christian, not lording it over others.

Saint Martin, heal us, lead us to conversion.

Reconfiguring the image of the permanent deacon

Much has been written recently about the need for a more profound theology and spirituality of the permanent diaconate. I would like to propose several dimensions of the permanent diaconate that we might want to consider. I offer these thoughts not as the final word, but as starting points for reflection. These thoughts come from my formation, my reading, and from my experience as a celibate permanent deacon in a rural parish in southwestern Honduras.

I invite others to a discussion to help clarify our calling.


First of all, ordination to the permanent diaconate is a deepening of the vocational call of all the baptized to be members of Christ, prophet, priest, and servant/king. 

The call to holy orders – as deacon, priest, or bishop – should not be considered separate from our call to be members of the Body of Christ that we received at Baptism. Separating the theology of holy orders from the theology of baptism could lead to a failure to consider he saving power of God in the sacrament of Baptism and the call to follow Christ of every baptized person. 

In our diocese here in Honduras, ministry is organized in terms of the prophetic, the liturgical, and the social – because these are what we are baptized into, as member of the Body of Chrsit. 

In the prayer before anointing the newly baptized child with Holy Chrism, we pray: 

Les unja con el crisma de la salvación, para que se incorporen a su pueblo y sean para siempre miembros de Cristo, Sacerdote, Profeta y Rey.” 

“May He anoint you with the Chrism of Salvation, that you may be incorporated into His people and be forever members of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King.”

(My translation from the Spanish.)

As I see it, the deacon is ordained to live this baptismal call in a special way, with an emphasis on being the servant. For me the diaconate is trying to live as evangelizer, servant of the poor, and minister at the altar.


Secondly, the deacon is ordained to the ordering of the community and to be a driving force for the diakonia of the whole church. 

I recently finished reading a work from the early 1960s by Yves Congar, OP, Power and Poverty in the Church. I heartily recommend this small book. At several points he puts the sacrament of orders in perspective:

“St. Paul expressly says that ordained ministers organize the ministry of the saints, that is, of Christians, (Eph 4:23). They organize it, but they also invigorate and animate it and drive it forward. They are the drivers and the governors of the Body in that condition of responsibility and universal service that is the Christian condition itself.”  

Yves Congar, OP, Power and Poverty in the Church, p. 45.

One is ordained for the ordering of the People of God in its evangelization, its charity, and its prayer in common (the liturgy, the work [ergon] of the people [laos]).

Thus, the sacrament of orders is for ordering the community and assuring that the Church reflects who it is. It is not insignificant that the diaconate is called to be the animator, the driving force for diakonia, as both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II affirmed.


Thirdly, the deacon has a special relation to the bishop and in the early church was spoken of as “the eyes and ears of the bishop”. I think this has dimension has not been developed sufficiently. 

Take note of this passage from Pseudo-Clement, from his letter to James, chapter 12

“Moreover, let the deacons of the Church, going about with intelligence, be as eyes to the bishop, carefully inquiring into the doings of each member of the Church, ascertaining who is about to sin, in order that, being arrested with admonition by the president, he may happily not accomplish the sin. Let them check the disorderly, that they may not desist from assembling to hear the discourses, so that they may be able to counteract by the word of truth those anxieties that fall upon the heart from every side, by means of worldly casualties and evil communications; for if they long remain fallow, they become fuel for the fire. And let them learn those who are suffering under bodily disease, and let them bring them to the notice of the multitude who do not know of them, that they may visit them and supply their wants according to the judgment of the president. Yea, though they do this without his knowledge, they do nothing amiss. These things, then, and things like to this, let the deacons attend to.”

(Found in the Compendium of the Diaconate: Kindle Location 1849 ff.)

I would like to suggest that the recovery of the diaconate as a permanent state offers a new way of doing this.

