Category Archives: justice

Like stars in the darkness

In the midst of the terror in Paris and Beirut in the past week, while thousands flee the violence in Syria, while many remember the terror and the killings in Kenya and Nigeria, while war and bombing continues to kill many in the Middle East and elsewhere, while hospitals are bombed, while violence and hunger leaves many victims throughout the world, many feel as if the end of the world is at hand. Many feel, as we read in today’s first reading from the prophet Daniel 12: 1-3, that we live in a time “unsurpassed in distress.”

Many have felt this throughout history. The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem felt like the end of the world to the Jews. The fall of Rome to the “barbarians” felt like the end of civilization. The black plague led many to think that the end of the world was at hand.

But Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, Mark 13:32, that no one, but the Father, knows the day and the hour.

Yet, I ask, what can we do in the midst of the darkness?

The last line of the reading from Daniel can give us hope and also challenge us:

Those who lead the many to justice
will shine like the stars forever.

There are many voices that would lead us to the supposed justice of vengeance and extermination of our “enemies.”

But there are voices that urge us to the justice, the righteousness, of God, a justice that seeks to offer a different vision of the world, that refuses to demonize even those who commit terror, that challenges us to be creative, loving, and merciful.

The violence of terror is meant to leave us paralyzed by fear. But the justice of God is meant to guide us to new ways of living and loving.

I don’t have answers, but I think that we do have a guide – Jesus. We also have guides among us who offer us a different vision of justice.

Last night I noted that several persons have recalled the Last Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé, one of the Trappists kidnapped and killed by extremists in Algeria in 1996. The full text can be found here, but a few phrases might help us to meditate in the midst of the darkness

I ask them to associate [my] death
with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference
or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.

I should like, when the time comes,
to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart
the one who would strike me down.

Dom Christian is one of those stars who can guide us to the true Justice, the God of mercy and all-embracing love.

May we see his light and follow him on the way to real peace.

Saints who touched me – Benedict the Moor

November 1 is the feast of all saints. I’d like to share a few of the saints who have touched my life.

I grew up in the midst of the piety of the 1950s where we said the Rosary in the family during October, where we learned about the saints in Catholic school, and where there was a large statue of Saint Therese of Lisieux in our parish church.

I had an attraction to the Franciscans at this time, which continues to this day. I even got to the first Mass of Father Cyprian Harkin, ofm, the nephew of a woman who worked with my Dad.

Somehow I learned of the Franciscan Saint Benedict of Sicily or, as he was known then, Saint Benedict the Moor – now called Saint Benedict the Black, who lived in Sicily from 1526 to 1589.

Born in Sicily of parents who had been freed from slavery, he joined a group of hermits living under St. Francis’ Rule for hermits. Shortly after, the pope disbanded all small groups of hermits, and Benedict joined the Franciscans.

Benedict, though illiterate and a lay brother, was chosen novice master and later guardian of the friary. But he finally asked to return to the kitchen to do what he loved – cook.

Father Cyprian found a statue for me which I had stored with friends when I left for Honduras in 2007. On my recent trip to Ames, I found the statue and it is now in my prayer room – next to a Guatemalan statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Bolivian angel.


Why did St. Benedict mean so much to me in the late fifties?

This was the time of the civil rights movement and Benedict was obviously an example of holiness that is not limited to whites.His holiness also reinforced my concern for civil rights and racial equality.

Looking back, there are several other aspects of his life that touch me even now.

He was illiterate but that did not stop him from being holy or from being an example and guide for others. God does not need education to work wonders of holiness – though education helps.

In addition, he found holiness amid the pots and pans, preparing food for his brothers. He was a real servant.

I am so happy to have his statue here – as I try to be of service to the poor and to the faith community here.

I ask God for the grace to be loving and humble as Benedict was and be open to the poor.

Martyr against racism

Fifty years ago today, on August 20, 1965, the twenty-six year old Episcopalian seminarian Jonathan Daniels was killed in Hayneville, Alabama.

He had come to the south to support the civil rights movement. He, a Catholic priest, and two black civil rights workers hade been imprisoned and were waiting for a ride. They went to buy a soft drink but were confronted by a man with a shotgun and pistol. Jonathan Daniels died protecting one of the women who was threatened by the man with a shotgun aimed at her. Daniels pushed the man down and took the brunt of the blast.

He was among those who gave up the comforts of life and study to participate in the struggle of the poor.

