Friday, September 16, 2016


Today we buried Juan Ángel Pérez, a 31 year old campesino who lived in Debajiados, Copán.

He died of pneumonia -  a disease that is curable.

He was a delegate who celebrated Sunday Celebrations of the Word in his aldea. He was one of those in the formation process to become Extraordinary Ministers of Communion in the parish.

The last two times I visited the aldea I went with him to bring Communion to his parents. The first time, on Good Friday, I went on horseback. 

Juan, his parents and some children on Good Friday
The last time, the day after my ordination as deacon, we drove as far as we could and then we walked.
with Juan on the way to his parents
I arrived in Debajiados early with four folks from Plan Grande and El Zapote. We brought corn from the parish and beans from El Zapote for the widow and her four children, one only four months old.

Because I knew that people in really poor villages such as Debajiados have almost no photos of family members, I brought a framed copy of one I had taken in July to give to the widow and two copies of one I had taken with Juan and his parents on Good Friday.

As I entered the small, dirt-floored house where Juan Ángel and Juventina and their four children lived, I saw the casket – a simple pine box. I sought out the widow whom I hugged as she cried – even more so after I gave her the photo. Then some of Juan Ángel’s sisters came as well as a brother.

Today I hugged a lot of people as they cried. The grief was tangible. At times I had to try to stop the tears welling up within me.

Padre German arrived and I got my briefcase with my vestments out of the car and started to carry it over. I kid asked if he could carry it for me. My first reaction was “I can do it myself.” But then I realized that the kid was Ever, Juan Ángel’s oldest child. He carried it to and from the church.

Because there were so many people we had Mass just outside Juan Ángel’s house. I chose the readings – Wisdom 3: 1-9 and Matthew 11: 25-30.

Juan was one of the just who “will shine as sparks that spread like sparks in a field of sugar cane” (Wisdom 3:7).

But when I proclaimed the Gospel I almost had to stop as the tears welled up within me. 
“I give you thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned
and revealed them to simple people” (Matthew 11: 25)
I feel as if I have learned much from Juan Ángel and people like him. He was, as people attested as they gathered around his coffin at the end of Mass, a simple man, dedicated to God. I remember his smile which was for me a sign of the spark of God within him. Later in the cemetery I spoke with his mother-in-law who saw him as a son, always willing to do something to help, when asked. His simplicity, his faith, his care for others, including his two parents who have been very ill recently, have revealed to me much of who God is.

After Mass I stayed around and planned to go to the cemetery. Padre German had to leave for a Mass in another village about an hour away.

They first took the coffin back inside. I entered and saw that some men were redressing him in a shirt and pants – over his shirt and jeans. They also but the Cord of St. Francis around him.

Then they nailed shut the coffin, the simple pine box.

I went ahead of the pick-up and went to the cemetery. We waited there about an hour as they went from Debajiados to the cemetery in Delicias. I spent the time talking to folks – being present.

When they arrived, put on my stole and went to the grave site – a hole about three meters deep. The ritual prayers at the gravesite are beautiful – recalling the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of resurrection. We prayed an Our Father and a Hail Mary and then I prayed the antiphon which I love – In Paradisum:
May the angels lead you into Paradise;
May the martyrs receive you as you enter
And lead you into the holy city Jerusalem.
May the choir of angels received you,
And, together with Lazarus, who was poor in this life,
May you have eternal rest.
Again, as I read the name of Lazarus, "who once was poor," tears welled up within me. 

We were burying a poor man, a man of deep faith - but we have the hope of Lazarus, a hope that Juan Ángel revealed in his short life.

Juan leaves behind a widow and four children. Padre German spoke directly to her during his moving homily and embraced her and the four month old child she carried.

I spoke with a young man in the aldea who is the coordinator of Social Ministry. People have come together to help. I urged him to see that this continued you and gave him my telephone number if they had a special need. 

