Sometimes we think Jesus is speaking about the sun, the stars, the moon, and the planets. That might be so, but might he be talking about those who set themselves up as powers on earth. After all, many peoples have made the sun, the moon, the planets into gods, into powers that control the fortunes of people.
Might Jesus be saying that the kingdoms of this world will pass away – and that is not a bad thing. But what must replace them?
The coming of the Son of Man to establish a different Reign, a different kingdom.
Perhaps it’s the vision of the prophet Daniel,
““But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
May we be those who lead the many to justice and shine like stars forever.
Before Mass in San Agustín, I sat on the side steps of the church and was near tears. During Mass, I felt a heaviness. But, most of all, I felt helpless, powerless.
In the past few weeks, I have been sent by the pastor on two occasions to baptize kids – one four years old and one six years old, who were leaving the next day with their fathers on the long and treacherous trek to the United States.
In the last week, I heard of two cases of relatives of people in the parish who have been kidnapped in Mexico and were being held for an outrageous ransom. At one point, I embraced, prayed, and cried with the parents, wife, and sister of one of the men.
In the last few weeks, I also came into contact with family members of migrants who had died in the US and whose bodies were being returned for burial here. One was a 16 year old who drowned, the other was a man in his late twenties who was shot and killed.
On Sunday morning, I went for a Celebration of the Word with Communion in a distant village. I had brought Communion to several people there and asked about one of them. They told me he had died ten days before – just three months short of his hundredth birthday. I had visited him and his wife, who died not too long ago. I also had a scare a few months ago when I went to visit him and found him outside on the patio. He didn’t seem to be breathing and I feared he had died. Some relatives came and we got him to bed. He recovered a bit but was still very weak. Yet he died after collapsing while walking just outside his house.
After the Celebration, I visited a man in his early thirties who needs some serious treatment for some brain injuries; he had a drainage valve inserted years ago, but he needs another operation soon. The costs are astronomic for a poor family but people in his village and others raised about $400. But one day a man came and stole the money.
Just last week, another young man in another village, also with serious brain damage, died in a hospital in San Pedro Sula.
All this weighed heavily on me as I waited for Mass.
I realized that I felt powerless, impotent, useless. But I also remembered that St. Paul speaks about God’s strength being made perfect in our weakness.
As a gringo, I want to always solve things, to get things done (usually in the way I want to get them done.) But so many times here I’ve found myself powerless.
But then I remembered the powerlessness of the people and the powerful words of Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford, who was martyred in El Salvador in 1980:
“Am I willing to suffer with the people here, the suffering of the powerless, the feeling impotent. Can I say to my neighbors — I have no solutions to the situation, I don’t know the answers, but I will walk with you, be with you. Can I let myself be evangelized by this opportunity? Can I look at and accept my own poorness and learn from other poor ones?”
My heart was heavy as I drove home from San Agustín after Mass. A few hours later, I called Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, a good friend who serves here in Gracias, Lempira (and has served God’s people in Chile, El Salvador, the US, and as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious when they were experiencing pressure and possible censure from the Vatican). We talked. Sharing what I was feeling and listening to her words of encouragement helped me to recognize that being here, even when feeling totally powerless and useless, is what God wants from me.
As I reflect on this tonight, the vigil of the Transfiguration of the Lord, there are two thoughts.
I like Dove dark chocolate pieces, partly because they are good dark chocolate and are the right size for a quick snack. The wrapper has a short saying on the inside. A few years ago, the wrapper said, “You are where you are meant to be.” That made sense to me and I have it on a small white board I have in the kitchen.
A few years later, I came across this quote from the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Blessed Miguel (Michal) Tomaszek, who was martyred in Peru on August 9, 1991.
“You are not where you are now to understand the world, but to understand what the will of God is for you. It is a matter of being where you are supposed to be.”
I am where I am supposed to be.
But being here is a way that God can purge me, humble me, empty me.
A few days after arriving in Honduras in 2007, I came across this passage from Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who was for many years superior general of the Jesuits and had to suffer powerlessness after a stroke. (It is found in Pedro Arrupe: Selected Writings, p. 85.)
