Friday, December 09, 2016

A December letter from Honduras

 A December 2016 letter

Blessings for all my friends.

This year has been filled with blessings and sorrows, as have the lives of so many others here in Honduras and throughout the world. Our experiences here are not all that special – and definitely not holier. But I think they are worth sharing.

I continuing serving in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María and live in the aldea of Plan Grande, Concepción, within the parish. I am blessed with a great pastor, Padre German Navarro who works way too much, visiting every one of the more than 45 villages every two months. I often accompany him to the Masses.

I continue with workshops and assemblies of catechists and Delegates of the Word, as well as coordinators of base communities and of the three ministries in the communities. I also work with extraordinary ministers of communion as well as with those in training. A growing area of pastoral ministry is with the youth in several communities. I meet with leaders every two months of so. One of my great joys this year was the youth encounter one community held while I was on the US in late October.

I have also helped Sister Pat Farrell with a number of Alternatives to Violence programs in the prison in Gracias, Lempira. This has brought me great joy.

I also have continued working with an association of small coffee farmers who managed to send 3,042 pounds of green coffee to the US which is being sold by the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa. I hope this can continue and that the parish can purchase two or three times as much next year. It’s good coffee!

The big personal event this year was my ordination on July 15 as a permanent deacon for the diocese of Santa Rosa. This is a long story (which you can read on my blog). I didn’t seek this out but responded to a request from the bishop to consider the diaconate. It is a deepening of the gift of service which God has given me, especially these past nine years in Honduras.

This has not meant much more in terms of my pastoral ministry – except for baptisms and funerals, and preaching. I haven’t had a wedding yet. I continue visiting rural communities, often leading a Celebration of the Word with Communion. But the diaconate has meant a more serious call to serve those at the margins, e.g., visiting the sick. This coming year I plan to work with the Social Ministry in the villages to see how we can respond to the poverty, violence, and injustice all around us.

The diaconate has meant attendance at diocesan clergy meetings – for education and a retreat, as well as the deanery pastoral council meeting.

To prepare for my ordination I made a trip to the US to participate in a retreat with the deacon candidates in the Newark archdiocese, arranged by a priest friend whom I’ve known since summer camp in the 1950s!

I made a trip back to Ames, Iowa, at the end of October, to visit St. Thomas Aquinas parish which supports the parish where I serve. I had a good visit – and I especially was blessed to spend time with some friends whom I’ve known for years.

Visitors from outside Honduras have been few this year. Last Christmas I had a family visit me. It was a blessing to have them here, even though Christmas is the time of the year where there is not a lot happening. Then after New Year’s I had three more visitors. I had one visitor for my ordination as a deacon, and I hosted (twice) the directors of the AMIGA medical brigade that worked in our municipality for several days in March and October.

Life here in Honduras can be hard – interruptions in water, electricity, and internet service. But I have it much better than my neighbors. The violence and insecurity are not major concerns for me – though they are for the people I work with. I have had several very hard funerals recently – of young people dying before their time of diseases that can be controlled as well as two violent deaths. I feel safe and secure.

What helps sustain me is my pastoral ministry with the people with whom I serve. I am also blessed with the presence of the Dubuque Franciscan sisters with whom I meet fairly regularly. They are great women whose faith and commitment to the poor keep me humble.

This coming year I will turn seventy but sometimes I feel as if I’ve only just begun. I will continue working in the parish, serving the Church and the poor, finding more ways to be a deacon, a servant to those in need.

I ask you to keep me in your prayers. My needs are few – visitors who come with dark chocolate and a few books are welcomed with open arms. The parish has its needs and we’re finding ways of support. The people are poor and I hope that we can find ways to respond to needs in a sustainable way that promotes the participation and dignity of all.

If you want to support, you can do it through St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, or ask me for other suggestions. But remember that there are people in need a few blocks from where you live. Find them, meet them, work WITH them.

Please be assured of my continued prayers for all of you.

May the God of life and peace bring you joy in this holy season and throughout the coming year.

Paz y bien.



Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent: disarmament and waking from the dream of separateness

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13: 11-14

Notes in English for a homily I will share tonight at the Vigil Mass of the First Sunday of Advent in Dolores, Copán, Honduras, inspired by Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, in a year filled with death.

This year the municipality of Honduras has experienced at least six violent deaths: the killing of the mayor, the woman and her two children killed in a murder by arson in San Antonio Dolores, the couple who were killed by machetes in their home in Pasquingual.

It has not been a year of peace, but the prophet Isaiah gives us a vision of peace - on the Lord's mountain: 
“they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks… they shall not train again for war.”

How far is this vision from our reality? But what shall we do?

In the poor neighborhood of Philadelphia, where Shane Clairborne lives with a Christian community, they witnessed the killing of a nineteen year old in the block where Shane lives. Their response was inspired by this passage of Isaiah and they began a campaign to turn weapons into gardening tools, making shovels out of AK-47s. The movement has spread throughout the world.

This is an important first step in a world where weapons abound. This is a first step.

There is a need for nations to pound their weapons into instruments of peace, starting nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In fact, on October 27 this year, the United Nations voted to launch negotiations for a treaty abolishing nuclear weapons. Both France and the United States worked behind the scenes to oppose the move, and together with other nations including Great Britain, and Russia opposed it.

But what even a treaty is not enough.

As Dorothy Day wrote in the September 1938 Catholic Worker, we need “a disarmament of the heart”:
Today the whole world is in the midst of a revolution. We are living through it now – all of us. History will record this time as a time of world revolution. And frankly, we are calling for Saints…. We must prepare now for martyrdom — otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if … attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother [or sister] who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend [themselves] with any forceful means in [their] power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.
How can we do this?

I think St. Paul has much to teach us in this regard. Writing to the Romans, living in the heart of a violent and oppressive empire, he urged them to a heart-felt conversion:
Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…
This is how we can begin disarmament.

But this disarmament, this conversion, takes place when we wake up. As Paul wrote, 
“it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”
Perhaps the first step to wake up is what happened to Thomas Merton on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky, where, as he put it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he woke from a dream of separateness:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness….This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! …There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…. There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

When he begin to see the presence of God in others, when we realize that we are all one and responsible for each other, then we can begin the conversion, the disarmament of the heart that will open us to welcome the disarmed world that God promised to Isaiah and to us who worship the Prince of Peace.