Tag Archives: emptying

God and the naked Indian

Three Franciscan sisters helped me on Friday and Saturday to do some formation for leaders of our youth groups and communities in the parish.

I had asked Sister Nancy to provide some different prayer experiences for the young people. One she led was an imaginative approach to our understanding of God. She began inviting us to visualize how God might be seen in a tree.

I almost immediately thought of a tree in my neighbor’s year, a tree that I can see clearly from my terrace. It is called “el indio desnudo,” “the naked Indian.’


The bark often peels away and reveals several beautiful colors.


Also, at various times during the year the leaves are touched with red or yellow tints.


It is a beautiful tree – especially at some hours in the morning when the rising sun shines through the leaves and highlights the bark.


But, reflecting afterword in a small group, I recognized that God, the naked Indian, is deeply engrained in my spirituality.

God comes among us as a poor man. He emptied himself and revealed himself in the simple. He is the God who became vulnerable. He becomes the naked Indian.

There is also a further sense that the glory of Jesus is revealed when the bark is stripped away, revealing the glory beneath.

A second part of the meditation was to consider what tree I am. I identified immediately with “el indio desnudo,” but a smaller tree than God. As I reflected later I recalled the call to become vulnerable, to let myself be stripped of pretensions and more.

This all brings me back to a passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-8) that shapes my life:

Have the same sentiment and wisdom as Jesus, the Messiah:
being in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God a something to be clung to;
but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave;
being found in the likeness of humans,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death,
even death on a cross.

The self-emptying God has become a naked Indian with all that means, because in many parts of Central America the native people are despised and the term “Indio” is used to express disdain.

Jesus comes among us as the despised naked Indian – and call us to be like Him.

As I finished writing this reflection I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton from his essay, “A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra Concerning Giants,” in  Emblems of a Season of Fury:

The tourist never meets anyone, never encounters anyone, never finds the brother in the stranger. This is his tragedy, . . .
So the tourist drinks tequila, and thinks it is no good, and waits for the fiesta he has been told to wait for. How should he realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesus.





Sending the rich away empty

God casts down the mighty from the thrones
and raises the lowly,
fills the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty.
Luke 1: 52-53

DSC04679When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, she broke into the song we call the Magnificat. This hymn, rooted in the hymn of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, is a revolutionary call to recognize and live the Reign of God which has begun in this world with the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of a young poor woman from the backwoods hamlet of Nazareth.

Something new has happened: God has become flesh.

Something new can begin: human beings saved by God can begin to live in the light of the Reign of God.

“God sends the rich away empty,” Mary sings.

Now that’s a bit much for some of us who have more than we need – even if we are not super-rich. It’s really a challenge to those of us who live among the poor but with all the security of a US bank account, Social Security, and more.

But what might God be saying to us?

During my canonical retreat before ordination as a deacon, the retreat director led a session on Mary. Sometime later that day, I was praying the Magnificat when this insight came to me, which I quote from my notes:

You fill the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty
so that we may experience
the emptiness that you alone can fill,
with the emptying out of ourselves for others.

We who are rich need to be emptied out of all that keeps us safe and isolated from the precariousness of existence for so many in the world.

This became very clear to me the last week. I live a comfortable, uncomplicated life here in Honduras, with easy access to what I need. But this past week the village has been digging up the road to put in a sewage line before the road is paved. It’s a major inconvenience. I cannot park my car by the house. I have to find alternative places to park the car and walk ten minutes to the house.

Yesterday, I had to travel an alternative route to get to where I wanted to go. We were going to a nearby village to celebrate Mass on their feast day – anticipating the Assumption of Mary. The truck was full – with people and with the drinks for the meal after Mass.

But even this adventure proved to be a valuable lesson in the vision of the Reign of God. Isaias helped me find a back way out of Plan Grande. But we got stuck in the mud and even four-wheel drive wasn’t enough. So almost everyone got out of the truck and tried pulling and pushing. No luck.  Sure enough, about five men from nearby came and pushed and pulled the truck. We proceeded to Mass but, as I look back, I realized that act of being pushed and pulled by the poor was also a sign of God’s presence and what God wants for us.

May God continue to empty me of my attempts to be self-sufficient and move me to serve at the table of the poor.

The photo was taken in the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

Called to serve

A few days ago Padre German asked me what reading from the New Testament I would like for today’s Mass. He will be installed as pastor of the Dulce Nombre de María parish and I will be accepted as a candidate for the diaconate.

The one he had thought of was 1 Timothy 3: 8-11 which lists the requisites for the deacon: “deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

It’s a good passage – and a good guide for an examination of conscience for a potential deacon. But I asked Padre German to use another reading.

First of all, if that reading were used some might think that was being ordained a deacon at this Mass. That is about a year down the road – God willing.

I prefer Philippians 2: 5-11, Paul’s hymn to the self-emptying Christ.

For me, the self-emptying of Christ and his becoming a slave are central to my understanding of what it would mean for me to be a deacon.

The deacon is, as I see him, the person in the shadows, looking at the needs of others and bringing them to the People of God.

The deacon is the one who empties self of all that keeps one self-centered and self-contained. The deacon allows one’s self to be emptied so that God and God’s people might find a place there.

As I write these words I recall the event that moved me to come here to Honduras, to “serve those most in need.”

During a service trip to New Orleans with one resident and fourteen students parishioners from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, we emptied out the house of an African-American grandmother as she stood by.

As we emptied out that house, something was emptied out of me so that I could open myself to a new calling – serving God and the People of God, especially the poor, in Honduras.

And so today I ask God to give me the grace to be emptied of all that keeps me from being open and available for God and God’s people.

Choosing the self-emptying God

He emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness.
Philippians 2: 7

For many years the hymn in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians has moved me to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation.

We have a God who does not cling to an exalted notion of being God. Jesus empties himself, becoming human. He comes as a human in a poor country, occupied by the Roman Empire, and is born in poverty.

It is, I think, fitting that this is the first reading in the Catholic lectionary today, Election Day in the United States.

Who is the God that will influence our choices – both personal and as a nation? Our choices may reflect our image of God.

Will we choose a God who is poor and sides with them? Or do we want a god who gives us material riches?

Will we choose a God who is humble? Or do we want a god who lords it over all the nations: “we’re number one”?

Will we choose a God who is full of love and who seeks the Truth? Or do we want a god according to our own image, distorting the truth?

Will we choose a God who is self-emptying, out of love? Or do we want a god who exalts himself over others, using power to coerce other nations and peoples?

I know that all our electoral choices are contingent and no candidate is adequate. No candidate will bring in the Reign of God – that’s God’s work, with our cooperation.

But how we choose our elected officials reflects which God we worship.

I pray the US chooses remembering Jesus, the self-emptying God who loves everyone, especially the poor.

As Psalm 22: 25 says:

He has never despised
nor scorned the poverty of the poor.
From them he has not hidden his face.
but he heard the poor when they cried.

If that’s what God does, shouldn’t we do the same.