What I find refreshing is this quote which shows not only the faith that was the source of his commitment but also a spirit that was seeking to be free of self-righteousness, one of the temptations of those who struggle for justice and human rights.

“I lost fear. . . when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one’s motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it.”

This is a lesson for all of us.

A parable for election time

As the United States and other countries approach elections, and as protests abound in Honduras and Guatemala, it might be helpful to meditate on today’s first reading, Judges 9: 6-15.

Abimelech is about to be proclaimed king of Israel. Jotham, who is his youngest brother and is the other survival of Abimelech’s massacre of his seventy brothers, proclaims the parable of the trees from a position of safety on Mount Gerizim.

Jotham speaks of a time when the trees wanted a king. They approached the olive tree which turned down the request, preferring to continue to provide rich olive oil. They then went to the fig tree which also refused, not wanting to give up its tasty fruit. Even the vine rebuffed their offer, treasuring the wine that gladdens the heart.

But then the trees went to the thornbush, the bramble, a prickly bush. Having nothing else to offer the trees, the buckthorn quickly agreed to be king and promised to burn up all the trees that did not submit to it.

Only the good-for-nothing thornbush agreed to be king. Note that the buckthorn is considered by many as an invasive species. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, page 140, the thornbush “may claim to offer ‘protection’ … but it hardly offers ‘shade’…, being a ground cover of the sort that propagates forest fires.”

And so Abimelech was king for three years.

But it is useful to recall what precedes this parable.

Abimelech, after the death of his father Jerubaal, wanted control and so conspired with the powerful leaders around him. Seeing him as their ally and “kin,” they took money from the temple of Baal – a false god – and gave it to Abimelech who used it to hire “worthless men and outlaws.” With their help, he went to his father’s house and killed all of his seventy half-brothers. Only the youngest, Jotham, survived.

The parable is meant to reaffirm the tradition that the LORD did not wish that there be a king in Israel, who would possibly set himself up as a god, a supreme real – in competition to the true God, the LORD who rescued the people from slavery in Egypt. (Note 1 Samuel 8: 6-9.)

As Samuel tells the people a few generations later, in 2 Samuel 8: 14-18, the king will recruit their sons for war or for forced labor in the fields or in the arms factories of the time. Their daughters will be forced into domestic servants of the king. Lands will be taken from the people and given to the elite – a sort of “land reform” and redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. The king will demand tithes and enslave the people.

For some of the prophets, kingship was not only a sign of forsaking the rule of the LORD. Kingship was a renewal of the enslavement of the people in Egypt and a ploy to enable the king to keep power by forced labor and war.

Does any of this sound familiar? – for the US, for Honduras, for other nations that claim to be democracies?

It is worth pondering.

Prayer of St. Alberto Hurtado SJ

Today is the feast of the Chilean Jesuit Alberto Hurtado who lived between 1901 and 1952.

img-Saint-Alberto-Hurtado-CruchagaHe combined in his life a deep spirituality, a commitment with the poor, and participation in the struggle for justice, based in his faith.

He founded El Hogar de Cristo for homeless and abandoned children; he helped found a Christian labor union movement; he started a periodical to explain Catholic Social Teaching.

I have written about him in earlier posts here, here, and here. Fr. James Martin, SJ, has a reflection on St. Alberto on the America magazine blog here.

I came across a prayer of his that I think deserves sharing. My English translation is followed by the original in Spanish.

Lord, help me to speak the truth in front of the strong
and not say lies to gain the applause of the weak.

If you give me fortune, don’t take happiness away from me.
If you give me strength, don’t take reason away from me.
If you give me success, don’t take humility away from me.
If you give me humility, don’t take dignity away from me.

Help we always see the other side of the medal.
Do not let me blame others of treason
for not thinking like me.
Teach me to love people as myself
and to judge myself as others.

Do not let me fall into pride if I triumph
nor in despair if I fail.
Rather, remind me that failure
is the experience which precedes triumph.

Teach me that forgiving is the grandest for the strong
and that revenge is the primitive sign of the weak.

If you take away my fortune, leave me with hope.
If you take away success, leave me with the strength
to triumph from the defeat.

If I fail people, give me the courage to ask pardon.
If the people fail me, give me the courage to forgive.
Lord, if I forget You, don’t forget me.

Here’s the Spanish:

Señor, ayúdame a decir la verdad delante de los fuertes
Y a no decir mentiras para ganarme el aplauso de los débiles.

