Thursday, April 20, 2017

On the way to the East Coast of the US

I’m in the San Pedro airport, waiting for a flight to the US – through Mexico City. I’m not looking forward to a long lay-over in the Mexico City airport, but I’ll be in Philadelphia tomorrow night for a weekend workshop.

I got up, as usual, at 5:00 am to a beautiful morning. After prayer, breakfast, and a few chores around the house, I left and stopped off at the parish to say hello to Padre German before leaving. But I took this picture of a hibiscus which will bloom while I’m away.

I got to San Pedro Sula earlier than I had planned but with no thanks to the road.

I hadn’t driven t San Pedro since last October. The international highway from Dulce Nombre to La Entrada is in the worst shape I’ve ever seen or felt. In addition to the potholes and the parts where the asphalt is gone, there are the huge trucks which are struggling to go up the hills and also to avoid the huge holes. The road from Plan Grande to the highway is less treacherous than the international highway (even though it’s mostly dirt and gravel).

However, the flowering trees were a great joy.

Passing near Trinidad, Copán, there were these incredible flowering pink trees. I didn’t find a good place to stop and take a picture. But from La Flecha, Santa Bárbara, to San Pedro Sula, there were these incredibly beautiful trees with yellow flowers, sometimes as lone trees on a hillside with other trees. What beauty.

I also found Radio Progreso, the radio sponsored by the Jesuits in El Progreso, Yoro, on the car radio. I even heard their noon program on feminism - not your usual Honduran fare.

I’ll be in the US until May 2, in both the New York and Philadelphia area. In Philly, I’ll be joining my family to celebrate my cousin – 30 days younger than I am – Sister Mary Barrar, who has been a Sister of Saint Joseph (of Chestnut Hill) for fifty years. It will be great to celebrate this with her and with many cousins and their families.

I’m also going to a workshop this weekend. I just hope I am awake enough after all the travel and the all-nighter in the Mexico City airport.

After leaving the US, I am planning to spend two days in Mexico City, mostly to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I really didn’t feel like leaving home. There is so much to do and I feel so much at home in the parish – but this should be a good respite. I especially look forward to seeing friends and family.

Monday, April 17, 2017

After Easter Sunday

Today, Easter Monday, I’m trying to recoup my energies after a good, but busy, Paschal Triduum – Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday.

Saturday we started the Easter Vigil at 5:30 pm about three blocks from the church. Padre German had asked me to give a short reflection on the theme inscribed on the Paschal Candle. Then we lit the Paschal Candle from the New Fire.

After we walked to the church we gathered outside in the park. I began by singing the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation. I didn’t do too badly, but I don’t think too many noticed it my errors. Then we had all the readings with sung psalm responses.

After the homily we had the baptisms of about forty, mostly young, people. It was a bit of a mob scene since they were baptized in the midst of the crowd (to avoid water flowing on the wires of the sound system). I had the job of transporting water from the font to the place of baptism.

What impressed me was the large number of young men – from sixteen to the early twenties – who were baptized. I had met a number of them, mostly when I went for the Scrutinies in three villages during Lent. I felt very hopeful seeing so many young men.

The Vigil ended about 10:30 pm, followed with tamales for everyone. 

I got home way after 11 pm and didn’t get to sleep until after midnight. Then up about 5 (to bak bread to take with me to lunch in the afternoon.)

Sunday morning I went to Debajiados, a poor remote village, for a 9 am Celebration of the Word with Communion. I have a deep place in my heart for this village. It was a most appropriate place to celebrate Easter.

Until about seven years ago they had no pastoral presence. Suddenly one woman was experienced what she described as visits of the Virgin Mary with requests for people to come together and pray. Padre Efraín, the pastor at that time, sent me to talk with the woman. I found her a very simple, honest woman, without pretensions; though some aspects of what she told me seemed a bit odd, I could not deny her experience. Whether it was an apparition of Mary or a projection of this woman's desire for a presence of the church in the village is beyond me. But the results tell a story of grace.

Soon after we began to visit the village regularly, the visits of the Virgin stopped. Since then the life of faith has grown. They have several catechists and regular Sunday Celebrations of the Word led by a local Delegate of the Word. The life of faith has experienced a resurrection there. It was a great place to celebrate the Risen Lord. 

I’ve gone there for Good Friday twice before and I was there for a Mass on their feast day, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, last July – the day after my ordination as a permanent deacon.

While there in July I and a visitor, Phil, went with Juan Ángel, a thirty-one-year old catechist, and his oldest son, Ever, to bring communion to his parents who lived quite a distance away from the church. It was a great way to celebrate being a deacon.

