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How can I preach the Lucan beatitudes to the poor?

In the Gospel for this coming Sunday, we hear the beatitudes and woes of Luke 6: 20-26.

Blessed are you who are poor
Woe to you who are rich

Blessed are you who are hungry
Woe to you who are stuffed

Blessed are you who weep
Woe to you who are laughing

How can I preach “Blessed are you who are poor,” when I know that there are people here, perhaps in the church, who struggle to eat?

What can I say to them?

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Yes, most of the people in the celebrations in the countryside are poor, but some have a dream of escaping poverty by going to the US to earn lots of money. Though poor, some have the dream of the rich, to be completely self-sufficient. They are willing to endure the nightmare of passing through Mexico to try to reach the US.

This is not to deny that those who are trying to enter the US are more often those who are trying to escape the violence and the poverty, the misery, that affects the lives of many in Honduras.

Those who live in the cities experience the violence of the gangs and drug-traffickers, as well as the repression of those who try to speak out against the rampant injustice. Throughout the country there is continuing violence of many other kinds – domestic violence, especially against women; violence due to conflicts over land or other issues; violence due to people seeking vengeance for crimes committed against their families; violence connected with abuse of alcohol or drugs as well as the large number of weapons. This is exacerbated by the lack of a justice and police system that investigates and prosecutes crimes. But others are leaving and seeking refuge in the US because of extreme poverty and the worsening of the economic situation. They are seeking to improve the lives of their families.

Of course there are some who leave seeking adventure or seeking money to live comfortably in the future. But violence and poverty, in a political situation of ineptitude and corruption and an economic situation of extreme inequality, are the driving forces for the migration.

But what do I say about the Gospel to those who are here?  More than two-thirds in the country live in poverty, perhaps 40% in extreme poverty.

I think the message has to be a message of hope: Jesus has a vision that turns this world upside down.

Jesus does not invite the poor to be rich, but to live the kingdom. When the poor are really poor, living austerely, they are more likely to be living the Kingdom. When the poor are impoverished, they have been deprived of even the little they need to live as people of worth.

What is the kingdom? What are the signs of the kingdom? Share, care, trust.

What signs of the kingdom have I seen here?

  • People caring for their sick or elderly relatives.
  • Communities regularly responding to the needs of the poor, collecting basic food supplies and taking up collections to pay for expensive medicines or medical treatments.
  • People donating money to buy land for a homeless family.
  • People stopping to help me start my car when it broke down.
  • Communion ministers walking for hours to bring Communion to the sick.
  • Groups of young people who visit the sick.
  • Poor people almost never turning aside from someone who asks for help, even if it’s only one lempira (about four cents).
  • Offering food to whoever is in the house, even a crazy gringo.

I would suggest that when Jesus says the Kingdom belongs to the poor he is asking us to look at our communities:

  • Are they selfish, concerned only with my well-being? Or are they place where people share?
  • Are they communities where the poor and the marginalized are welcomed as full members of the community
  • Are they places where people accompany those who mourn or are they only concerned about themselves?
  • Are they places where the hungry are fed? Or, better, are they places where we all sit down together to eat, poor and not poor?

So, what can I preach?

  • Be communities that welcome all.
  • Avoid the temptation to accumulate.
  • Share in the joys and sorrows of all.
  • Above all, place your trust in God, who is a God of life and hope, and live as participants in the Kingdom of God.

I’m not sure that’s what I’ll preach – but it’s what’s moving my heart tonight.

More saints than Saint Marianne of Molokai

Today is the feast of Saint Marianne Cope, a German-American immigrant, who joined the Franciscan Sisters in Syracuse. In 1883, she left her position as provincial and six other sisters left for Hawaii to serve the lepers. She died there, on August 9, 1918, after serving on the island of Molokai for thirty years. One of her first patients was Saint Damian of Molokai.

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image of Saint Marianne shortly before her death.

But there is a part of this story that reveals the holiness of her sisters.

The king of Hawaii had contacted more than fifty religious orders seeking some sisters to serve the lepers, in the Kakaako Receiving Station for people who might have leprosy.

Hansen’s disease was dreaded in those days and most were reluctant to take on what was perceived as a dangerous mission.

When the request came to the sisters in Saint Marianne Cope’s province, thirty-five volunteered immediately. What generosity! What trust in the Providence of God! What love!

Saint Marianne was canonized. But what of the other six who went with her? What of the other twenty-nice who had volunteered? Do they not also show us the face of holiness, the willingness to see Christ in the face of the leper, the outcast?

I am inspired by Saint Marianne but today I find myself even more inspired by these anonymous sisters who had the courage to say yes to God.

All you holy women, saints of God, intercede for us.



The image was downloaded from this site

 

The Epiphany – Eliot and Ferlinghetti

The feast of the Epiphany fills many people with wonder. There are these wise men from afar, a star in the sky, a babe in a manger, and extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (whatever that is).

Though we know nothing about their number, their race, or their names, the mythic story unfolds. They arrive on camels. There are three of them, though the Gospel doesn’t mention a number. They are of three different race and bear the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

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But, seemingly indifferent to the message of a savage king, Herod, and the tales of his household priests, they find themselves amazed at seeing a star. But, when they enter the house, there is nothing amazing there – just a mother and child. Yet they fall down and worship.

It’s a story that arouses our wonder, that amazes us.

As I was preparing my homily today, I came across two poems that, in very different ways, plumb the depths of this day.

T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi: is a classic. It’s worth your while to listen to the poem being read by T. S. Eliot himself or Sir Alec Guinness. The text is here.

Eliot speaks in the voice of one of the Magi, years later, recalling the journey. After recalling the hassles, he notes, in an almost nonchalant way:

…and so we continued,
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon,
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

Not splendid, not overwhelming, but “satisfactory.”