In addition, Padre German has suggested to me and to Gloria, a communion minister and herself a widow, that we begin to do something for and with the widows who are in need. My hope is that we can get the extraordinary ministers of Communion to work with the Social Ministry coordinators in every village to identify the widows in need as well as those who are not, so that we can begin to find a way to serve them and to have them serve each other.

Pray for the repose of the soul of Juan Ángel and for his wife and family. Also, pray that God may guide us in finding ways to serve widows and orphans so that together we may experience the mercy of God.

Juan Ángel, Phil Barutha, and Ever

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Shaken with joy

Luke 10:21 is one Gospel passage that is, for me, both challenging and encouraging.
Then and there Jesus celebrated in the holy spirit. “I thank you, Father,” he said, “Lord of heaven and earth! You hid these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to babies.” (N. T. Wright translation, The Kingdom New Testament)  
Reading Pat Farrell’s address to Leadership Conference of Women Religious a few weeks ago, I was struck by her translation of the first. The New American Bible translation is “he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” But as she noted
The Spanish translation of this text prefaces Jesus’ words saying; “Jesús, movido por El Espíritu Santo, se estremeció de alegría y dijo…” In other words, Jesus, moved by the Spirit,” trembled with joy” or ”was shaken with joy” as he exclaimed…
The Greek has the sense of jumping for joy. But I love Pat’s translation since it helps me understand my experience.

During my ordination I was literally shaken with joy – amid tears of joy – on two occasions.

The first was while laying prostrate during the Litany of the Saints. I had a deep sense of being surrounded by the holy women and men whose intercession we sought. But after Monseñor Romero and Charles de Foucauld were mentioned the tears were flowing and my body was literally shaking.

Both of these twentieth century martyrs continue to inspire me – Romero by his commitment to the poor and his willingness to speak up and act, even at the cost of his life, Foucauld by his desire to be among the poor as a sign of God’s presence.

The second moment of the grace of being shaken by joy came during the prayer of consecration. I knelt before the bishop. After laying hands on me while he and the People of God prayed, Bishop Darwin Andino read the words of the consecration of the deacon. I had read it and prayed it several times, but I missed something.

In the prayer the bishop notes, as the English reads,
In the first days of your Church
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
the apostles of your Son appointed seven men of good repute
to assist them in the daily ministry,
so that they themselves might be more free for prayer and preaching.
By prayer and the laying on of the hands
the apostles entrusted to those chosen men the ministry of serving at tables.

But the Spanish has a very significant difference which moved me. Instead of reading “the apostles entrusted to those chosen men the ministry of serving at tables,” the Spanish reads, 
“los dedicaron al servicio de los pobres.’
The apostles dedicated these men to service of the poor.
My body was shaking as tears were welling up within me. I came to Honduras to serve God and those most in need. God was confirming this decision and, through the sacrament of orders, giving me the grace to deepen my commitment.

With joy I heard these words and I was shaken with joy.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Mother Teresa, Eucharistic particles, and the least of these

Today the world celebrated the canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, officially recognizing the holiness of this woman who left home to join the Sisters of Loreto, then left the security of the sisters in schools in India, and then spent her life with those at the margins of society, attending in person those who were dying and inspiring and leading others to serve.

Yes, there are people who critique Mother Teresa – but she, as all saints, had her imperfections and God has a way of working through our failings. Some have criticized her for not speaking out on injustice, but I have recently come across pictures of her visiting Dorothy Day and Eileen Egan at the New York Catholic Worker in 1979 and a picture of Mother Teresa visiting the house in the cancer hospital where Monseñor Oscar Romero lived.

In our diocese we celebrated a Mass in Santa Rosa de Copán where the Missionaries of Charity run Hogar San José, a center for malnourished children under five. I used to visit and play with the kids a lot when I first came here. I need to find a way to go there at least once a month.

The commemoration began with a procession from the Cathedral to an auditorium where Mass was celebrated. Some children rode in the pick up carrying the statue of Mother Teresa.

As a deacon, I participated in the Mass, proclaiming the Gospel and serving at the altar.