It is notable that the Vatican II restoration of the diaconate owes much to the discussions in the priest block at the Dachau concentration camp. Many of the priests there lamented the failure of the church to recognize the evil of Nazism. As Deacon William Ditewig wrote: 

“Following the war, these survivors wrote of how the Church would have to adapt itself to better meet the needs of the contemporary world if the horrors of the first half of the 20th Century were to be avoided in the future. Deacons were seen as a critical component of that strategy of ecclesial renewal. Why? Because deacons were understood as being grounded in their communities in practical and substantial ways, while priests and bishops had gradually become perceived as being too distant and remote from the people they were there to serve.”

Having people as clergy who worked in the world, outside the institutions of the church, might be a way to keep the church more aware of the challenges of the modern world and the temptations of modern people and nations. A permanent deacon who worked “in the world” might be able, in the words of pseudo-Clement, to “carefully inquire into the doings of each member of the Church, ascertain who is about to sin, in order that, being arrested with admonition by the president, that person [or that nation] may happily not accomplish the sin.”

In addition, the permanent deacon might be able to see more clearly the strain and the pains suffered by the people of God, especially the poor.

As Bishop (now Cardinal Walter Kasper) said at an IDC conference in 1997, 

“The deacons can act as the eyes and ears of the bishop in identifying areas of need and can help him in his task of being father to the poor.”

He can bring the needs of the community to the bishop and, in his pastoral ministry, as Cardinal Kasper also wrote, he can “make the parish aware of urgent situations of need, motivating them to share with one another and to give practical help.”

The deacon’s connection to the bishop is not only in being a herald of the Gospel, but in being the one who assures that the church is aware of the sins of the world and the needs of the poor. He can thus help make real the first paragraph of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

I think Deacon James Keating puts it well:

“The deacon is sent by the Holy Spirit to the forsaken. This is why it is crucial for the diaconate to remain a liminal vocation. The deacon lives at the doorstep between the culture and the liturgical mysteries so that he can see and hear the cry of the poor and lay these needs at the foot of the altar and the pastor. The deacon is also an ecclesial porter, open the gates of mystery to those who desire to have their spiritual needs satisfied by God, and unbolting the doors of society to other clerics who may want to more deeply understand lay life.”

(Deacon James Keating, “The Moral Life of the Deacon,” in The Deacon Reader, p. 132.)


Fourthly, the deacon is to be the icon of Christ the servant, taking into account the kenosis of Jesus.

When Pope John Paul II spoke to US deacons in 1987, he noted:

“By your ordination you are configured to Christ in his servant role. You are also meant to be living signs of the servanthood of his Church.”

The deacon at the altar is a sign of Christ the Servant, who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a rescue for many.”

But I would also suggest that the deacon is a sign of the servants who are members of the Body of Christ and see their service sacramentalized, present at the Table of the Lord.

The deacon might thus be a double icon – an icon of Christ the Servant and an icon of the Servant Body of Christ, the Servant People of God.

Can the people of God see in the deacon their living out of their baptismal call to be servants? Does the deacon call them to recognize that calling and put it into practice?


Fifthly, the deacon is called to the margins, to the periphery, to those neglected. It is worthwhile noting that the call of the seven (who are sometimes called the first deacons) came in response to those who felt marginalized, the widows and orphans of the Hellenists. 

Some have argued that this is a limited understanding of the deacon arguing mostly from the work of John Collins. But from the beginning, the deacon has been called to serve the poor, to look after their needs, and distribute the resources of the community to those in need. Note the example of Saint Lawrence. 

I would suggest that a major part of the call of the seven was to attend to those who were marginalized, first of all the widows and orphans of the Hellenists in the community. We might also note that one of the seven, Philip, is seen as evangelizing those outside the community, most notably the Ethiopian eunuch and a Samaritan village. 

I believe that a major part of the deacon’s identity must be his attention to those on the margins, those left out of the church and of the wider society. He is to bring their presence to the Church and to bring the presence of the Church to them, where they are. 


Fundamentally, the deacon is for evangelization and charity, to show the connection of these with the altar. The crossroads of evangelization and charity is found at the altar. 

In July 2020, the Vatican’s Congregation on the Clergy released an Instruction on The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church. Significantly there is a large section on deacons. There, the deacon is seen mostly in terms of evangelization and charity. The liturgical dimension is extremely important, but the key aspects of the diaconate seem to be “evangelization” and “charity.” 