Si me das fortuna, no me quites la felicidad.
Si me das fuerza, no me quites la razón.
Si me das éxito, no me quites la humildad.
Si me das humildad, no me quites la dignidad.

Ayúdame siempre a ver el otro lado de la medalla.
No me dejes inculpar de traición a los demás
por no pensar como yo.
Enséñame a querer a la gente como a mí mismo
y a juzgarme como a los demás.

No me dejes caer en el orgullo si triunfo,
ni en la desesperación si fracaso.
Más bien recuérdame que el fracaso
es la experiencia que precede al triunfo.

Enséñame que perdonar es lo más grande del fuerte,
Y que la venganza es la señal primitiva del débil.

Si me quitas la fortuna, déjame la esperanza.
Si me quitas el éxito, déjame la fuerza para triunfar del fracaso.

Si yo fallara a la gente, dame valor para disculparme.
Si la gente fallara conmigo, dame valor para perdonar.
Señor, si yo me olvido de Ti, no te olvides de mí.

Good news for the poor

Make justice your aim.
Isaiah 1: 17 

Today the Catholic Church in the US honors Mother Katherine Drexel who died in 1955 at the age of ninety-six. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for the care of “Indians and Colored People,” in the terminology of her time.

When I was a kid rowing up in Darby, a suburb of Philadelphia, I remember her sisters coming to Mass at our church as part of a mission appeal, asking for funds but also asking us to pray for her canonization.

Although she was born to a wealthy family and inherited an incredible fortune, when she founded her order she made the decision that her fortune would be used for others and that her sisters would beg for money.

With her fortune she founded schools and institutions for Native Americans and Black Americans, including helping fund the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic institution of higher learning for Black Catholic Americans.

Though she was not known as an outspoken advocate of justice, she did speak out against segregation and her sisters working in Harlem were maligned for their identification with Blacks.

She is an example of a person who came from a position of wealth and power but gave not only her wealth, but her life, for those on the margins of society.

She was inspired by her father and her stepmother, who opened the doors of their mansion three times a week to feed and help the poor.

What I find inspiring is that, though she controlled and distributed hundred of thousands of dollars each year, she used none of it for herself or for her congregation of sisters. It was all for others.

She took seriously the phrase from today’s Gospel, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 23: 11)

She sought to be Good news for the poor, in the ways she could. As she once said:

“If we live the Gospel, we will be people of justice and our lives will bring good news to the poor.”

How will I be a person of justice and peace and good news for the poor? How will I dispose of my wealth, compared to the people around me, to be a sign of God’s love for those at the margins? How will I live the Gospel?

Martyrs for the faith that does justice

As reported in the blog Super Martiriotoday’s edition of Avvenire reports that the theological commission of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints voted unanimously to affirm that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was a martyr for the faith.

This is a major step toward Romero’s beatification since a person can be beatified without a miracle if he or she is recognized as a martyr for the faith.

Romero was killed on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in the hospital for poor cancer patients where he lived.

The altar where Romero was martyred

The altar where Romero was martyred

The difficulty up to this point has been the question whether Romero was killed for the faith or for some other reason.

Generally a person is recognized as a martyr if his or her death is seen as an act done because of hatred for the faith – odium fidei.

With this recognition of Romero’s death as a martyrdom, it seems to me that the Vatican is recognizing that being killed while speaking up for justice and the poor is being killed because of hatred for the faith.

Justice is not something separate from faith in martyrs like Romero. His faith in God and his love for God’s poor, which he manifested from his early days as a priest, moved him, when he became archbishop of San Salvador, to speak up for their cause, to cry out for justice.

The day before he was killed, he spoke these prophetic words at the end of his Sunday homily:

I would like to appeal in a special way to the army’s enlisted men and in particular to the ranks of the Guardia Nacional and the police — those n the barracks. Brothers, you are part of your own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man gave you, God’s law must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill.! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is time to take back your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin.
The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination.
We want the government to understand seriously that reforms are worth nothing if they are stained with so much blood.
In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you, in the name of God: stop the repression.

In these words we can see how Romero did not see a breach between faith and justice. For him, faith meant advocating justice, especially for the poor.

Interestingly, today the Russian Orthodox Church also honors a bishop who spoke up against injustice.

St. Philip of Moscow, a monk who was named bishop of Moscow in the days of Czar Ivan the Terrible, did not shrink from speaking out forcefully.

During a liturgy in the cathedral with Ivan the Terrible present, he denounced the Czar for a massacre that he had just ordered.

