Tag Archives: prayer

Romero – prayer and the poor

Monseñor Romero was a man of prayer. It is said that when, as archbishop, he faced difficult decisions in the face of the violence and divisions in El Salvador, he could be found praying in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

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But his was not a spiritualized prayer, but a prayer rooted in the reality of the people he served, fully aware of their sufferings and of the injustice of society.

About a year after being named Archbishop of San Salvador, he shared these thoughts in his homily of February 5, 1978:

The guarantee of one’s prayer
is not in saying a lot of words.
The guarantee of one’s petitions
is very easy to know
– How do I treat the poor? –
because that is where God is.
The degree to which you approach them,
and the love with which you approach them,
or the scorn with which you approach them
– that is how you approach your God.
What you do to them, you do to God.
The way you look at them
is the way you look at God.

And so I ask myself: How do I look at the look? How do I interact with them?


 

The photo is of the chapel in the Divina Providencia Hospital in San Salvador where Monseñor Romero lived and was martyred on March 24, 1980.


 

Francis and encountering Jesus in silence

So often I think of St. Francis in terms of what he did. He tamed the wolf at Gubbio. He praised God for all creation. He lived as a poor man and cared for lepers. He was a man of peace who charmed even the Sultan.

But central to Francis was Someone – Jesus. Francis was nothing without this relationship.

Five years ago when I visited Assisi I spent a whole morning at the Carceri, the place above Assisi full of caves, where Francis and his early followers went to pray. There is a small room where once there was the cave of St. Francis, but there are still some caves. I sat for some time in the small chapel and, in the midst of visits of school kids, I found peace.

But I also found and entered the cave of Brother Masseo. I had to maneuver down steps with a bit of ice.

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I entered the small cave and went to the back.

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Looking out on the hillside, I had the sense that this was one of those thin places the Irish speak about, where the veil between heaven and earth is almost non-existent.

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There, in the silence, in the solitude, God is present – if we open ourselves to His loving presence.

At the center of the life of Francis of Assisi was the encounter with a God of love, an encounter nurtured by silence and prayer.

Sister Ilia Delio, in Compassion: Living the Spirit of Saint Francis, notes that this relationship was essential for Francis.

The key to Francis’ “ecological life” is relationship. Francis found himself to be an “I” in need of a “Thou” and realized that he could not be fully a person apart from being a brother. His relationship with God, rooted in a profound love of God and his acceptance of God’s love in his own life, changed the way he knew himself in relation to others. He took the commandment of Jesus to heart, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and realized that to love oneself, one must know oneself.

Out of that silence and prayer, the place of encounter with the living God, Francis and his companions could know who they were and live as the poor men of God and preach the Gospel.

I ask God to give me the grace of silence and prayer, so that I may better serve God and the poor.

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Saint Francis, help me open my heart to God and to the poor.

Rethinking Saint Michael

There are many dioceses in the US that are reinstituting the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel that was used for about eighty years at the end of low Masses.

Prayer, in the face of temptations, in the face of the assaults of the Accuser (Satan), are important and essential.

But I wonder if this is the right approach. I think there must first be a re-thinking of Saint Michael.

In many images of Saint Michael he is depicted as a white winged man with a sword, aimed at a dark-skinned devil at this feet. That hit me one day when our pastor, who is dark-skinned presided at Mass in the church of St. Michael in one of the villages of the parish.

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It makes me reflect on the racism that has plagued this continent (and other parts of the world) where white is holy and black is evil. What do dark-skinned or black people think and feel – consciously or unconsciously – with a white angel of good and a black angel of evil? In a classist and racist society as we have here in Honduras, it could be devastating.

Secondly, Michael often has a sword, about to strike the devil. Does he thus kill him? Does this unconsciously justify killing of enemies, demonizing them and thus making it easier to kill them.

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It also can lead to a self-righteousness that forgets the need for self-examination. It sets up two opposing parties, forgetting the wisdom that the Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, discovered while among Stalin’s prisoners, writing in The Gulag Archipelago, that

 “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains … an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”

In the biblical tradition, Saint Michael is invoked as protector of the people of God.

