Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The roasted deacon - food for the People of God

Last week I went with Father German, my pastor, to the diocesan Day for the Sanctification of the Clergy, which is celebrated on the feast of Saint John Vianney, the patron of priests. On the way back, Father German shared an interesting take on Saint Lawrence and the diaconate. 
I have been blessed to work with Father German for more than nine years. We’ve had our conflicts and I get frustrated with his long homilies (and I have been caught sleeping during at least one of them). But he has a unique perspective on the importance of the diaconate. He was for some years a Franciscan friar and was ordained a deacon, with the expectation that he would be ordained a priest shortly thereafter. But he remained a deacon for three years, despite requests from his Franciscan superiors. The diaconal ministry and the diakonia of the People of God are important for him.

We spoke of many things, and he shared his unique understanding of Saint Lawrence. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome, with responsability for the goods of the church and for the care of the poor. Pope Sixtus and the other deacons were arrested and martyred by the Romans. Lawrence was spared since the Roman authorities thought the church had a storehouse of treasures and ordered him to hand over those treasures in three days.

Lawrence gathered the treasures of the church and sold them, even, according to reports, the sacred vessels of the church. He then distributed the money to the poor, the widows and orphans, the outcasts of society. When he appeared before the Roman authorities, he brought the poor, the outcasts, the lepers, the widows and orphans and told the Roman prefect, “These are the treasure of the Church!”
Woodcut of Ade Bethune
Mural in the church of Dulce Nombre de María

The prefect was not impressed and sentenced Lawrence to death, roasted on a gridiron, probably hoping that the torture would make Lawrence reveal the location of the Church’s gold and silver. In the midst of his suffering, Lawrence told his torturers “Turn me over. I’m done on this side!”
Stained glass in The Cloisters Museum

Father German’s take on this was unique. Lawrence was saying that he was ready to be served as food, as nourishment.

Aren’t we called to be food for others, to offer ourselves as nourishment for others?

This is the diaconal call – of the diaconal People of God as well as the ordained deacon. We are to be the food, the nourishment – giving ourselves for God and the People of God (and, I would add, for the whole world).

I didn’t fully comprehend Father German's thoughts on Lawrence at the time. But last night, I was reading the reflection on Saint Lawrence by the German Benedictine Anselm Grün, in his book Cincuenta testigos de confianza.
The second image of Saint Lawrence which has always fascinated people is the image of the red-hot grill. Generally, the grill is an image of life: in its fire we are roasted to convert us into food for other people. This is represented in a graphic image: our life has to be penetrated by the fire of love. It could be said that only then will we be nourishment for other persons, only then will others to able to live from us and through us. (My translation)
La segunda imagen de San Lorenzo que siempre ha fascinado al pueblo es la de la parrilla incandescente. Por regla general, la parrilla es una imagen de la vida, en cuyo fuego somos asados para convertirnos en alimento de otras personas. Dicho con una imagen gráfica: nuestra vida tiene que ser penetrada por el fuego de amor. Se podría decir que sólo entonces seremos nutritivos para otras personas, que sólo entonces podrían otros vivir de nosotros y a través de nosotros. (p. 109)
As ministers of the cup of the Blood of Christ, we deacons are called to pour ourselves out for God and for others, to shed our blood as Christ shed his Blood for us.

Few of us will be called to shed our blood in the style of Lawrence and other deacon martyrs, but each of us is called to put our hearts into our call for service, to sweat, to shed our blood and tears, to give ourselves for and with others.

We do this because our ministry flows from our baptism, our dying and rising in Christ. For us deacons, it especially flows from the altar and calls us to nourish the People of God, first of all, with our lives, the way we live in our families, in our jobs, in our social and civic duties. Then, bringing our lives, our needs and the needs and lives of all, especially the poor, to the altar, we ask God to transform our lives and the world by the fire of His love – to become a People who are living images of Christ the servant who came “to serve and not to be served, to give us life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

This is not easy. It means a daily dying. It means, recalling today’s Gospel (John 12: 24-26), being like the grain of wheat which has to die to bear fruit.

I close with these words from Saint Óscar Romero, martyred archbishop of San Salvador, to whom I dedicated my diaconate. Preaching on this Gospel text on April 1, 1979, he said:
To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid. Those who shun suffering will remain alone. No one is more alone than the selfish. But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest. You will have the deepest satisfactions. Do not fear death or threats; the Lord goes with you.
Romero's tomb in the cathedral crypt, San Salvador

Monday, July 25, 2022

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Saturday evening, a little before five pm, I looked out from my terrace to see a threatening sky, with large storm clouds coming in. “Ya viene la lluvia,” I thought. “Here come the rains.” Almost immediately, seeing the intensity of the clouds, I recalled the title of a Bob Dylan song, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” And it did.
It rained hard for several hours. And it rained hard again during the early hours of the morning – not only in Plan Grande, but in other parts of the parish.

Sunday morning I went to San Antonio El Alto, above San Agustín. I had planned to visit all the sick after the Celebration of the Word, but the “road” down to one house was very slick and I decided to wait till next week.

