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Joseph – just, docile, free

Joseph, the silent actor, was just, docile, and free.

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Today, because March 19 fell on a Sunday, we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Yesterday, however, we celebrated the feast of Saint Joseph in the village of San José Quebraditas, where I preached.

There is very little in the Gospels about Joseph. We never hear a word he might have spoken. He is the silent witness of the Incarnation of the Son of God. But he listens – even to dreams – and acts.

In the Gospel for the feast, Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a, we hear of a man who is just, docile, and free.

Matthew calls Joseph a “just man” or, as some translations put it, a “righteous man.” Joseph is just with the justice of God – not with a merely human justice.

The merely human justice of the law of his day would have condemned Mary to death by stoning – as an adulteress. But Joseph had already chosen a different kind of justice, the justice of mercy and compassion. He had planned to put her away privately.

But Joseph was also docile to the call of God. In a dream an angel calls him to take Mary as his wife. Joseph had proposed a good thing for Mary, but God calls his to go further. Joseph is open to God’s call; he is docile, teachable, and so takes on his role as guardian of Jesus, the Son of God make flesh. For Joseph, his pray to God is not “my will be done,” but “thy will be done.”

In all this we find a free man. Joseph was not so tied to his own ideas that he could not give them up to the dreams of God. Joseph was not so bound by his own culture or his own plans that he could not let God change his plans and move him to respond in an unexpected, loving, and free way to God’s call to change his plans. Joseph is free. As Father Alfred Delp, SJ, wrote from a Nazi prison, “Without complaint he lets his own plans be set aside.”

We would do well to imitate Joseph – the just, docile, and free person who listens and acts.


The photo was taken on March 19, 2017, in San José Quebraditas, Concepción, Copán, Honduras.

The quote from Father Alfred Delp, SJ, comes from The Prison Meditations of Father Delp  and is also found in Alfred Delp, SJ: Prison Writings,  p. 63.

 

Restoring the Samaritan woman to community

Many people in the world – mostly women – get up early and go to the community well or water spigot to gather water. I remember, when I spent several months in rural El Salvador, Esteban calling out very early, “Get up. It’s time to fetch water.”

Several months later, the community had a common spigot. I remember the first day that water came. People were lined up with their colorful water jugs, waiting in line, at the tap.

Fetching water is a communal event. The people, almost exclusively women, gather at the well or the community spigot in the cool of the morning to fetch water and to share the news (and the gossip) of the community.

Woman at the Well

in the Vatican Museum

And so in today’s Gospel (John 4) it is strange to find the Samaritan woman coming alone in the heat at noon. Something was wrong.

And then she encounters a solitary Jew.

Can you imagine her consternation when he addresses her and asks for water? The Jews despised and looked down on the Samaritans and considered themselves superior in many ways – not least of all in their religion. And he is a man and men do not talk in public to women.

Yet Jesus initiates contact with this woman who was probably alienated from her village. After all she had had five husbands. Perhaps she comes to the well alone and at noon to avoid the condemning looks and the remarks of the other women.

But a Jewish man does not command her to give him water but, as one in need, asks for a drink.

A spirited conversation follows and Jesus offers her living water.

How long had she come alone to fetch water? How long had she endured being marginalized? How long had she felt shame for her situation?

Perhaps she was tired of all this and when Jesus offers her living water, she realizes the deep thirst within her that cannot be sated by coming to the well or by her five former husbands or the man she’s now living with.

Jesus opens her up to her deepest thirst, her deepest desire.

The water Jesus gives her is different. It is the water that quenches our deepest desires, our deepest thirsts. But more than that, Jesus notes

the water I shall give will become in [the person] a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

It is not a water merely from the outside; it is a water that opens up a spring in our very hearts, where we can worship God in spirit and in truth.

And what does this water do for us? Note what this gift of water did for the woman.

She left behind her water jug and goes into town.

She leaves behind the sign of her lonely struggle to satisfy her own thirst on her own terms. She goes and tells the people about the Messiah she has experienced.

She is no longer isolated. She is an apostle, a missionary to her people. The one who had been an outcast becomes the one who brings news of great joy.

And then she returns to the well – not alone but with the people of the village.

A stream of living water is flowing out of her, watering her neighbors who no longer look on her as an outcast, but join her in going out to meet this Jesus, who satisfies our thirsts.

And when they encounter Jesus, they too have their thirsts satisfied and find in themselves springs of that living water.

We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.

May we recognize our thirsts and our ways of trying to satisfy them. Even more let us open our thirst to receive the living water, and let that Living Water of Jesus flood our hearts so that we too may find in ourselves “the spring of living water that wells up to eternal life” and share it with all who thirst for real Water.

How long will you be here?

I came to Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, in June 2007.