But then Eliot reflects that this birth was “like Death, our death.” For this birth changes something in us and makes us uneasy with our old gods, our old ways. And so, “I should be glad of another death.”

The second poem comes from an unlikely author, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. “Christ climbed down,” which you can read here has five stanzas that have Christ coming down, “from his bare tree,” and running away from the trappings of Christmas, especially the tinsel trees, the Santa Clauses, the department store nativity scenes, and the winter wonderland caroling. But the last stanza opens up to us where Christ might come down:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Christ comes in anonymity, as he did to the Magi, so that we can reconceive the coming of Christ – in our souls.

And so I recall the words of the Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart:

“What good is it for me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to God’s son in my person and my culture and my times?”

A missing verse in the Christmas lectionary

The first reading from Isaiah for the Christmas midnight Mass (9:1-6) has consoled me for many years. It includes this promise of the end of repression and war against the people:

For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed…
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.

I especially remember one year, perhaps it was in 1989 after the massacre of the Jesuits at the Central American University. As I heard these words, I began to cry, thinking of the many deaths wreaked on the people of El Salvador (and many other lands) by an oppressive military, funded by the United States.

As I prepared this morning to preach at Mass tonight in Dulce Nombre, I read the lectionary in English and in Spanish. I plan to read the first reading and the Gospel in several different translations in English and Spanish (and look at the Gospel in Greek) to try to capture the details.

I am rather upset, though, to find that the fourth verse of the reading from Isaiah is omitted in the Spanish lectionary and that people in Latin America may not hear the verse that prophesies the destruction of military boots and bloody cloaks.

The verses may refer to not taking booty in a holy war, but I hear them more as a promise that violence and war do not have the final word.

In a continent ravished by violence, in a country with a high index of murder, I want to hear this promise. I want to share this promise that the newborn Prince of Peace brings. I want to say to those who have seen their neighbors slain – by gangs in the big cities, in vengeance killings throughout the countryside, by government and death squads – that God’s vision is different, that God is Peace, who comes as a poor baby, born in a manger, visited by shepherds, outcasts of their time.

Maybe I’ll just have to include this verse in my homily – announcing the Prince of Peace.

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Bearing Jesus

Today I went to Buena Vista Concepción for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. This is the first time I visited this aldea and so, if I hadn’t had a friend with me, I’d have landed somewhere up in the middle of nowhere.

As I preached on the Gospel of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, I mentioned how Mary carried Jesus in her womb to her cousin and the child, John the Baptist, in Elizabeth’s womb.

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All of a sudden I realized that I had been bearing Jesus to these people, bearing Jesus in the Eucharist. This became even clearer to me when I returned to Plan Grande and visited a gravely ill eighty-one-year-old woman. The woman was barely conscious, but opened her eyes as I prayed. I had a consecrated host with me, since I went directly to the house of Doña Raimunda. I didn’t give her communion but still, in some sense, I bore Jesus with me.

This is the mystery of bringing Communion to the sick or to distant communities. We are following in the footsteps of Mary who brought Jesus to her cousin.

Even if we don’t bring Communion to the sick or to distant communities, all of us can bear Jesus to others as Mary did – coming to serve her cousin, a person in need.

Merton and Barth

On December 11, 1968, I woke up in my dorm room at the university of Scranton to see the New York Times cover. On the front page were the opening paragraphs of two obituaries – Thomas Merton and Karl Barth who had died on the previous day. The world had lost a great Protestant theologian and a great Catholic monk and spiritual guide.

Though Merton felt closer theologically to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he had an appreciation for Barth, whom he quoted several times in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. As he noted in the preface:

I simply record ways in which theologians like Barth have entered quite naturally and easily into my personal and monastic reflections, indeed, into my own Christian world-view. To put it plainly, the book attempts to show how in actual fact a Catholic monk is able to read Barth and identify with him in much the same way as he would read a Catholic author like Maritain—or indeed a Father of the Church.

Merton notes that Barth played Mozart every morning before writing, perhaps – speculates Merton – “unconsciously seeking to awaken, perhaps, the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself, the central wisdom that comes in tune with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, yes, even by eros.” Or, as Barth himself wrote, ““it is a child, even a ‘divine’ child, who speaks in Mozart’s music to us.”

Merton suggests that it is not theology that will save us but the encounter as a child with Christ.

And so I wonder how Merton and Barth would greet each other in the presence of God. I think Merton would repeat what he wrote:

“Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation.”

And so we are called to be as little children, approaching the Lord who loves us.

The world does not want to cry

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Happy are those who weep, for they will be consoled.

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Pope Francis, in Gaudete et Exsultate, 75-76, notes how the world wants to avoid crying at all costs. We seek diversions to escape from the pains and the sorrows around us. Not only do we seek to escape pain with medicine, drugs, and alcohol. We try to ignore the pain: Don’t worry; it will pass. We want to deny the suffering.

As Pope Francis says,

“The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed.”

We want a life without the cross. “But the cross can never be absent.” When we let the pain of others penetrate our hearts, we become “capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness.” We let the pain tear our hearts apart – opening them to the healing power of a God of love, who suffers with us.

Pope Francis is eloquent:

Those who open themselves to weep “are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.”

In such situations we learn and live what the English poet John Donne wrote in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions*:

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thine own, or of thine friend’s were. Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Sharing in the pain as Christ became human and shared in our pain is not easy. But I find that when I face the pain and others and try to be present – sometimes in silence, sometimes with an embrace – then I feel the power of God’s love among us, comforting us. In this way the distances between us, even the distances between enemies can be breached.

And even more.

“Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.”


*  Please excuse the non-inclusive language.