Paragraph 82 reads, in part:

“the history of the diaconate recalls that it was established within the framework of a ministerial vision of the Church, as an ordained ministry at the service of the Word and of charity; this latter context includes the administration of goods. The twofold mission of the deacon is expressed in the liturgical sphere, where he is called to proclaim the Gospel and to serve at the Eucharistic table.”

These two aspects are not unrelated, nor are they separated from liturgy. Indded, the intersection of evangelization and charity is found at the Table of the Lord, in the Eucharist.

The deacon should come with the concerns of the people of God, especially the poor, as the minister who would normally offer the Prayers of the Faithful. 

The deacon also is the one who sends out the people to evangelize the world. As Pope Paul VI said at the end of the Second Vatican Council:

“We stress that the teaching of the Council is channeled in one direction, the service of humankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need. The Church has declared herself a servant of humanity…”

The connection of evangelization and charity with the Table of the Lord is perhaps the area where we most need to reflect to develop a theology and spirituality of the diaconate. 


What images could we use to describe the permanent deacon? 

Some have called his ministry as a bridge between the church and the world. This has its limitations because it seems to posit and breach between the two.

Others have spoken of the permanent deacon being in a liminal space, the place where the world and the church meet. 

I wonder if we might think of the deacon as being at the crossroads. 

At first, I thought of describing the permanent deacon as being at the intersection of evangelization and charity at the altar. But, driving to a distant community in our parish, I thought it might be better to speak of the crossroads of these two dimensions in the Eucharist. One of the words for an intersection in Spanish is cruce, which reminded me of cruz, the cross.

The cross reminds us of the integrity of our ministry – Word and Charity united at the Altar. It also reminds us of our identity in Christ, who humbled himself even to the Cross (Philippians 2: 5-11). Finally, it reminds us of our commitment of witness, martirio, even to martyrdom, servants of the Blood of Christ, willing to pour out our blood for the Reign of God.

Eileen Egan, artisan of peace

“My life has had a single strain: to see Jesus in every human being,
to realize that each one is inviolable and sacred in the eyes of God,
and then to translate that into everything I do.
This is the heart of anything I’ve done,
the heart of my peace work.”
Eileen Egan

Eileen Egan died on October 7, 2000, twenty years ago today.

Photo copyright by Bill Barrett. used with permission.

She was a peacemaker, an advocate of nonviolence, a friend of the world’s poor, a project coordinator with Catholic Relief Services for more than 40 years, and a co-founder of Pax Christi USA. She was a prolific writer – including books and pamphlets on nonviolence, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, refugees, and more.

In this photo she is with two great holy women of the twentieth century. She met Mother Teresa when she was working with Catholic Relief Services in India. She knew Dorothy Day, working for peace and the poor in New York City at the Catholic Worker.

But her commitment for peace was connected with her commitment to the refugee, the poor, the suffering. As she once wrote, noting that the works of war are in total contradition to the works of mercy:

“Instead of feeding the hungry, we destroy the fields that produce the food; instead of clothing the naked, we bomb factories that produce clothing; instead of giving drink to the thirsty, we bomb reservoirs. In war, the enemy is dehumanized and is no longer seen as a child of God. As Christians, we must penetrate the disguise and see Jesus in the enemy. Then, we would not kill and destroy.”

She seems to be the first US Catholic to use the term “The Seamless Garment of Life,” which was later made famous by Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. In a 1981 publication of Pax Christi USA, she wrote:

“We view the protection of all life, from its conception to its end, as a seamless garment…. Such protection, credible in its consistency, extends to opposition to the taking of life by the state in capital punishment and to opposition to the taking of life by euthanasia and warfare.”

She took her peacemaking seriously – based in a life of prayer, fasting, and serv ice with the poor.

In particular, she took seriously the US bishops’ invitation to fast on Fridays in their 1983 pastoral The Challenge of Peace, ¶ 298:

As a tangible sign of our need and desire to do penance we, for the cause of peace, commit ourselves to fast and abstinence on each Friday of the year. We call upon our people voluntarily to do penance on Friday by eating less food and by abstaining from meat. This return to a traditional practice of penance, once well observed in the U.S. Church, should be accompanied by works of charity and service toward our neighbors. Every Friday should be a day significantly devoted to prayer, penance, and almsgiving for peace.