Before I came, some people in the US asked me how long I planned to be there. My response was, “Until God calls me somewhere else.”

For the first couple of years here, people kept asking me, “How long will you be here?” My response was “Hasta que Dios quiere” – “As long as God wants.”

Now I am seldom asked that question, since I’ve been around for so long and now I have a house in Plan Grande. But it is still something I need to ask myself.

But now as an ordained permanent deacon, I am tied to Honduras, specifically to the Church in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. And so it is easier to say that I am here until I die or God calls me elsewhere.

Patrick copyThis was brought home to me this morning, reading a passage from Saint Patrick’s Confessions found in Vigils of Benedictine Daily Prayer. I felt that Saint Patrick was specking for me:

“I am ready, if found worthy, to lay down my life gladly and without hesitation for His sake, and I desire to spend it here until death if the Lord grant me that wish.”

That is my prayer – if God wills it.

I desire to spend my life serving in the Church for and with the poor

This is so especially when I have these morning visitors: chorchas – orioles.

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The economy kills Lazarus

There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen, who dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his gate was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores. He longed to feed himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
Luke 16:19-21

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The poor have names in the Kingdom of God. In the kingdom of money and power, we have the rich and famous. But with God, things are very different.

It is so easy to just dismiss the poor as a group and forget that they are real people, with names, with lives, with families. It is also so easy to fail to realize that an economy, the structures of an unjust economy that is based on inequality rather than solidarity, kills. An economy based on arms kills.

To help us make this real, I suggest we make our own the exercise that Bishop Robert McElroy shared with the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements on February 18, this year:

Now, when I quote the Pope that “this economy kills,” people very often say to me, “Oh come on, that’s just an exaggeration; it’s a form of speech.”
I want to do an experiment with you. I want you to sit back in your chair for a moment. And close your eyes, and I want you to think of someone you have known that our economy has killed: A senior who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is dying, working two and three jobs, really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids; young people who can’t find their way in the world in which there is no job for them, and they turn to drugs, and gangs and suicide. Think of one person you know that this economy has killed.
Now mourn them.
And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills.

——

The full text of Bishop McElroy’s astounding speech can be found on the San Diego Diocesan site here as well as here in Rose Berger’s blog..

The tamed ass of Palm Sunday

JesusDonkeyPalmToday I led a workshop for the catechists in Zone 4 of the parish. I do like this zone a lot because there are many catechists who have caught our vision of participative catechesis, that helps the children and youth encounter Christ – and not just memorize “facts” about the faith.

I decided to spend part of the time on helping the catechists develop new ways to use the Bible in their classes. I was in for a surprise – and a lesson.

I decided to use the Gospel accounts of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in a communal Ignatian contemplation approach, promoting the use of the imagination. Before we started I explained the use of our senses in imaginatively encountering Christ in the Gospels.

I read three accounts of the events of Palm Sunday, starting with Luke 19: 29-40, followed by Mark and Matthew – leaving time between the readings for prayer and imaginative contemplation. After the last period of silence, I invited them to share what it meant to them in groups of two or three. Then I opened up the prayer to sharing in the group.

Two young men had noted something that I had barely noticed. In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples are told they will find a donkey, a filly, a young ass – πῶλον, “on which no one has ever sat.”

They told me how they were first afraid – as Jesus was about to mount the donkey. If no one has ever mounted a donkey, the donkey will be very frisky and will try to throw the person off. It needs to be broken in before one can safely ride on a young filly. It is dangerous to try to ride on a donkey on which no one has ever sat. You need to get someone to break in the burro before you can ride it or use it to carry burdens.

They found themselves afraid for Jesus.

But then Jesus mounted the donkey and it was as gentle as could be – even carrying him over palms and mantles, in the midst of a noisy crowd, crying out “Hosanna!”

They were amazed.

I was amazed at this incredible insight that most of us who read the scriptures never notice. Jesus rides on a donkey that has not been broken in. In fact, in his gentleness he tames the beast.

Later I spoke with the two men and we reflected that in the Garden of Eden the animals were tame. But when sin comes into the world, we have situations in which donkeys will try to unseat anyone who tries to sit on them. But Jesus, restoring creation to its state of peace before the fall, can sit on this beast that has become tame.

Jesus tames us with his gentleness. He restores peace with his presence.

Later in the workshop I had the catechists break into three groups and work on the Palm Sunday story in three ways – drawings, retelling the story in their own words, and drama.

I ended up making an ass of myself in the drama!

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Significantly I ended the workshop with Matthew 11: 25-30 that begins with this verse:

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, but revealed them to the simple people.

 

Am I graced!

Spiritual exercises with Saint Teresa of Avila

DSC01682Last week the Salvadoran Carmelite bishop of Chaltenango led the spiritual exercises for the clergy of diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. Monseñor Oswaldo Escobar, O.C.D., was a breath of fresh air, sharing his understanding of the spirituality of Saint Teresa of Avila.

