Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A youth retreat (of the working kind)

This past Friday and Saturday, we had a workshop for leaders of youth groups and communities in the parish of Dulce Nombre. I had asked Sister Nancy Meyerhofer and the other Franciscan sisters (Sisters Erika and Mary Beth) in La Entrada, Copán, to help, since they have more experience than I do in this. They, in fact, did most of the work.

We began with 13 young people (on Friday the 13th) from five different communities. I was a little disappointed in the turn-out since there are about 10 place where there are youth organized in communities or groups. In two places, the parents didn’t give the young people permission to attend since it was an overnight event. In one place, only one came because others had to sign up for classes that begin in February. In one case, they had planned an event for Saturday already. I had, in fact, spoken to almost all the groups and was a bit disappointed. But Sister Nancy reminded me that these young people were here for a reason (that only God knows).

The workshop went wonderfully, even though the participation was less than I’d hoped.

The young people were participative and even sang with gusto the four new songs Nancy and Erika taught them. One – Jóvenes, Cristos jóvenes – became a sort of theme song of the group. 
Jóvenes, Cristos jóvenes,Necesita el mundo de hoy.Jóvenes, Cristos jóvenes,
Que devuelvan la fe en el amor. Todays’ world needs young people,
young Christs,
Who give back faith in love.
They participated in the many ice-breakers we taught them and in the activity we had to learn the parts of the Mass. And there were several times they were out playing on the soccer field.

But what really impressed me was their response to the various prayer experiences offered.

Several – centering prayer and Ignatian contemplation – involved periods of silence of up to twenty minutes. The silence was tangible. In a culture where there is often much noise and talking, it was a real blessing to find young people open to silence.

Another prayer experience involved using a dry branch and then finding ways to bring life to the branch. The young people gathered live branches, flowers, leaves, water, earth, and more to bring it to life. I felt as if this is what was happening among us those two days.

We ended at 11 am on Saturday with lunch. Before that, they did a thorough clean-up of the hall we used. I was proud to see their efforts.

After lunch, I took the sisters to the main highway so they could get a bus to La Entrada. Several of the young people lived on a road off the road to the highway and asked for a ride in the back of the truck. Of course, there were more than the legal limit for riders in the bed of the truck.

As I left them off, I noticed an old woman carrying a large load of firewood. That is a common sight here. Looking back in the mirror, I saw one of the guys take the wood from her to carry it for her. The sisters looked back longer and noted that the woman was not going where the group was, but the young man took it anyway. I feel blessed to have seen this simple act of solidarity.

We are planning to have a parish youth encounter on February 12 on the parish grounds. I hope we can get more youth to come. We’ll be planning this in the next meeting of leaders at the end of this month.

It was a good activity – though only a beginning. But I feel grateful for the meeting. I am especially grateful to the sisters who came and shared their wisdom and experience.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

A new year - for the long haul

New Year's evening I sat down and wrote this note on Facebook:
New Year's Day - slept in until 6:30; prayed without showering (no electricity until 8:30); presided and preached at the Celebration of the Word and Communion in Plan Grande; watered the flowers; went to Mass in San Agustín in the afternoon where I served as deacon and preached. After returning home, I made dinner - omelet (with cheese and chives), fried plantains, and oven-baked small potatoes with garlic and rosemary. Now to clean up the kitchen, praying, reading, a glass of wine, and sleep. 
The Lord is good.

The book I picked up was Ten Commandments for the Long Haul by Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

Father Dan passed into the loving arms of his maker this past year – prophet, priest, servant. Ordained a priest to worship the one true God, ordained a prophet to unsettle us bourgeois Catholics, ordained servant to care for the lost and broken, as he did for some time in a cancer hospice.

On the evening of the first day of the new year, I looked around for a book to read and came upon this book, originally published in 1981. I stayed up late and read many pages that offered me hope and challenge – and a call for newness. I finished it in two days – and now I have to turn it over in my heart to be able to live.

I’ve been impressed with Father Dan, his integrity, his commitment to a God made flesh amid the suffering, and a certain impishness I found in him.

He has hard and harsh words in the face of a world gone mad. But, unlike some self-styled “prophets,” I have found in him a certain lightness in the face of the somber themes found in many of his works. He can say difficult things in a manner that does not raise hackles, at least in me.

For a long time, I have thought that he could write and speak this way because he was a poet. Even his prose is not prosaic. Unlike some dour prophets, there always seemed to be something more.

But after reading this book, I think his lightness comes from a deep love of God and a mystic spirit.