After bringing Communion to four people in three houses, I got home about 12:15 pm, ate lunch, changed my pants. (That’s another story.) I then headed off for El Limón where Father German was going to celebrate Mass.

As I left my house a neighbor, who is the coordinator of the Parish Council, stopped me and showed me a few photos on his phone of damage from last night’s storm – houses and the school’s wall collapsed in Vertientes, about half of road between El Limon and Vega Redonda washed away by the river.

When I got to the turn-off to El Limón, I realized I wasn’t going to get to the church without walking. The ramp up to the bridge had been washed away. Cars couldn’t get up onto the bridge – only pedestrians or motorcycles. So I parked the car and walked to the church (about 300 meters.)
The washout leaves seven rural villages without access.

Walking back to the car after Mass, we saw some men cutting up tree trunks on a patch of sand in the middle of the river. Looking closer at the bridge, one could see tree trunks which had become stuck under the bridge.

I didn’t get to the part of the road that washed away on the way to Vega Redonda, but I remember stopping there on the way back from Vega Redonda a few months after the 2020 hurricanes. As I was taking a picture, a part of the road fell into the river.

There has been a lot of rain recently, more than normal, and the storms have been fierce. The soil is saturated – and it’s only July. The hurricane season is October and November. 

We may have some serious problems – again. 

Are we "On the Eve of Destruction"? 

It has also been extremely hot. This time of year is usually a little cooler, but the temperatures are more like April. The effects of climate change are serious in our area. 

And, of course, the poor suffer the most. 


For some strange reason, Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" came to mind in the face of these disasters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

What's going on in Honduras.

In my visits to rural villages, I often ask people how they are doing and, especially, how are the crops.

The past week or so I’ve been hearing concern about the subsistence crops, especially the beans.

We’re in the middle of the rainy season and it has been raining a lot.

In some areas this has meant the ground is soaked - and there is concern about the harvest.

In other areas of the country there is concern about drought. There is a dry corridor, mostly in the south of the country which borders El Salvador. 

I have recently come across two articles on the crisis of food insecurity here. Honduras has about 10,225,526 inhabitants, 43% are children. According to the World Food Program, about 2.6 million are in a crisis situation. Another report suggests that this number could increase by half a million in the next three months.

One serious problem is the climate – too much rain in some areas, too little in others.

But there are other factors.

There have been significant price increases.

Fuel is up significantly.

The price of public transportation has almost gone up. Taxis in Santa Rosa de Copán used to be 20 lempiras; the most recent I paid was 35 lempiras. Bus fares have also risen.

The price of fertilizers has sky-rocketed; a few weeks ago, some one told me that one basic agricultural input had more than doubled in price.

The basic food basket is up to 60% of the minimum wage. 

Even the price of bottled water has gone up. A large water container used to be 20 or 22 lempiras. It’s now 25.

Inflation at the end of 2021 was 5.32%.

The extreme rains in our area have caused washouts of roads as well as landslides.

A few weeks ago, at least two villages in our parish were incommunicado – one for a landslide, the other for a washed out road. The municipality helped the first community; but the other community (in a different municipality) received no help and so they went out and cleared a “road” through a stream bed so that vehicles could come through.
The road into La Colonia was washed out in one place.
Las Pavas has suffered landslides.

And this is not the worst time for rains. We often get hurricanes in October and November. With a soaked earth, who knows what damage could result.

A year ago we had some workshops for forming emergency committees. I need to remind people to make sure they are organized in their villages and are on the watch for dangers and potential disasters.

In the midst of this, migration continues. I keep hearing about people I know who have left. Sunday, at Mass, people asked for prayers for some people on the journey north and for some who had arrived in the US.

The criminal deaths of migrants abandoned in a truck in El Paso don’t deter people. When things are desperate, people seek a way out.

A few days after the El Paso deaths, I was giving a ride to some folks for a parish meeting. One woman told of hearing the mother of one of those killed. Her son and several others from a town in the nearby department of Santa Barbara had left because they could find no employment. They had finished their education, but as they went around seeking jobs, they were often told they wouldn’t be hired because they had no experience.

In the midst of this, we go on, doing what we can.

The parish’s coffee field seems to be doing well and people keep on coming out to volunteer. Last week I went out to a distant community to pick up people early in the morning. They got done early and so I gave some of them a ride home (more than an hour away (in the early afternoon.
I keep on getting out to some villages.

Last Saturday I got to Debajiados for their feast day Mass. It’s a distant and very poor area – but the tiny church was filled with people from the community as well as from a nearby village in the neighboring parish. (Someone asked me if I could find some support for a new church since there is very small.)
Before Mass in Debajiados. Many more arrived latger.

Tomorrow, two sisters from a project near Tegucigalpa that provides five years of free education of poor kids will be in the parish to administer the entrance exams and interview the kids and their parents. A fair number of our parishioners have their kids in the program which goes from seventh grade to the end of high school. The kids also have opportunities to learn skills and the girls’ campus has a large pool where they learn how to swim! The programs also help some kids get into the university. It has been a good experience for many. I know of one young guy who got an internship with the mechanics section of Toyota in Tegucigalpa and who hopes to get a job with them.) 