A friend who worked with the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, recalled that when she came to receive the diocese’ Pacem in Terris award, she did not eat meat on the Friday. She took fasting and prayer seriously.

I saw her a few times at peace meetings. She was as, noted by Jean Kelly, “The peace activist often cropped out.”  Her simple but effective presence was one of the ways that many women have shown us the works of mercy and the works of peace.

In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, ¶ 225, Pope Francis noted the need for peacemakers:

In many parts of the world, there is a need for paths of peace to heal open wounds. There is also a need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter.

Eileen Egan is one of those who forged the path of peace and the works of justice. She is a great example for us as we try to live out our calling to be instruments of God’s peace in a strife-torn and unjust world where many suffer.

For more photos of Dorothy Day (some with Eileen Egan, Mother Teresa, and Cesar Chavez), see the web page of Bill Barrett.

Angels surround us

I sometimes wonder what to make of angels.

Today is the feast of the three holy archangels whom we know by name – from the scriptures: Michael (“Who is like God?”), Gabriel (“God is our refuge”), and Raphael (“The medicine of God”).

I feel closest to Saint Raphael – for any number of reasons. His presence in the book of Tobit show us the care of God for travelers, for lovers, and for the sick. In addition, I was baptized in the parish of Saint Raphael in Philadelphia and I spent almost 24 years in the archdiocese of Dubuque, whose patron is Saint Raphael.

But what about all these angels and archangels?

We live in a world, especially apparent these days, where evil, illness, depression, and much more weigh us down. The world seems to be filled with all that is negative, that denies life, wholeness, health, and holiness. It seems populated by the principalities and powers of domination, violence, racism, division – from the cases of sexual abuse of minors and killing of innocents that I see around me here in Honduras. And then there are the rulers of this world who use violence, corruption, and divisiveness to keep their abusive power. It sometimes feels that the world is populated with demons – from families to the places of the rich and powerful in many countries of the world, including – sad to say – the United States.

But I think that the feast of angels can be good news for us.

Angels, the messengers of God, not only see the face of God and worship him, but they can help us see the face of God and the presence of grace around us.

The angels show us that, ultimately, the world is not controlled by the powers of evil, the demons, the obstacles to good. They show us the power of God.

Michael reminds us that we are not god and that the rules of this world are not gods or saviors.

Gabriel reminds us that the true God became flesh in the womb of a poor virgin and lived among us, as a poor man and as one committed to God and God’s reign of truth, justice, and love. He was willing to give himself, even to death, so that he might be raised to new life – and bring us access to that life.

Raphael shows us the guiding hand of God. He guided Tobit’s son, Tobiah, to find a wife in a foreign land. He gave Tobiah the wisdom and the power to overcome the assumed power of the demon who had killed all the previous husbands of Sarah on their wedding night. He also gave Tobiah the medicine to cure his father’s blindness. He is the guide for the journey, the healer of the sick, the one who makes the marriage bed a place of life.

The world is filled with the presence of God – and the angels can help us see this. Seeking their intercession, we can begin to turn aside from the negativity around us – the evil of violence and poverty, the divisiveness in the church and in politics. They can help us walk the way of the Lord.

The icon of Saint Raphael is from Concepción Abbey Press.

The reality of a parable: workers and wages

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Matthew 20: 1-16

I have heard today’s parable many times, but I don’t think I really understood it until I spent a few days in Houston, Texas, in 1990.

The parable tells of a landowner who goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. He hires men at dawn and then goes out three more times (9 am, noon, and 3 pm). But he needs more workers and goes out at 5 pm and sees more men standing around and asks them why. “Because no one has hired us,” they reply.

When the men are paid, at the end of the day, the last hired get the normal daily wage, as do those hired throughout the day. When those hired at dawn arrive and receive their promised wage, they are upset.

