Category Archives: Lent

Dust – Ash Wednesday

It’s the dry season.

The taste of dust is in my mouth as I walk and drive the dusty roads.

“Dust you are and to dust you will return.”

But when it rains, the dust will turn to mud – and with a little sun will become earth for growing.

Dust needs water.

But not too much.

And a bit of sun.

Remember that the Lord raises the poor from the dust (1 Samuel 2:8).

And the Lord makes rivers in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19).

And the waters of baptism bring new life.

Happy Lent.


The power of the wicked

… praise the Lord,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!
Jeremiah 20: 13

 Today our parish here in Honduras will walk the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Dulce Nombre de Copán. Padre German has asked the communities to come with a cross bearing images, symbols, or names of the sins that afflict us.

Padre has encouraged the people to think not only of personal sins and failings – selfishness, greed, infidelity, resentment, addictions, etc. – but also the social situations that afflict the people, that cause the poverty and violence around us – the greed of the rich who buy up the land, the violence and a judicial system that does not work, corruption, and more.

At the end of the Stations, as part of the penitential rite of the Mass, they will be burned in front of the church.

In the midst of all this violence and poverty, the people long for hope, they long for a rescue from the power of the wicked and the power of wickedness.

Deliver us from evil, Lord.

Heaven in ordinarie

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,…
Heaven in ordinarie,…
George Herbert, “Prayer”

 Jesus was probably very ordinary in his appearance. His hands were probably rough from his work as a carpenter. His feet were probably very dirty, walking through the dust or mud on streets that people shared with the animals. He probably sweated a lot under the hot summer sun and maybe even exuded the odor often connected with sweat.

But one day he took three disciples up on a mountain. There they saw the Godhead hidden in Jesus the human, they saw “Heaven in ordinarie.”

God was well-hidden in Jesus, though He manifested His Godhead in all that He did. But to most people he might just appear to be another Jew from Galilee.

I think that today’s Gospel (Mark 9: 2-10) reminds us that there are two temptations in our life with God.

The first is not to see the presence of God in the ordinary, in our daily life. We get so caught up in daily life that we don’t have time to go up to the mountain to pray. Or we get so used to the signs of God presence around us that we can’t see God in our midst.

But there is another temptation. Like Peter we want to stay on the mountain; we want to hold on to the peak experience. We fail tofind God in the everyday experience of our lives, full of suffering and joy, full of promises of death and resurrection,

George Herbert’s poignant description of prayer as “Heaven in ordinarie” reminds me to be attention both to heaven and to the ordinary – for God is present in both.


The English Anglican poet George Herbert died on March 1, 1633.


No nos dejes caer en la tentación
Do not let us fall into temptation

 Today, the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is the temptation of Jesus in the desert.

Yes, Jesus was tempted.

As Michael Casey writes in Fully Human, Fully Divine, this is a sign of Jesus’s humanity and his solidarity with us humans. He is like us in all things but sin and so he undergoes temptation.

It is also a sign of his divine sonship which was revealed at His baptism in the Jordan.

And so for us, as Michael Casey notes:

 The effect of being admitted to divine intimacy is instant dispatch to the front line of battle…. For Jesus to live consciously as God’s Son here on earth necessarily involves a struggle. To be with God means contending with “Satan” who, in the Old Testament, is not so much an anti-God but the adversary of humanity, the recorder and accuser of every misdeed. Our relationship with God is constantly undermined by the querulous murmur, “How an you be a child of God when you do such things?”

Satan, the accuser, tries to make us deny our dignity as children of God – either considering ourselves totally incapable of being forgiven by God or considering ourselves as without sin (or having to hide them).

But recognizing both our sinfulness and our dignity as children of God is a way to face the Accuser with God’s help.

As St. Augustine wrote in his Commentary on the Psalms:

 Christ accepted temptation as one of us and gave us the victory.

Facing temptation honestly helps to recognize this and to know ourselves in our reality of our sinfulness and incompleteness and in our calling to be with God.

As Augustine also wrote:

None know themselves if they have not been tempted.

What a joy and a source of hope.