At this altar we are offering a pure and bloodless sacrifice for men’s salvation. Outside this holy temple the blood of innocent Christians is being shed. God rejects him who does not love his neighbor. I have to tell you this though I die for it.

He was subsequently arrested and murdered in prison on December 23, 1569 – another martyr for the faith that does justice.

Recalling these and many other martyrs, we are reminded that faith and justice cannot be separated and that sometimes God calls us to speak forcefully and directly in the face of injustice.

I pray that I may have the courage of St. Philip of Moscow and San Romero of the Americas.


The quote from Romero is taken from James Brockman’s Romero: A Life, published by Orbis Books.
The quote from St. Philip of Moscow is taken from Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints, published by Crossroad Publishing Company.

Longing for the peaceable kingdom

Honduras is suffering – or, rather, the poor in Honduras are suffering.

Violence abounds in the big cities; a drought and a coffee fungus have wreaked havoc on the lives of the poor in the countryside.

The government fails to provide medicines for health clinics, while it provides funds for a militarized police force.

Those who seek peace and justice experience threats and death, as noted in an editorial from America magazine, found here.

Costs rise and so many flee the insecurity and the poverty.

In the midst of this, today’s first reading (Isaiah 11: 1-10) touched me deeply.

Here we long for “the shoot” that will not judge by appearances, who will let the elite transgress the laws with impunity.

We want someone who will judge the poor with justice and decide for the afflicted in the land.

But we also want to see the wolf and the lamb lie down together, where long-held grudges are replaced by real attempts at mutual understanding and reconciliation.

We want a little child – Jesus – to guide us.

But will we follow?

The danger of charity

Marx said that religion was the opium of the people.
But I also know that charity can be the opium of the rich.
St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J.

St. Albert Hurtado was a twentieth century Chilean Jesuit who was an apostle of the poor.

Born poor, he entered the Jesuits and soon became known for his care of the poor, involving his university students in working with the poor. He founded centers for the poor, El Hogar de Cristo, where poor children, and later adults, were sheltered and also trained in various skills.

He also sought to spread the message of Catholic Social Teaching, even starting a periodical and writing several books.

He died on August 18, 1952 of pancreatic cancer.

For St. Albert it was not enough to care for the poor, though charity is essential:

Christ stumbles through our streets in the person of so many poor who are hungry, thrown out of their miserable lodgings because of sickness or destitution. Christ has no home! And we who have the good fortune to have one and have food to satisfy our hunger, what are we doing about it?

One should also seek to make the changes on society that will bring about greater justice.

This morning, I thought about St. Albert’s quote that charity might become the opium of the rich, as I read the Gospel of the rich young man in Matthew 19: 16-22.

If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor – and then come and follow me.

That quotation of Jesus is a continual challenge to me and all of us who are rich – in comparison to two-thirds of the world. Am I willing to let go of what I have?

But thinking of the teaching and example of St. Albert Hurtado, I see not a way out of the dilemma, but a way to start responding to the dilemma of riches and the inadequacy of charity.

Be present to the poor and struggle for justice.

Share what you have with the poor and challenge the structures that keep them poor.

Give away as much as you can – trust in the loving providence of God and live in solidarity with the poor.

Above all, follow Jesus.


The challenge of Nelson Mandela

Today, at the age of 95, Nelson Mandela has passed to the Lord. May he rest in God’s peace.

When Mandela was released from prison he held no rancor or bitterness toward his jailors, February 11, 1990. On May 9, 1994, he took office as President of South Africa.

Two days after his release from prison he told his supporters:

“It is not the kings and generals that make history…. I have seen with my own eyes the masses of our people, the workers, the peasants, the doctors, the lawyers, the clergy, all our people. I have seen them making history and that is why all of us are here today.”

It is easy to make Nelson Mandela a hero in such a way that we dismiss our responsibility to struggle for justice.

It similar to Dorothy Day’s quip to not call her a saint since it makes it seem so impossible for us mere mortals.

Looking at our heroes should inspire us to stand up for justice, for the poor and the oppressed.

Looking at the saints should inspire us to seek to live each day as God’s daughters and sons.

We will almost certainly not make changes by grand scheming and tremendous deeds. But the persistent every-day acts of love and struggles for justice will help bring about a little of that Reign of justice, love, and peace which Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, and so many others sought.

The little deeds, done with an enlarged vision, are what the world needs from all of us.

Let us begin.