Megan McKenna, in Angels Unawares, noted how Monseñor Oscar Romero sought the protection of Saint Michael for his beleaguered and persecuted flock in El Salvador in the late 1970s:

Oscar Romero, the bishop of San Salvador, called on Michael the archangel as the defender of his diocese and people in their struggle for life. He proclaimed that San Miguel Archangel fights on their behalf and stands with them. His presence was and is summoned to defend all the sanctuaries, temples, churches and cathedrals of the land and all the people who gather there to praise God in the midst of violence and death. It is Michael, Romero said, who stands at the entrances to the churches and before their altars as guardian and protector of God’s own servants.

“We believe in what is seen and unseen and so rely on the presence of God’s angels to express and live out our faith. It is Michael who, with his great censor of smoking fire, offers to God all the supplications, prayers, works, sufferings and hopes of all the people and who defends us from danger and evil. Michael serves only God and bends to Jesus Christ and all who serve him. He has fought and stays with those who struggle to be faithful until once again all things will be subject to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God whose blood is testimony to our life. We are protected from the dragon and all that would seek to harm us—of this we are assured” (Romero, freely translated).

Maybe we also need to ask what are his weapons in defense of God’s people. What are the weapons of the spirit that will protect us? Truth, love, solidarity, justice, compassion? I hardly believe that we will be defended by attacking or, worse, killing or silencing our adversaries. They might actually be a positive challenge, calling us to conversion.

Thus I am concerned at the militarizing of the life of prayer. Prayer is a battle ground. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a converted soldier, did use the image of the two standards, but that is, as I understand it, to help us make a decision. Whose standard will we follow? Will it be the standard of the Cross, which to me appears to be a standard of self-giving love, not of violence against another.

Maybe, in place of the old St. Michael’s prayer we should the even older invocations of the St. Michael chaplet, cited in Megan McKenna’s work:

  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of seraphim, may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of cherubim, may the Lord vouchsafe to grant us the grace to leave the ways of wickedness and run in the paths of Christian perfection.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of thrones, may the Lord infuse into our hearts a true and sincere spirit of humility.
  • By the intercession of Michael and the celestial choir of dominions, may the Lord give us grace to govern our senses and subdue our unruly passions.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of powers, may the Lord vouchsafe to protect our souls against the snares and temptations of the devil.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of virtues, may the Lord preserve us from evil and suffer us not to fall into temptation.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of principalities, may God fill our souls with a true spirit of obedience.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of archangels, may the Lord give us perseverance in faith and all good works, in order that we gain the glory of paradise.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of angels, may the Lord grant us to be protected by them in this mortal life and conducted hereafter to eternal glory. Amen.

This prayer is directed at ourselves, not at others. It might be better, reminding us of the constant call to conversion. After all, Michael means “Who is like God?” Aren’t many of our troubles today in the church and in the world related to our temptation to look upon ourselves as gods, and not as servants of a God who became poor, emptying himself to live among us and handing himself over to be killed on the Cross.

Give me the poor Christ on the Cross instead of the soldier Michael.

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Persistence in the face of intransigence

Today is the feast of Saint Scholastica, sister (possibly twin sister) of Saint Benedict, the father of western monasticism. She is often consider the mother of Benedictines.

There is a beautiful story told by St. Gregory the Great in his Books of Dialogues, about her persistence.

Each year Benedict and Scholastica met for a day of prayer and discussion in a house near Benedict’s monastery. As a woman she was not permitted in the male monastery.

She had a premonition that she would soon die and so she asked her brother to stay the night and speak of the things of heaven. He said no; he had to return to the monastery, because of the Rule. She bowed her head and prayed. A huge storm came on and prevented Benedict from leaving.

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Benedict castigated her. But she calmly noted:

I asked you and you would not listen to me. So I asked my God and he listened.

St. Gregory notes that

“It ought not surprise us that the woman won out. John tells us that ‘God is Love.‘ It was inevitable that she who loved more would accomplish more.”

This story reminded me of something I read recently:

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

So let us too persist in prayer – in the face of intransigence.

Never lose heart

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The importance of praying always and never losing heart came alive for me this week.

This past week my prayers were dominated by concern for two friends and their newborn premature twins. One twin died soon after birth; the other struggled on for life for six days, finally falling asleep in the Lord last night.

I found myself astounded at the deep faith of Luisa and Jarrett whose prayer for their children left open the possibility of their passing on to the Lord. They had found the strength to pray, “Thy will be done.” I pray that God may continue to give them the comfort and courage they need.