As I looked out at the overflowing crowd, I saw lots of kids, including some from Amigos de Jesús, which I visited earlier this week. I found out that some of their children had been in Hogar San José and were returning for the celebration.

After Communion, as a deacon, my role is to purify the vessels.

Here, there are often many fragments of the hosts which I carefully gathered together and consumed. I made sure the vessels were clean and that there were no fragments on the corporal.

There are some people who are scrupulous about making sure that all fragments of the host, the Body of Christ, are gathered up. There are some who might even mock the care some take to assure that there are no fragments unconsumed.

But as I was gathering together the many fragments, I thought of the care I was taking for each and every particle – for they are the Body of Christ. I tried to be careful of even the smallest particle.

But, looking up and seeing the children there and thinking of the care that the Missionaries of Charity and other women religious show to the poorest, I began to recall the care God has for the least of God’s creatures, for the children, the aged, the unborn, the persons with disabilities. Each of them is like a particle of the host; they show me the Body of Christ. Each of them deserves the respect and care that I take for the particles of the Eucharist.

They too are Christ, often in mysterious disguise.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Forty-five days a deacon

The other day driving in to Santa Rosa with Padre German, he asked me how I was being a deacon.

My first response was that in many ways I’m not doing a lot more than I did before my ordination. I’m preparing catechists, working with youth groups, visiting communities, assisting at Mass with Padre German several times a week, consulting with people about preparing upcoming feasts. I am preaching occasionally and baptizing.

But most of all I feel graced to be able to serve the people in varied ways.

Yesterday I went to Santa Rosa on a few errands. On the way a young guy in Candelaria hitched a ride to Dulce Nombre. (My policy is not to give rides when the busses are running but I knew there were no busses at that a hour and the kid was familiar.) He told me that his grandmother had died and he was going to Dulce Nombre to see about a few things. We talked a bit. When I was driving back I noticed people around a house on the road in Candelaria and stopped to offer my condolences.

This morning I stopped in Dulce Nombre to see what was going on in the parish and to see how I could help Padre German. He had four Masses today, the first of which was the funeral in Candelaria. I accompanied him.

As he was preparing for Mass, he asked me to preach. I was hardly ready – but the Spirit inspired me (and I preached less than ten minutes). After Mass he had to see some sick persons and so I went to the cemetery and led prayers at the graveside. Sadly I didn’t have the ritual book and couldn’t pray my favorite prayer for those who had died – the “In Paradisum.”
"May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest."
Comforting those who are mourning and burying the dead are not easy, but I find these an important part of my ministry as a deacon.

I also find myself spending a bit more time just being with people – especially those who are on the margins of the church.

I have often noticed how young men will come to the church but will congregate around the church door. I often go and speak with them and jokingly call them the church’s bodyguards!

But in Plan Grande I have tried a different tactic. The municipality is putting in a sewer line and will be paving the road from the church up to the top of the hill. Males in town, especially adolescents, are working on this project. 

I showed up the first day and did some work with the pick axe. Needless to say, I am not in shape and couldn’t do more than a few hours in the morning. It didn’t help that it was very hot and sunny. I didn’t work in the afternoon since I had to go get a homeless man living here in Plan Grande from the hospital in Santa Rosa. (He has no home but is well-cared for by the people here. )

But what I have been doing, when I’m in Plan Grande, is bringing the workers one or two three-liter bottles of pop (soda, for you non-Iowa folks).

Another way of serving – and trying to reach out to a group that is not always present in the church.

What else have I been doing? Proclaiming the Gospel at Masses and occasionally preaching, visiting the sick, connecting with various activities in the parish and in the diocese.

Last Saturday, I went with Padre German for the Mass in the Santa Rosa cathedral which was part of the novena before the canonization of Mother Teresa. Last Sunday, I participated in the special Mass in San Agustín on their feast day. Tomorrow I will go to Amigos de Jesús, a center for children about two hours from here, for the Mass of installation as lector and acolyte of a young man preparing for the priesthood who will be serving them. Next Sunday, there will be a special Mass in honor of the canonization of Mother Teresa. I’ll be there to proclaim he Gospel.