He began the first night with two questions:

“Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

“What are you seeking?” (John 1: 38)

And he noted the request of the apostles:

“Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)

And it got better throughout the week as he shared with us his understanding of St. Teresa.

He spoke of prayer as the relationship of friendship with God that needs the virtues of love, humility, and detachment.

He noted that in getting to know ourselves, it is important to remember that God enhances (engrandecer) the human condition; he does not denigrate it! We should not begin with sin.

This fits in with a passage from one of my favorite canticles in Evening Prayer (Ephesians 1: 4)

God chose us in Christ,
before the foundation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight,
to be full of love.

There was so much more. I need to read the articles he shared and the notes I made. It was exactly what I needed at the beginning of Lent this year.

Thanks be to God.


If you can read Spanish, you can find links to pdfs of his writings here. The retreat was largely based on these articles:

“Las conversiones teresianas y su discernimiento”
“Las falsa paz en los orantes”
“Conocimiento propio según Santa Teresa de Jesús”
“Los deseos según Santa Teresa de Jesús”

ARE WE BEING TRANSFIGURED?

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed in his divinity – with Moses and Elijah – before three close apostles.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians (2: 6-7), Jesus did not grasp on to his divinity, but humbled himself to take on our humanity.

During the Offertory of the Mass, as water is added to the wine, the priest or deacon prays

By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.

The transfiguration should remind us that we are called to God’s life, divinity, which is our deepest nature – made, as we are, in the image and likeness of God.

Today as we contemplate Jesus transfigured on the mountain, we should recall that God calls us to be transfigured – and to be present with God in the transfiguration of all creation.

Today we also remember the martyrdom on March 12, 1977 – forty years ago – of a good priest, an old man, and a boy on the road between Aguilares and El Paisnal in El Salvador. Padre Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit,  was killed because he sought the transfiguration of the people of El Salvador, especially the people of his parish.

But he sought not merely a transfiguration political or social, but a transfiguration of the whole person.

Almost seven years before his death he preached a sermon in the San Salvador cathedral on the feast of the Transfiguration. With many people present, including political leaders of the country he gave an impressive and strong homily.

He noted:

Christ our Savior came to save the entire person, to transfigure it in this sense into a new person, authentically free of all situations of sin and misery, self-determining and free to enjoy all the privileges of being a child of God, conquered by the triumph of the resurrection of Christ. This transfiguration of the person so conquered, proclaimed, and demanded by Christ and his followers has its starting point in baptism, the holy commitment of each baptized with the resurrected Christ.

We are transfigured in our baptism, called to live a transfigured life.

But this was not for Padre Grande only something personal, least of all individualistic. He probed deeper:

And so we return to the question: Is the Salvadoran person transfigured?
Is the immense majority of the Salvadoran people, represented by our peasants, transfigured?
Is the minority transformed, the one that has in its hands all the economic power, decision-making power, control of the media, and means of communication?
There must be some painful confessions.
Many baptized in this country have not accepted the demands of the postulates of the Gospel that demand a transfiguration.
Therefore, those same people are not transfigured in their mind and in their heart and they put a dam of selfishness in front of the message of Jesus our Savior and the demanding voice of the official witnesses of Christ through the Church, the pope and his bishops!

As I look around me here in Honduras, I see many who are transfigured by their encounter with the Lord.

But what Padre Grande saw in El Salvador in 1970 I also see today in Honduras. I do not see a people transfigured. I see a people crushed under the weight of poverty and corruption. I see leaders who seek their own glory and don’t let the glory of God shine through in the people. I see a people despised by those with wealth and power who many times do not see their glory as children of God. I see a people who are treated as pawns in power struggles, handed “gifts” from party and government officials who only want their votes and do not want a people who think for themselves and seek to be the protagonists of their history.

This, for me, is evident today, primary election day in Honduras, a day where partisan politics takes a central place in the life of the nation. No public gatherings are allowed, but we will have Mass in several places.

Partisan politics here has taken on a role that the lack of real organization of the people has left empty. It has almost become a type of idolatry. I don’t see it transfiguring the people.

But I have hope since I see small signs of people who have been transfigured by their faith and are working quietly in the transfiguration of their communities.

This is the transfiguration Honduras needs and lacks.

And so I pray that as Christ came to share own humanity, we may share his divinity and live as children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus, transfigured.

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Painting in El Paisnal of Romero and Rutilio


The quotation from Rutilio Grande’s sermons was adapted from Thomas Kelly, Rutilio Grande, SJ: Homilies and Writings (Liturgical Press, 2015). The Spanish can be found in Romero-Rutilio: vids encontradas (UCA editores, 1992).