I imagine many of us would also be upset at this employer who gives everyone the same amount and they would complain, and probably never go back to work for him.

In the parable the owner explains that they are getting what they were promised. What’s wrong with that? And then he asks, rhetorically, “Are you envious because I am generous?” The Greek literally reads, “Or is you eye evil because I am good?”

But this is not a parable about envy, though this is a good lesson to draw from it. It is, as Jesus says at the start, a parable of the kingdom of heaven. It is a parable about what God wants for us – to be fulfilled in heaven, the realized Kingdom of God. But it might also be a parable about the kingdom of God in process in this world.

And so, what could the parable have to do with our daily life?

It might not have a lot to do with the lives of many of us middle class people, but it has a lot to do with the lives of the poor.

The men were day laborers, jornaleros in Spanish, people who go out each day looking for work, depending on what they earn at the end of the day to pay for the family. It’s a very precarious way to try to live and support one’s loved ones. Though the daily wage might not be a just wage and thus may not be enough for a good life, it’s at least something. It may mean the difference between hunger and death by starvation.

But, back to Houston.

I was stuck in the city for a few days and staying in a barrio where many Central Americans lived. Every day I would leave to go seeking a visa to visit El Salvador and then returning in late afternoon. Every day I passed a corner where many men were standing around. I wondered what they were doing (and, of course, assumed the worst.) But one day as I walked by, a pickup truck stopped and the men ran to the cab of the truck. Some got into the back of the truck and it drove away.

The men were standing on that corner waiting and hoping for work. Some of them at the end of the day would say the same as the men who started work at 5 pm, “No one has hired us.”

Yet they, as well as those who worked from dawn, were hoping to bring home some money to buy food or clothes or medicine. They lived, as many poor do, from hand to mouth.

The economic system says, “Too bad. You don’t have the skills we need and you weren’t in the right place at the right time when we were hiring.”

But the economics of the Kingdom of God is different. People are continually being called to work and are paid what they need.

Maybe we won’t succeed in having a society like that, but I think we could do much better. People could be paid a just living wage, as the Popes have been advocating this at least since Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum.

Image by Cerezo Barredo

Saint Peter Claver and racism

Today the Church fittingly celebrates Saint Pedro Claver, the Spanish Jesuit who spend over thirty years ministering to the slaves brought into the New World at Cartagena, Colombia. He died on September 8, 1654, at 74 years of age.

Over 10,000 slaves arrived in Cartagena from Africa every year – while another 5,000 had died on the infernal ocean voyage. When a slave ship arrived at the port, Padre Pedro and several others, including interpreters, would enter the holds of the ships and minister to those who were dying or extremely ill or wasted away from hunger. They brought food and more. After the slaves were sold, he would try to visit those who were being enslaved near Cartagena.

Though his work appears to be mostly a heroic act of charity, it was not appreciated by the slave merchants and owners who fear he was undermining his efforts. He tried to help the slaves recover their sense of worth. He also worked to evangelize the slaves and, according to some reports, baptized 300,000 after a catechesis adapted to the needs of the slaves.

He called himself the “Aethiporum servus,” the slave of the Ethiopians, which was a name given to the slaves from Africa, though many of the slaves he ministered to came from the area later known as Angola.

Peter Claver’s response to slavery and the slave trade lacks the critique that others rightly made. See this article. Even the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas in the sixteenth century finally recognized that his defense of black slavery was wrong.

Though we should lament that Peter Claver didn’t openly challenge the slave trade and slavery, he reminds us of the need to treat everyone as a servant of God. We who have the capacity to challenge systems of racism can look to him, recognizing that our challenge to injustice should also respond to the needs of those who are enslaved, impoverished, and oppressed.

In Venezuela, the opening prayer of the Mass of St. Peter Claver reads as follows:

O God, Father of all peoples, who filled Saint Peter Claver, priest, slave of the slaves, with a flaming love and an unbreakable patience, to serve his brothers [and sisters], human beings without any distinction of race or social class; by his intercession and merits grant that we may overcome all social discrimination, in order to love all with a generous heart and be the principle of unity among your children. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…