…what a missionary must be ready to undergo in a foreign country is highly instructive. To find oneself alone in a great city, without a single friend or acquaintance, without provision of any kind, whether it be physical equipment or the support and security one derives from ordinary human relationships; to be poor even as far as language is concerned, unable to express oneself, to tell people what one is, what one knows; always to be in a position of inferiority, a child just learning to speak, contemptuously dismissed in every discussion, painfully aware of the poor impression one is always making, and of the pity, or else the hostility, with which one is regarded – all this brings home to a person better than empty theorizing what poverty, in the radical sense of dis-possession, really means. Not only does it take away external attachments, it makes one truly humble of heart; for to be poor is to be humiliated, and it is from being humiliated that one learns humility.
But I can do this because we have a God whose strength is in his weakness, who, “being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be held onto; instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.… He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 6-8).
Humility is a hard lesson to learn, especially for someone as hard-headed and privileged as I am. But Jesus opens the way for us, by taking on the way himself and putting in our path the poor who teach us the wealth of a poverty that calls us to empty ourselves, to let ourselves be broken open by the poor and to sit and cry with them – crying out to this God who hears the cries of the poor.
Tomorrow I return home – to Honduras. I’ve been in the United States since May 19. This may have been the longest time I’ve been in the US since 2007.
I came, first of all, to renew my Iowa driver’s license. I looked at my license in April and realized it expired June 1. I have a Honduran driver’s license, but that won’t work when I visit the US or other countries.
When I decided to go back to the US (and found the airfares very inexpensive), I considered getting the Corona virus vaccine. Knowing that I’d probably have to spend three or four weeks between doses, I originally thought of flying back to Honduras and then returning for the shot. A good friend dissuaded me from this idea and suggested I take a retreat.
With another friend’s help, I got an appointment to get a new driver’s license and the new card has arrived before i leave. I was able to get an appointment for the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine two days after arriving here and got the second dose last Friday. I also found that my debit card had expired last year and was able to update it.
I also had time to go back and visit at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and the Iowa State campus.
I stayed with friends who were kind enough to lend me a car for the whole time. I also enjoyed a beautiful sunset one night from their back porch.
I served as deacon twice at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, where I had served as a campus minister for almost 24 years. The first Sunday (Pentecost), the twin daughters of some dear friends were baptized during Mass.
I had time to visit with some friends, eat some great meals (including asparagus and rhubarb which are treats this time of year.) I’ve put on a few pounds but decided on an exercise regimen when I get back home.
I’ve had some really great conversations, especially with a friend as he showed me a just planted grove of trees on his farm that will be a place of prayer. Returning from my retreat, I had a great morning and afternoon with a friend and his family; he had stayed with me while studying English and is now living in Perry. It was great to see him, especially since he had suffered a severe case of COVID-19. Last night, I had a great evening with another family who have five girls, including twins who will be one year old in a week.
I also was able to go through some of the stuff I have stored in Ames. I managed to give away almost five boxes of books. I also found some photos that I didn’t know I had and was able to send them to cousins. I found two photos of my cousin in her habit; she is a St. Joseph Sister and hasn’t worn the habit for decades. Talking with her, she told me she had not seen these photos.
I also came across some memorabilia from the month I left for Honduras in 2007, including this interesting (and humbling) acrostic of my name.
But, in many ways, the greatest gift was the retreat.
I found an eight-day retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. It was arranged by Creighton’s Christian Spirituality Program and the directors were advanced students in their program. Eight days of silence with personal spiritual direction session each day were what I needed. I also happened to pick up Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, which I highly recommend. I also did a lot of walking on the beautiful grounds of the center.
The retreat was intense, after the months of seclusion during the early pandemic and feels of being isolated and being out of the loop. Sometimes my ruminations continued after I tried to get to sleep (which wasn’t easy since the sun doesn’t go down here until after 9 pm during this time of the year.)
One night, May 31, the day before my birthday. I decided I needed to do something different than go over my life and try to figure things out. Nouwen suggests that the way to go through the resentment of the older son in the parable is the double road of thanksgiving and trust. So, obviously inspired, I decided to name people in my life and give thanks to God for them.
I don’t know how much time I did this before I fell asleep, but when I woke up twice during the night, I returned to the practice and added more names. When I got up, more people came to mind. During my hour of spiritual direction, I remembered more. I still find myself adding people, even those I have been in conflict with or who have caused me pain.
Before noon, on June 1, I spent some time in the chapel and went through my life chronologically, remembering people.
This remembering of persons in my life and giving thanks for them was a gift that was healing.
