Sunday, October 30, 2011

Christian initiation

For me one of the most moving rites of the Catholic Church is the rite of acceptance of those who have not been baptized but seek to become members of the Church.

This rite was celebrated for four young people this weekend at the 10:30 AM Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames.

The inquirers waited outside the doors of the church – in the cold. Fr. Jon Seda invited the congregation to go with him to greet them and to lead them into the church. About 40 people, including a number of children, went and greeted them. Some continued to stand behind them as they stood before the altar.

The inquirers were called to embrace the cross which was brought among them. 

They then gathered around the altar where their sponsors signed them with the cross – on the head, the ears, the eyes, the mouth the heart, the shoulders, and the feet.

I was deeply moved, especially as the sponsors knelt to trace the cross on their feet. People voluntarily putting themselves at the feet of others is a strong sign of the call to service. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and we are called to wash others’ feet as a sign of our taking on the yoke of Christ.

This year I led a catechists’ workshop on the Christian initiation rites and processes. To help the people understand we reenacted the rite of acceptance. The material they had didn’t have the signing of the feet, but I added it, since I consider it so important.

This weekend I am speaking at the end of all the parish Masses, sharing with the people the sense of mission that people have in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María in Honduras. They have much to teach the people here as they invite people in their villages to come to the Celebrations of the Word or to join a base community. They do “mission” and “evangelization” fairly well.

The people at St. Thomas Aquinas do good liturgy and the rite of acceptance is touching and can offer much to the people in Dulce Nombre as their sense of mission can inspire the people at St. Thomas.

Isn’t this what solidarity – and mutual love – can do?

Monday, October 24, 2011


A friend sent me this quotation from Henri Nouwen's Creative Ministry, p. 75:
As long as we see only distasteful poverty, we are not really entitled to give. When, however, we find people who have truly devoted themselves to work in the slums and the ghettos and who feel that their vocation is to be of service there, we see that they have discovered hidden in the smiles of the children, the hospitality of the people, the expressions they use, the stories they tell, the wisdom they show, the goods they share, is so much richness and beauty, so much affection and human warmth, that the work they are doing is only a small return for what they have already received. In this respect we can better understand those many missionaries who, after living for years in the poorest circumstances, nonetheless became homesick for their missions as soon as they returned to their affluent country. It was not because they wanted to suffer more but because they had found a beauty in their people which they missed in their home community.
I've been in the US for a little more than three weeks and will be here for almost two weeks more, but I long to get back to Honduras, which is my home.  

Dulce Nombre Confirmation retreat, September 6, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bishop Santos as president of Honduras?

Our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, has been in the news in English and Spanish recently. On November 7, when he turns 75, he will send the Vatican his letter of resignation as bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. He expects that he will continue to serve until March, the twenty-eighth anniversary of his ordination as bishop.

Bishop Santos in San Juan, Intibucá, May 31, 2011

A headline to an article in a Catholic newspaper screamed, “Honduran bishop hopes to run for office.”

But it is much better to say that the bishop is considering responding positively to efforts to nominate him as a candidate for the 2013 presidential election. He is not seeking to be a candidate.

This is not news to me. I have heard of groups proposing the bishop as a candidate for more than a year.

Considering a bishop for president reveals on one level the problem of the political situation in Honduras.

Here in Honduras there is a deep lack of trust in the two major political parties, the Liberal Party and the Nationalist Party. Bipartidismo – the monopoly of the two parties – is seen by the Resistance and many others as the scourge of politics here. The parties have dominated the political scene for more than a century. They have succeeded one another, seldom without trying to enrich their candidates and provide favors for their party activists.

There is also a concern among some supporters of the Resistance that the bishop might be the only viable candidate, known to the people, not connected with powerful elites, and incorruptible.

And thus, as I read articles and talk with friends in Honduras, the bishop does not have political ambitions. He is not seeking to run for office, to be president.

In fact, recently he has denied that he wishes to be connected with either one of the major political parties, at least its mainstream leadership, which he has consistently criticized. However it does appear that the Liberals in Resistance have proposed him as a precandidate.

In another article he said that if he were president he would call for a national constitutional convention (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente) to re-write the constitution. He thus allies himself with the Resistance’s proposal to re-found Honduras with a new constitutional order that undercuts the power of the political and economic elites who profit from the current constitution and legal order.

The bishop seeks a political and social order in Honduras that puts a priority on the poor and facilitates their participation in the political process.

And so will the bishop be a candidate? I do not know.

But above all, I know that the bishop does not want to leave the exercise of his priesthood. Being able to celebrate the Eucharist is central to his identity and to his sense of mission.

Where this will lead I do not know.

For several years the bishop has been planning to continue his work for the poor, especially for the poor Lenca people in the department of Intibucá, one of the poorest in Honduras. He has set up a foundation that will fund projects there and in other places in Honduras that will seek to transform lives through education and social projects.