Lent and fasting

Today I went to Dulce Nombre for the Mass to begin Lent. Padre German had invited all those who would lead celebrations of the Word in their communities to come for Mass where he blessed the ashes and distributed them to those who would sign the people in their community.

I had planned to go to two of the remotest villages. But on the way there I heard a terrible noise in the car and the warning lights came on. The most problematic was the one noting that the battery was not recharging. It would not be good to get stuck in Debajiados with a dead battery – though that might have been a good Lenten penance!

I turned around and went to a mechanic in Dulce Nombre who analyzed the problem as the alternator but told me that I’d have to get it fixed in Santa Rosa. So I went off to Santa Rosa and got it fixed.

I returned at about 6:00 pm to Plan Grande, a village – and a region – without electricity. At about 8:00 am in Santa Rosa truck struck a utility pole – and affected the lights in the entire region. When I left Santa Rosa electricity was slowly returning – but there’s none here now – at 8:39 pm.

Gloria had invited me to their Ash Wednesday service at 7:00 pm. When I arrived, she asked me to preside and lead the reflection. I had prepared for the visits to the other villages and so it was not a problem.

I decided to concentrate on the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

When I began to discuss fasting I asked the folks there how many times a week they eat meat. Almost all said only once or twice.

For the poor life is a continuous fast.

But I encouraged them to fast from vengeance, anger, gossip, watching too much television, and more – to open their hearts more to Christ in this time of conversion – so that we can be reconciled with God and with each other.

But what do fasting and abstinence mean for me – a vegetarian? Maybe less internet. More time spent with people in the village. Simpler meals. And more – or, rather, less.

But I think most of all it means austerity and solidarity.

As Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero said in his September 3, 1978 homily:

When Pope Paul VI modified the meaning of penance for the Christian people, he said that there are different ways to understand the meaning of penance in the Christian life.

Fasting is done in one way in developed countries, where people eat well, and another way in underdeveloped countries, where life is almost always lived in a fast.

In this situation, he said, penance means to put austerity where there is much well-being and to put courage and solidarity with the suffering and efforts for a better world where life is almost a perpetual fast.

This is penance; this is God’s will.

And so I will try to fast in solidarity and austerity – so that God may move me even more to love.

Ecce homo: behold the human person

…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…
Isaiah 53: 14

Today the Western Christian world celebrates the death of Christ Jesus.

The Black Christ

The Black Christ

A few weeks ago on retreat I was meditating on St. John’s Passion. Pilate had Jesus scourged and the soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him.

Then Pilate brings Jesus out to the crown and tells them:

Here is the human person!
Ecce homo!

Here is the human person, tortured and degraded by power, by economic and political elites. Here is the human person in the eyes of the empire, in the eyes of the consumer culture.


For that world, the human person is something, some thing, to be used and abused at will.

But in the eyes of God, the human person is a child of God.

Jesus lets Himself be identified with the victims, the poor, the maltreated, the violated.

But this human person – degraded and violated – will rise up and show us the real human person, God’s child.

For, as St. Irenaeus put it, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Pilate and the powers want to identify the human person as the one who can be controlled,  who is worth little of nothing.

But, in God’s eyes, each person is worth the death of His Son.







Honduras and the Passion

Yesterday  I went to visit Hogar San José, a home for malnourished kids under five run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order).

I used to go a lot, but for any number of reasons – some not so wholesome – I haven’t been there for a while.

I know several of the sisters since they help with religious education in several villages of the Dulce Nombre parish. One of them opened the door and let me in. She took me to see some of the smaller kids.

The first child had a cleft palate. The second child was without a palate – but with an incredibly beautiful smile. Sister told me that she was nine months old, but she seemed like a two month old. When she arrived at the Hogar she was so malnourished – skin and bones, really – that the doctors couldn’t find a place to put a needle.

I then went to play with some of the older kids and then sit by them as they ate lunch. They were energetic kids, on the road to recovery from malnutrition. There was, as there almost always is, one energetic and mischievous little guy.

It was a good use of a few hours. While I’m still living in Santa Rosa, I’ll have to go back more often.

This morning, on my way back from the lab for some blood tests, I passed by a woman and a small boy, about 5, going through trash. The little boy used his finger to extract some food from the lid of a jar.