I have a great devotion to the saints and rejoice in being surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses – from Mary to Saint Oscar Romero, from Saints Francis and Clare to Saint Benedict the Black.
A few years ago, I began to write the names of people in need or who have died in a book in my prayer room at home, so that I am surrounded by the people in need.
But now I have a new circle that I am aware of – and grateful for: the people I have come across in my life. Their presence has enriched me, has helped me become who I am.
I remember with joy people like Fr. Regis Duffy, OFM, who was a high teacher, and with whom I stayed in contact until a year or two before his death. (Going through stored files, I found a few notes he had sent me.)
I even remember a painful situation when I was working in Ames which led me to seek spiritual direction and a short period of therapy; any resentment I had against those responsible for my pain at that time is fading away.
I even reconnected with some folks. A woman who as a teenager had been part of the St. Thomas Charity, Justice and Peace commission, came up to me after Mass last. A friend whom I haven’t heard from in years sent me an e-mail (which I still have to respond to).
We are surrounded by people who are gifts of God to us, even if they cause us grief.
As I close this reflection, I call to mind the famous epiphany of Thomas Merton at Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, which he writes about in his diaries as well as in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. As he wrote in the latter:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness….
“It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.
“I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.…
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….”
It is not easy to maintain this, in the midst of the hassles of daily life, but I now have another discipline to add to my spiritual life – remembering the people who have been part of my life. I need to recall that “they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
May we all shine – grateful for life, grateful for friends, grateful to God for life.
Towards the poor and lowly he felt a special compassion. He aided them in many ways – comforting them in their trials, instructing them in their religion, and dispensing material alms. A superior once warned him against being too generous to loafers who came to the monastery door; Paschal answered: “I give the alms for the love of God, and who knows whether Christ Himself might not be found among these needy brethren?”
He is another of the holy porters who found Christ in those who came to the door. I wrote about them in a previous post. They included the US Capuchin priest Blessed Solanus Casey, the Canadian Holy Cross Brother Saint André Bessette, the Dominican Saint Juan Macias, and the Spanish Jesuit brother Saint Alfonso Rodríguez.
Their holy hospitality embraced the poor as Christ. They lived the admonition in the Letter to the Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have entertained angels unaware.”
There is a story I read long ago. I don’t know if it was about Saint Paschal, but it seems to fit his character. One day he was praying in his cell and Christ appeared to him. But someone rang the doorbell. He was reluctant to leave Jesus but went. When he returned he found Jesus there. The Lord told him that He would have left if the saint had not gone to see the poor person at the door.
This story reminds me that not only is hospitality an important virtue for us deacons – and for all followers of Christ. We are also called to be available, ready to respond to the needs of those around us. Their calls are not interruptions but the call of God.
Christ is found in the Eucharist but also in the poor at our doorsteps.
That’s a hard message but all too important and saints like Paschal Baylon provide us examples.
May we be like Saint Paschal and all the other holy porters, attentive to the Eucharist and the poor where we can find Christ the Lord.
(Image of art work of Hank and Karen Schlau, found at this site.)
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.
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.“
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.
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…
“The modern saints by Gracie” facebook page has asked people to share their prayer corner. Here are two photos of the place where I pray in a small room set apart in my house here in Plan Grande, Concepción, Copán, Honduras,
On the upper left is the San Damiano Cross mounted on a piece of wood. I Huntington, Indiana, I mounted it on a piece of wood from St. Feliz Friary. In the mid-1970s, they were doing some renovations of the sanctuary and I believe this may have been part of an altar rail. I cherish this because Blessed Solanus Casey, OFM Cap, had lived in that friary,
On the upper right is a cross I put up composed of pieces of paper with laments. I did this about the beginning of March this year, in light of the pandemic.
In the center is an original icon of Mary and Jesus, written by Yaroslav Surmach Mills.
The image of Saint Francis was a gift from Assisi from my former pastor who died a few years ago from cancer.
The image of Saint John the Baptist is the first icon I had. I purchased it at Mount Saviour Monastery, near Elmira, New York, which was the place where I returned to the practice of the faith in the early 1970s, after about a year alienated from the church.
On the far left is an angel which I purchased in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I believe it is in the style of the nearby Missions.
On the far right is an icon of Saint Oscar Romero, whose beatification and canonization I was blessed to attend.
In front of the icon of Mary and Jesus there are four small pieces.
There is a piece of the Berlin Wall which a couple I know gave me after their visit to Berlin.