Juan Ángel, who was also preparing to become an extraordinary minister of Communion, died of pneumonia in September. The community came together to help the widow and her four children, including arranging to get them rights to the land where their house was.

In my homily on Easter, I spoke of the mystery of Easter, where the apparent failure of Good Friday is transformed into the victory of love of the risen Jesus.

I mentioned several ways how, in the midst of pain and suffering, we can find the victory of love of the Risen Jesus. I started to mention Juan Ángel and I filled up with tears and couldn’t speak. I finally was able to say, in the presence of his widow and children, how even though he has died his life is bearing fruit in the community.

After the Celebration, I stood around for a few minutes as several musicians sang two songs of the resurrection in a very popular, traditional style. You can find one of them here on You Tube

Then I visited and brought communion to a lucid, but weak, ninety-five-year old man.

Then I was off to Gracias, Lempira, to have lunch with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters. I arrived late, as they were finishing dessert – with the local pastor and a neighbor. What a way to refresh my body (with great food) and my spirit (with great conversation.)

I got home about 6:30 pm – tired from too little sleep and lots of driving in the past week. A little to eat, prayer, a glass of wine, and bed.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Good Friday in the countryside

I spent Good Friday in a community that has had a lot of suffering. There have been a good number of killings there in the last few years, including one a few months ago. About a month ago the police came into the village in the middle of the night and arrested two people, but let a woman accused of being a gang member free after finding no tattoos on her body. In addition, one person accused had fled. The accusations are probably false.

We started about 10 am with the Vía Crucis, the Stations of the Cross , in the middle of some coffee fields. The people carried bougainvillea, which people here call napoleono, and left a few branches at each place where we prayed.

The text of our third station, Jesus falls the first time, recalls the devastation of the earth. As we prayed I looked at the nearby hills with new coffee plants and very few trees. I wondered if they had burnt the land before planting the new coffee.

As we walked along, I noted that the kids (and some adults) found berries on bushes at the side of the road. A Good Friday treat - though they did have thorns on them, as I tried to retrieve a few for the kids.

After the stations, they gave me a simple lunch – tortilla, beans, rice – which filled me. I then sat down to prepare the afternoon Celebration of the Passion. I dozed off in the process – since I had gotten to bed late on Thursday night and awakened early.

At the Celebration, despite the length of the reading of the Passion, I gave a short reflection, noting the deaths, the pain, that the community has been experiencing.

As I said in a homily at a funeral a few months ago, I urged them to lay everything at the foot of the Cross – the pain, the tears, resentment, the desire for revenge – so that they may be transformed by Jesus, crucified and risen. I also urged them to follow the example of Jesus and forgive – not failing to call for justice, but for a justice based in love, a justice that seeks the transformation of the person.

This year my reflections are very much influenced by Father Ronald Rolheiser’s The Passion and the Cross where he writes:
Jesus, as the Lamb of God, does not take away the sin of the world by somehow carrying it off so that it is no longer present inside of the community. Nor does he take it away by paying off a debt to God for Adam’s sin and ours. He takes it away by transforming it, by taking it inside of him and not giving it back. An image can be helpful in explaining this: What Jesus did in his death, in the way he died in love, is analogous to what a water filter does. It takes in water that contains impurities, dirt, toxins, and occasional poisons. The filter does not simply let the water flow through it, as does an electrical cord; rather the water filter holds the dirt and toxins inside of itself and gives back only the pure water. In simple language, Jesus took away the sin of the world by taking in hatred and giving back love; by taking in anger and giving out graciousness; by taking in envy and giving back blessing; by taking in bitterness and giving out warmth; by taking in pettiness and giving back compassion; by taking in chaos and giving back peace; and by taking in sin and giving back forgiveness.
Though I think this could be difficult and perhaps even dangerous, if not based in the power and grace of Christ, he also urges us:
What is most important here is that this is not something we are asked to simply admire. We are asked to imitate it, to do in our lives what Jesus did and, in this way, keep incarnate the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are asked to go into our families, communities, churches, and civil society, where always there is tension, and become the shock absorbers and water filters that absorb the sin and don’t give it back. Our task, too, is to help take away the sins of the world. We do this whenever we take in hatred, anger, envy, pettiness, and bitterness and hold them, transmute them, and eventually give them back as love, graciousness, blessing, compassion, warmth, and forgiveness.
I’m not sure that our task is to help take away the sins of the world as much as to open ourselves and others to the loving and transforming power of the crucified Jesus who died and was raised.

As I think I said that afternoon, Christ gave us life so that we might have new life. I pray that the community may be open to that new life – in the face of death and suffering.

May the hope of the Risen Lord sustain them (and me), even as we live in Holy Saturday, a day of waiting and longing.