But what also impressed me was the community of prayer and concern that arose. People were praying for them; people expressed their concern, their solidarity, their love. These are signs of the Reign of God.

I have been troubled by the bitter and abusive conversations in this election season. No, they are not conversations; they are accusations. They only provoke anger and fear and tear apart the fabric of a civil society.

But, in the midst of this, some of us experienced the presence of the God who brings people together – in love, in concern for the most vulnerable, in prayer.

Yes, the two newborns, Joseph and Matthew, have died, but a community of love was created around them and their parents and family.

May these types of communities grow and flourish – in the midst of times of fear and mistrust. May God be shown in our mutual love and support.

For this I pray – and, because of what I’ve witnessed in Luisa and Jarrett and the community that arose around them and their sons, now with the Lord, I have another sign of God’s presence to help me never lose heart.

 

A late diaconal vocation

Ordained a deacon late in life, St. Ephrem the Syrian declined the priesthood and escaped being ordained a bishop by feigning madness.

I like him. God willing, on July 15, I will be ordained a deacon late in life – 69 years old. And I will resist any efforts to being more than a diakonos, a servant.

13434782_1175030119187411_8094246067143087954_nI like Saint Ephrem for other reasons.

He instructed the people in the faith with words but also with songs. He knew the value of music and how it forms us. So he composed a number of hymns that are still used in the Syriac liturgy.

A month before his death he left his cave and went to help the victims of a terrible famine.

He was a diakonos, a servant of the Word, the Altar, and charity. What all deacons should be.

But what I most treasure from Saint Ephrem are his prayers, especially this one which I encountered in 1975.

I had sent a donation to the Catholic Worker and received a thank you card back. On it is written this prayer of St. Ephrem, 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.

As I prepare for ordination as a permanent deacon, I think I need to pray this prayer even more. For even though some will say at the ordination day that “He is worthy,” I know that I am in continual need of the mercy of God who alone makes us worthy.


Another blog post on Saint Ephrem, with his Lenten prayer, can be found here.

Image taken from a Facebook post of the Catholic Peace Fellowship.

 

 

 

A prayer, facing Lazarus

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores…
Luke 16: 19-20

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Lord, give me eyes to see the poor and needy around me.

Lord, give me ears to hear the cries for help and assistance.

Lord, give me a tongue to speak words of comfort to those in need and words of challenge to us who have all we need.

Lord, give me hands to share what I have with those in need.

Lord, give me feet to walk among the poor.

Lord, give me a mind to know how to respond to those in need.

But above all, Lord, give me a heart open to all your poor.

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The image above is found at St. Francis of Assisi Church, New York City.

The misery and the beauty

On November 30, 1943, a Dutch Jewish woman died in Auschwitz – one of millions killed by the Nazis for being Jewish or “different” in other ways.

Many years later, the diary of Etty Hillesum came to light.

One passage that struck me reveals her depth – able and willing to see beauty even when surrounded by misery, suffering, and the horrors of evil.

It all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful, and I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call horror and still be able to say: life is beautiful. Yes, I lie here in a corner, parched and dizzy and feverish and unable to do a thing. Yet I am also with the jasmine and the piece of sky beyond my window. There is room for everything in a single life: for a miserable end and for belief in God.

Advent is a time of waiting in the midst of darkness. It is a time to contemplate the misery of the world, the people who live in misery (which is often a term indicating extreme poverty). It is a time to not turn away from the suffering but to face it – with faith and with hope.

In the midst of the Nazi Holocaust, Etty Hllesum could call upon her belief in God to sustain her. She nurtured this belief by prayer. As she wrote on May 18, 1942:

The threat grows ever greater, and terror increases from day to day. I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall, withdraw inside it as one might into a convent cell and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and more collected again. I can imagine times to come when I shall stay on my knees for days on end waiting until the protective walls are strong enough to prevent my going to pieces altogether, my being lost and utterly devastated.

We live in dark times but God is a protecting wall – but not a wall that keeps us isolated from the evil and the pain of others, but a wall that sustains us to see and respond in love to the evil around us.

I think today also of Pope Francis who went to a war-zone, the Central African Republic, and even visited a mosque in an area surrounded by “Christian” militia – not afraid to confront evil.

Would that I had such faith and courage.