But the bishop knows that the problem in Honduras is systematic. Political and economic structures need to change. If he does run for president it is a last resort in the struggle to bring dignity to the Honduran poor and to assure that they are protagonists in their towns, municipalities and the country.

The real question therefore should not be “Will Monseñor Santos run for president?” The question is “Why would Monseñor Santos consider running for president?”

He answered it well in the interview he had with Paul Jeffrey, "Why do I get involved in politics? Because it is politics that has screwed the poor."

Sadly, that is so true.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fr. Dean Brackley has fallen asleep in the Lord

These people [the poor] shake us up because they bring home to us that things are much worse in the world than we dared to imagine. But that is only one side of the story: If we allow them to share their suffering with us, they communicate some of their hope to us as well. The smile that seems to have no foundation in the facts is not phony; the spirit of fiesta is not an escape but a recognition that something else is going on in the world besides injustice and destruction. The poor smile because they suspect that this something is more powerful than the injustice. When they insist on sharing their tortilla with a visiting gringo, we recognize there is something going on in the world that is more wonderful than we dared to imagine.
It seems that the victim offers us the privileged place (although not the only place) to encounter the truth which sets us free. The poor usher us into the heart of reality. They bring us up against the world and ourselves all at once. To some extent, we all hold reality at arm's length -- fending off intolerable parts of the world with one hand and intolerable parts of ourselves with the other. The two go together. As a rule, our encounters with the world place us in touch with internal reality, as well. In particular, when the world's pain crashes in upon us in the person of the victim, the encounter dredges up from within us the parts of ourselves that we had banished. The outcast outside us calls forth the outcast within us. This is why people avoid the poor. But meeting them can heal us. We will only heal our inner divisions if we are also working to heal our social divisions. 
The victims of history -- the destitute, abused women, oppressed minorities, all those the Bible calls "the poor" -- not only put us in touch with the world and with ourselves, but also with the mercy of God. There is something fathomless about the encounter with the poor, as we have said -- like the opening of a chess game with its infinite possibilities. If we let them, the poor will place us before the abyss of the holy Mystery we call God. They are a kind of door that opens before that Mystery.
Fr. Dean Brackley, S.J., "Meeting the  Victims, Falling in Love"

Fr. Dean Brackley, S.J.
I think I first met Jesuit Father Dean Brackley in 1992 when I spent seven months in El Salvador, mostly in the parish of Suchitoto. 

On many subsequent visits I have dropped by to see him and when I brought groups of students I tried to have them meet him. Beside his pastoral duties and his teaching at the Central American University, Dean helped many people who visited El Salvador interpret their experiences.

Dean came to the UCA about 1990, responding to the call for Jesuits to come after the killing of six Jesuits and two women at the UCA in November 1989. 

Dean, a theologian of some renown, had worked with the poor in the Bronx, The poor were central to his faith and hs following of Christ. May there be more people like Dean who serve the poorest, bringing their intellectual gifts and their love to those at the margins of society.

Several years ago Dean Brackley wrote a book that seeks to bring the spirit of St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises.  I've read it several times and it helped me make my decision to move to Honduras. It's a book I often recommend:  The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola.  It has also been translated into Spanish: Espiritualidad para la solidaridad: nuevas perspectivas ignacianas. 

I saw Dean in El Salvador last December before his cancer was diagnosed. He was interested in knowing about Honduras and my experience, always concerned about the poor.

May he be welcomed by the angels and by the many Lazaruses, the poor, to the kingdom of heaven which he served so well in his life. 

Here's a  video of a talk Dean gave in 2010 at my alma mater, the university of Scranton.

The image of Dean was taken from the Facebook page, Dean Brackley's Prayer Circle

Friday, October 14, 2011


The last few days I have been incommunicado – spending three days on a silent retreat, even without internet, at a Jesuit retreat house outside Detroit. 

Chapel by a stream at the Manresa Retreat Center

Just what I needed.

I tend to fill up my days with work, reading, internet, and whatever. I had almost three days without a schedule (except for 8:00 am Mass and meals).

As I prayed, read scripture, finished Shane Claibourne’s The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours as well as the Stations of the Cross (outside) and the rosary, I found myself touched by three words.

The first day I found myself recalling God’s love, manifested in so many ways.

The second day there was a half-hour meditation after Mass. During it participants were urged to find a word to use throughout the thirty minutes. When I read the sheet describing the meditation, the verb “courage!” immediately surfaced. It’s what Jesus says so many times to his disciples.

The third day the word “hope” surfaced.

What amazing words: love, courage, hope.

Outside my window
As I meditated on love, I thought of how I experience God’s love in so many ways – through friends, through the opportunity to serve in Honduras, through the beauty of the earth.