Next week is the Pastoral Study week for the clergy which I’ll attend. I’ll stay in Dulce Nombre each night (since I need to leave my car at the mechanic’s for three days to get the valves fixed.) And then, on Monday, September 12, we’ll celebrate the feast of the parish.

Such is my life as a deacon now. What it will be later, we’ll see.

But I continue to pray that God may use me to serve the People of God and give me the joy and courage I need.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fear, Thomas Merton, and William Willimon

Last night I finished two books just before going to sleep. I recommend them both.

I usually read a few books at a time but this time these two books provided me with a lot to think about. And they both concern “fear”.

Jim Forest’s The Root of War Is Fear: Thomas Merton's advice to peacemakers was published this week and, getting it on Kindle, I devoured it in four days. 

Thomas Merton has been a significant person in my life.

Merton's collection of quotes from Gandhi in Gandhi on Non-Violence played a major role in helping me in the late 1960s discern how to respond to war and peace. I was against the war in Viet Nam, but Gandhi’s explanation of the courage that is needed for the nonviolence of the strong spurred me to a commitment to active nonviolence.

Merton's collection of quotes on the Desert Fathers, The Wisdom of the Desert, opened up for me another aspect of living with God – especially the Zen-like quips and deeds of those who left for the desert – in part to offer an alternative to a Christianity allied with the Empire.

The collection of essays Raids on the Unspeakable sustains and challenges me even now. Here he wrote on the Eichmann trial, inspired by Hannah Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial. His essay, “The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room,” has provided me with a Christmas meditation almost every year. The opening essay, “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” pulls together an ancient Christian writer, the existentialist dramatist Ionesco, rain, and war.

But the essay “The Root of War Is Fear” is one of his most important writings for me. It is full of great wisdom and a challenge for all of us.

Jim Forest, a personal friend, takes the title of his work from this essay but goes well beyond Merton’s challenges expressed there. Jim, who has written a great biography of Merton, Living with Wisdom, with fantastic photos – as well as one of Dorothy Day,  All Is Grace – gives an overview of Merton’s life, with great insights gleaned from Jim’s visits and correspondence with Merton.  

The book is filled with extensive quotations from Merton, most often situated in their context by Jim’s marvelous prose. The full text of the letter from Jim that provoked the Merton letter known in its abbreviated form as “Letter to a Young Activist” is included, together with the full text of Merton’s response – which reveals a wisdom and a sensitivity that are badly needed today. An unpublished satirical letter of Merton’s, in the style of Jonathan Swift, from Marco J. Frisbee, is included as an appendix.

I will return to this book in the next few months, savoring the wisdom of Merton.

The other book I finished last night was William Willimon’s Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love is the work of a Methodist theologian and bishop responding to the current site of fear in the United States (and around the globe).

I ran across Willimon’s writing many years ago and am probably one of the few Catholics who read and really liked the 1989 book he co-wrote with Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. I was also impressed by other writings, especially in relation to higher education. I thus persuaded the planning committee of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association to invite him to one of their national conventions.

In Fear of the Other, Willimon offers a vision of faith, centered in Jesus Christ, who comes forward to us and changes our way of being. As he writes, “God is shown, in Christ, to be pure will toward embrace.”

And thus, “I take the step toward [the Other] and open my arms, not primarily because of my enlightened redefinition of the Other but rather because of Jesus’s redefinition of me.”

Again, it is a book full of gems that challenge us, especially in his reinterpretation of the story of the Good Samaritan. I will not write here what he suggests, lest I spoil the impact it had on me – and may have on most US church-goers.

These two books are very different but they have both helped me begin to understand why I do not experience a lot of fear, even though there is violence around us here in Honduras. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to take seriously the challenge of Merton and Willimon.

Willimon writes:
         We are commissioned to the active, searching, seeking, embracing love of the Other.

And, as Merton wrote to Jim Forest:
All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love.