The sight of such desperation touches me deeply.

These are some Holy Week images that I will add to the images that came to me during last Friday’s Dulce Nombre parish’s Stations of the Cross, especially the images of two people who had been murdered and the grief of the spouse, sons, and mother of some who had been killed.

There are other images of suffering and repression here: the recent death of an employee of the Jesuit-supported Radio Progreso, the presence of armed police and soldiers on the street and the police aiming at peoples in their cars on deserted roads, the lack of water and basics, a government and judicial system that can be bought for $2,500 or more.

Honduras is suffering the Passion of Christ.

I pray for resurrection.

The emptying of Christ

He emptied Himself…
Philippians 2:7

The second reading for Palm Sunday, Philippians 2:  6-11 (plus the first five verses of the chapter) is central to my understanding of what it means to follow Christ: emptying oneself.

Christ became one with poor humanity, suffering and dying, not just for us – but with us.

The Black Christ

The Black Christ

Christ’s solidarity in our suffering is a call to be in solidarity with the poor. I pray often that the words of Isaiah 50:4 in the first reading might be mine:

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them, a word that will give them strength.

In this light the processions today need to have a spirit of humility. The King comes in solidarity with the poor.

The reading for Vigils in Benedictine Daily Prayer from St. Andrew of Crete puts it well:

 [Christ] comes freely to Jerusalem as he once came from heaven in order to exalt us with himself. But he does not come with pomp and circumstance, like a man ascending a throne. “He shall not dispute or shout aloud, nor shall anyone hear his voice upraised.” He is meek and humble, and goes poorly clad.

Now, off to Dulce Nombre for the procession and Mass for Palm/Passion Sunday

Vía Crucis

This Friday the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, in Dulce Nombre de Copán, Honduras, will pray a parish Way of the Cross in the streets of Dulce Nombre. Until 2012 there were diocesan celebrations of the Way of the Cross in Santa Rosa de Copán.

Diocesan Via Crucis 2009

Diocesan Via Crucis 2009

We have prepared the text [in Spanish] for the Stations from the writings of martyred Salvadoran, archbishop Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, as well as a text for which I do not know the source.

We have also included prayers for the needs of the parish and of Honduras.

You can access the text in Spanish here: Via Crucis Romero DNM

New golden calves

We who were freed from slavery by the power of God give up on God so easily.

When God seems absent we seek something that will give us a sense of power.

So the people of Israel in the desert seek a tangible substitute for the saving God – something that they can know and manipulate: a golden calf. It will go before them because, as they believe, it was the molten calf, a work of their hands, that brought them out of Egypt.

The story (Exodus 32) is well known, but we often forget that the people invested power in something that they made.

We usually talk about this as the worship of an idol. But it’s really a type of fetishism.

When Pope Francis spoke to ambassadors last year, he used the image of the golden calf to critique economic systems that substitute money for persons.

The adoration of the ancient golden calf has found a new and ruthless image in the fetishism of money and in the dictatorship of the faceless economy which lacks a truly human purpose. (My translation from the Spanish.)

The official translation softens the pope’s critique, talking only of an “idolatry” of money.

The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.

But the pope has spoken more than once of the “fetishism of money.” Sadly, the translators usually use the term idolatry, instead of fetishism.

But what is a fetish?

In the 25th anniversary edition of Following Christ in a Consumer Society, p. 34, Fr. John Kavanaugh put it succinctly:

A “fetish” is something that is fabricated, the product of human work; but it is also something we relate to in worshipful devotion. Even though it is something that we ourselves have made, we invest it with power over us and we refashion ourselves in its image.

That’s what the people did in the desert. That’s what we do when the bottom line or our bank accounts become primary.

And that’s what happens when we let anything made by us be the criterion for our lives.

Isn’t it also fetishism when we look for praise from others as the criterion for our actions? As Jesus says in today’s Gospel (John 5: 44):

As long as you seek praise from one another, instead of seeking the glory which comes from the only God, how can you believe?

What are the fetishes in our lives?

What works of our hands (or our hearts and minds) do we let rule us?

How will we begin to turn from these fetishes and seek the glory of God?