In the first chapter of this book, he recalls the cry of despair of some in the seventies who would ask him, “How can we become activists?” (p. 14)

His response was a type of jujitsu:
“But that is not the question at all. Here’s a better one: ‘Can we uncover the contemplative springs that are the source of our humanity?’”
As he wrote in a later essay, “I believe that we were created for ecstasy. And redeemed for it, at considerable cost.” (p. 146)

Getting to the basics – the contemplative, ecstatic source of our being – is the way to begin to respond to a world gone mad.

And in all this, Fr. Dan kept a distance from the sullen seriousness of so many activists. For he believed, with Gandhi that the truth has its own power and, therefore, what is essential is “Don’t get in the way” (p. 24), “to be nonimpeding” (p. 85).

 There is much more in this small book that moves me (and there are a few things that catch me off guard), but Father Dan has crafted a series of essays that offer both challenge and hope.

“What indeed are we to do with our lives in such mad times?” he asks.
“There will be no sane or peaceable future unless we are creating here and now a sane and peaceable present: in the very jaws of Leviathan.” (p. 125)
And so, in the final essay, he casts out to us words of proverbial wisdom:
“About practically everything in the worlds, there’s nothing you can do…. About a few things you can do everything. Do it, with a good heart.”  (p. 155)
“Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds.” (p. 155)
“Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly toward the improbable. There are at least five fire exits.” (p. 156)
He said this because, at the center of his live, his living, was a grace, a Person, who revealed what is at the center of our lives:
“Word had gotten around about a dead man who stood up again, and was beating at the door.”
In a dialogue with his soul, Father Dan found himself challenged:
“I was insisting … we get back to sources, see how this so-called sacrificial love got started.
At the beginning I find a few people who don’t mind dying for good reasons. And, like our own obscure rabbi [Jesus], they become hot so obscure. Because they wouldn’t stay dead.”

Live that life.


Here's a picture of my New Year's dinner, a real treat.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas and the poor Christ

Yesterday after lunch with the bishop (after he had confirmed about 235 people in three locations), I mentioned to my pastor that I would be coming to the 11 pm “Midnight” Mass today in the town of Concepción. He asked me to preach.

I am going tomorrow for a 9:00 am Liturgy of the Word with Communion in the aldea of San Isidro La Cueva and will be preaching there, but this will be something quite different, but in both places I will be preaching of the birth of our Savior in the midst of the poor.

A few days ago, I read these words of Saint Clare in her first letter to Saint Agnes of Prague:
If so great and good a Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin’s womb, chose to appear despised, needy and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty, want and absolute need of heavenly nourishment might become rich in Him, possessing the kingdom of heaven, be very joyful and glad. Be filled with a remarkable happiness and a spiritual joy! 
Saint Clare is, in part, reflecting the words of Saint Paul (2 Corinthians 8: 9):
For you know the grace of our Lord, Christ Jesus: he was rich, but for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
At Christmas we worship a God become poor.

Another insight came to me last night. Before going to bed last night, while reading a few chapters of Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, published last year by Orbis Books, I came across a marvelous sermon of Hans Urs von Balthazar, “Into the Darkness with God.” (I highly recommend the book and the sermon.)

What struck me was this quote, which I didn’t expect from this theologian:
It is, therefore, in order that he shall find God, the Christian is placed in the streets of the world, sent to the manacled and poor brethren, to all who suffer, hunger, and thirst to all who are naked, sick, and in prison. From henceforth this is his place; he must identify with them all. This is the great joy that is proclaimed to him today, for it is the same way that God sent a Savior to us. We ourselves may be poor and in bondage, too, in need of liberation; yet at the same time all of us who have been given a share in the joy of deliverance are sent to be the companions of those who are poor and in bondage.
As this poor Christ came to accompany us, so we too are called to accompany the poor.

All this brings me back to one of my favorite Christmas quotes, from the December 24, 1978, homily of Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero:
No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need of God — for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

We are called to become poor, to be humble, to bow before the Lord made flesh, made poor, in our midst and to bow in loving service and accompaniment of those who are poor around us – not merely helping them, but befriending them, and walking with them in the light of the Kingdom of our God, made flesh.


This photo was taken on December 5, 2004, at the entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. To enter and reverence God become human, most of us must bow down. But it may have been constructed this way so that war horses couldn't enter the church. To enter and adore the Lord made flesh, we must leave behind all our weapons, all our weapons, entering disarmed and poor.