Courage – take heart – really challenged me. Why might I need courage in the coming year? Are there challenges – personal or social? Are there dangers? God knows.

But I recalled how a few people had been asking me if I was in danger. I honestly answered that, though I may be challenging my guardian angel at times, I was where I believe God wants me and feel at peace. I don’t feel in danger, though.

The last day was hope. It might seem easy to be hopeful in the US. But I find hope in Honduras, especially when I am with those I love in the countryside – amidst pain and poverty, but also in the midst of joy and sharing.

Somehow all this came together at Mass on Wednesday morning. As we began the Our Father I could hardly get past the “Our.” Somehow I felt so connected with the People of God assembled there, with the friends and family I had met with out east, and with the people in Honduras.

We are in this together – bound together in love, encouraged by each other and by God’s Spirit, and called to give a reason for our hope.

And so I left the retreat house Thursday morning to go to the University of Detroit-Mercy where I’m talking to three groups – twice on Honduras, once on my personal journey. After that, I’m off to Ames, Iowa.

It’s good to be here, especially because it’s great to see Dave Nantais, the director of campus ministry, who was a grad student at Iowa State University in 1992!

I came back to more than 300 new e-mails – mostly things I quickly deleted, but I found three fascinating pieces by Paul Jeffrey.

There is a moving photo essay on a killing in the Bajo Aguan in Honduras.

There is a great story about Padre Fausto Milla, a priest I greatly admire and whom I’ve written about several times.

And there’s another story about the possible candidature of our bishop for the 2013 presidential election. (I need to think about this one!)

Reading these, I wish I were home in Honduras, but what I need to do in the next three weeks is share with people the reality of Honduras, the people who are impoverished but rich in faith, suffering but generous and hospitable, my people.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

A missionary in the United States

I arrived in the US in the Newark airport, late on Friday night, September 30. It was a normal set of flights, except that I got a full-body pat down at the Atlanta airport.

I spent a few days with a friend whom I’ve known since we met at Camp Don Bosco in the summer after fifth grade! He’s pastor of a church in northern New Jersey. It was a nice way to transition into the US since I didn’t have anything I had to do.

His parish was having their annual carnival; so I got to see a little of the US parish culture with snow-cones, beer, food, rides, and carnival games. No rides or games for me, but it was good to see so many people and to see so much involvement in the parish.

I took a few hours to go into Manhattan to walk around. Manhattan is a great place to walk; it’s so easy to get from one place to another without needing transport other than your two feet. It was fascinating to see so many people from so many different cultures and countries, hearing different languages.

I did stop into one “mall” by Columbus Circle (to use the bathroom); that was another culture, with a large atrium and lots of stores with expensive goods that I would never use nor have the money to buy.

Tuesday, I took the train to Philadelphia where I’m staying with a cousin while I make other visits.

A friend of another cousin invited me to speak to the seventh and eighth grade religion classes at her school. The students were attentive, especially the seventh graders who were full of questions.

One question really hit me: “When you were young did you ever think you’d be a missionary?” To be honest, I didn’t. It was only after going to New Orleans after Katrina that it became a real possibility for me.

As I spoke with the classes I also tried to share how the people in the parish of Dulce Nombre in Honduras are missionaries, evangelizing other people in their communities. One can, and should be a missionary where one lives. I hope that they got this message. We who are missionaries abroad have the privilege of doing it in a special way – but all followers of Christ have this call to mission.

Some people have said that what I’m doing in the US is “reverse mission” – but I really consider it to be just “mission.” How can I help share the Good News of Jesus with the people here, reflecting on the poor I work with in Honduras?

So far I’ve mostly had the chance to do this visiting friends and family. A dinner with the sisters at the convent where my cousin lives was a delight. A visit with an Augustinian friar who was two years behind me in grade school was like visiting a long-lost friend, even though I hardly knew him way back then. (It helps that he works with a parish that has a large concentration of Spanish speakers and that he spent eighteen years as a missionary in Japan.

Monday I head out of the Philadelphia area, first to Detroit and then to Iowa. After three retreat days, the working vacation begins: about 16 presentations in three weeks – at University of Detroit-Mercy, then in Ames at St. Thomas Aquinas and at classes in classes at Iowa State, and also some presentations at Simpson College and Loras College.

I’ll also have ample time to visit with friends – and probably eat way too much! But it’s part of my mission, even though I’m homesick for Honduras.

It’s hard to be away, especially in the light of the violence being perpetrated against the poor in the northeast part of Honduras and in light of the situation of our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, who has to send the Vatican his letter of resignation when he turns seventy five years old November 7. Interestingly some of the opposition groups are trying to recruit him as a presidential candidate in the 2013 elections.

My home now is Honduras and I’m homesick for Santa Rosa and Dulce Nombre. But being here in the US is something I need to do – another call from God to be a missionary.