There is a piece of a tile of a house in Hiroshima which was a gift from Sister Mary Evelyn Jegen, a sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who was a co-founder of Pax Christ USA and whom I knew from the board of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
There is a piece of what I think is a small bone (or olive pit) which I found under an olive tree in Lydda, Palestine – now in Israel. A friend’s mother and grandparents (Orthodox Christians) had lived there until they were forced out in 1948.
About 2001 I participated in a Mass in a small unfinished chapel in Los Leones, Canton Platanares, outside Suchitoto, El Salvador. There, on July 24, 1980, the seminarian Othmaro Cáceres and twelve young people with him were murdered by a death squad.
At the front is a wooden cross, made locally from a cross I purchased in the Pauline Sisters’ shop in New York City a few years ago. We had copies made to give to the sick, since the cross fits comfortably int he hand.
Around the cross is a thirty three bead “rosary” which I use for praying the Jesus Prayer each morning.
A small angel and a small dove were gifts from two young women I worked with when I was a campus minister in Ames, Iowa.
[Ephrem] remained a deacon all his life, and to escape episcopal consecration he is supposed to have feigned madness. Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J.
Ordained a deacon late in life, St. Ephrem the Syrian declined the priesthood and escaped being ordained a bishop by pretending to be mentally disturbed.
I like him for that. He did not seek higher “rank” within the Church, finding his service as a deacon – as a servant – as his calling, his vocation. The diaconate as a permanent state is something that many people here in Honduras don’t understand – even some clergy. They are so accustomed to the diaconate as something transitional – and therefore not as important.
Saint Ephrem distinguished himself in many ways. He wrote commentaries on much of scripture and was renowned for his preaching – so much so that he was called the Harp of the Holy Spirit. He is also acknowledged as a Doctor of the Church, the only deacon so named.
As a deacon, he instructed the people in the faith with words but also with songs. He knew the value of music and how it forms us. About 500 of his hymns survive and some are still used in the Syriac liturgy.
He came to write some of his hymns – and set them to popular melodies – in response to a Gnostic sect that set its teaching to such melodies. He had no qualms in taking secular tunes to sue for his hymns. His hymns were often sung in church by a choir of women!
The liturgy was very important to Saint Ephrem, but he did not neglect charity. Though he lived in a cave outside Edessa, he did not separate himself completely from the world. In fact, a few months before he died he organized a major relief effort for famine victims. He left his cave and went to help the victims, because the people asked him to oversee the distribution of grain because they trusted no one else with the task.
He was a diakonos, a servant of the Word, the Altar, and Charity. What all deacons should be.
I especially treasure his prayers.
He wrote a prayer which is used during Lent among Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox and which expresses the spirituality of a servant of God:
O Lord and Master of my Life, give me not a spirit of sloth, lust for power, and idle talk. But give me, your servant, a spirit of charity, humility, patience, and love. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not judge another, for blessed are you forever.
There is not madness in such a prayer – but much wisdom.
In 1975 I encountered another prayer. I had sent a donation to the Catholic Worker and received a thank you card back. On it is written this prayer, taken from Helen Waddell’s Desert Fathers:
Sorrow on me, beloved! that I unapt and reluctant in my will abide, and behold winter hath come upon me and the infinite tempest hath found me naked and spoiled and with no perfecting of good in me. I marvel at myself, O my beloved, how I daily default and daily do repent; I build up for an hour and an hour overthrows what I have builded. At evening I say, tomorrow, I will repent, but when morning comes, joyous I water the day. Again at evening I say, I shall keep vigil all night and I shall entreat the Lord to have mercy on my sins. But when night is come I am full of sleep. Behold, those who received their talent along with me, strive by day and night to trade with it, that they may win the word of praise and rule ten cities. But I in my sloth hid mine in the earth and my Lord makes haste to come, and behold my heart trembles and I weep the day of my negligence and know not what excuse to bring. Have mercy upon me, thou who alone are without sin, and save me, who alone art merciful and kind.
I still have that card and occasionally pray this prayer. I keep the card in a book of the Grail translation of the psalter, at Psalm 51, the psalm of repentance.
In many ways, his service of the Altar with his hymns, his service of the Word with his preaching and commentaries, and his service of Charity with his care for famine victims and others exemplify what a deacon is and what a deacon does.
Saint Ephrem, pray for all deacons and all God’s people.