We hope to start later this year or early next year some workshops on basic trades. Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán has been offering some in their installations in Santa Rosa but they are also willing to send instructors out to the parishes. I hope we can get this going.

But so much more is needed – not just small efforts, but real social and cultural changes.

I’ll try to keep you informed of what is happening – both in terms of the actual situations and also whatever local efforts we are able to initiate. 

One final note.

This week five stained glass windows were installed in the church in Dulce Nombre.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Six years an ordained deacon

Today is the anniversary of my ordination as a deacon in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. I am the first permanent deacon in the diocese, one of only six in the country, and the only celibate deacon here.

During my ordination, I was especially moved by the presence of the saints with us as I lay prostrate during the Litany of the Saints – surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I shook as we called on Charles de Foucauld and Monseñor Oscar Romero – both of whom are models of diakonia for me.
I also shook when I heard in the consecratory prayer that the apostles chose seven men and dedicate them to the service of the poor [los dedicaron al servicio de los pobres]. 

This morning, during my Skype call with my spiritual director, she asked me what I was going to do to celebrate. I’ve been out and about much this week and I had decided to clean the house, wash clothes, and be domestic.

I got up early – about 5:08 am, washed and prayed, and then had spiritual direction at 6:30 am. I’ve washed clothes and I’m cleaning the house. 

I also made a chickpea and tomato dish for lunch today (and for a few more days). The chickpeas were canned but the tomatoes are fresh from a neighbor’s tomato project. I had some whole grain bread I bought yesterday in Santa Rosa. I also finished off some ice cream.
In the course of the morning I managed to break two coffee cups (but they were extras) as well as a large bowl that I often used for soups.

This evening there is a Mass of Thanksgiving in the parish. That is quite thoughtful But what really touched me was the announcement:

"Mass of Thanksgiving for one more anniversary of the ministry of deacon of our brother Juancito"

I was touched that the note referred to me as “nuestro hermano Juancito.” 

One of my concerns about becoming a deacon was a concern that this would create a greater distance between me and the people in the parish. Though this still happens at times, being called “our brother Jack” gives me hope.

I am probably a little more sensitive to this this week since I read a very provocative article in America about calling priests “Father.” 

By chance, the reading for the feast of Saint Bonaventure is Matthew 23: 8-12. – “Don’t call anyone ‘father’.” 

I am grateful for being ordained a deacon – and for the ministry of deacon I had been able to live for many years before my ordination. Diakonia is part of our baptismal charism – for all of the church. 

Now, I am called to be a sign of Christ the Servant, motivating others to live our baptismal commitment.

How will I celebrate six years as a permanent deacon? Continuing and deepening my call. 

Tomorrow I hope to go to the distant community of Debajiados with the pastor to celebrate the feast of the Virgin of Carmen.

Sunday I’ll go to another rural village and then head for an afternoon Mass in another part of the parish.

This week I have a meeting with the catechists.

I also want to get to a large town here that has a lot of sick and bed-ridden and only one communion minister.

The next week there are more meetings, including one with parishioners involved in Social Ministry. 

But I really need to get to some other rural communities. 

Please pray for us – and for me, that we may offer our people signs of the love of God and open with them spaces for grace.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

God as guest

Initial reflections on Sunday's readings 
Genesis 18: 1-19; Luke 10: 28-32

When I visit someone here in Honduras. I am almost always asked if I want a coffee. But much more than coffee arrives – often locally baked sweet bread.

I remember when I was in El Salvador in the countryside in the 1990s; people would offer me a tortilla – but that meant tortilla, beans, cheese, and coffee – a complete meal. 

Hospitality is a part of the culture. Their generous hospitality continues to astound me.
But it’s not always just food that is offered. When people want to talk and share a bit of their lives, I feel even more welcomed.

I wonder if this is not part of lesson we can find in the story of Jesus with Mary and Martha.

Jesus does not reprimand Martha for serving. Note how Jesus responds to the woman washing his feet at the table of Simon the leper. Note how he identifies himself as the servant of all.

The problem is that we sometimes get so involved in the details of serving that we forget to welcome the other as a person, to listen to her and to dialogue with him. Doing something replaces the harder discipline of listening and, in terms of Jesus, being a disciple.

I think this can also be applied to our work with the poor. Do we just provide the food or the clothes or the shelter? Do we really get to know the person, his family, her name?

It’s dangerous to get to know someone. We might love the person enough to sacrifice ourselves for her (and not just offer a little food). We might be moved by his story of losing his job, migrating to the US, and getting deported – and then start advocating for migrants. We might hear the young man talk about his use of alcohol and cocaine and his desire to change – and wondering what in the world I can do with him.

It might mean making ourselves neighbors of those who fall among thieves – not just common thieves but victims of white collar criminals.

It might mean listening to the poor – as Mary listened to Jesus.

God is our guest and comes to us in many disguises, just as the three men came to visit Abraham and Sarah.

Will we invite these guests to our table – as God invites us to his table? And will we listen?