Saturday, October 31, 2015

Marriage and the Eucharist:a reflection from rural Honduras

One major controversy that wracked the public discussion about the recent synod on the family was the question of whether to permit those who had been divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist.

I won’t weigh in on the issue, waiting for some pastoral wisdom from Pope Francis. But I do want to share some thoughts about both from where I am.

Many visitors are surprised with so few people who receive Communion at Masses here, especially in the countryside. In the past few months, when I’ve been visiting villages with the Eucharist for a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion, I encourage the people to receive communion.

I sometimes ask them how many times they eat a day. Mostly likely three, with perhaps two snacks, they finally admit. But then I try to connect this with the Eucharist, the Bread of Life.

I admit that many of them have not been married in the church. I urge them to find ways to get married – which is not easy here, because the civil costs are often at least $100. In addition, many young people do not have examples of married couples and so don’t think about marriage. I see many unmarried couples with children in church and just long to find a way for them to be able to come together at the Table of the Lord.

But also at the base of infrequent communion is the belief that one cannot receive communion unless one has confessed almost immediately before. “No sinful person should approach the Eucharist” is a common sentiment.

This, of course, is rooted in a theology that is emphasizes sinfulness and divine punishment, rather than the medicine of God’s mercy. I wonder how much this is due to political, economic, and religious forces that play down the human dignity of all people, especially the poor. But that’s another very serious question.

I try to help them understand the theology that says one can receive communion if one has committed a mortal sin that has not been confessed. I sometimes think that this is new to many of them.

But not going to communion doesn’t mean that there is not a deep devotion to the Eucharist. In our parish, every Thursday there is a Holy Hour – and sometimes hours of adoration  before the exposed Eucharist – wherever the Eucharist is reserved. There is even one village where they have a Holy Hour even though they don’t have the Eucharist reserved!

2011 Corpus Christi procession in a village
I believe there is a hunger for Christ, indeed a hunger for the Eucharist, that some theological musings and church customs don’t recognize.

Can we pray and discuss the question of marriage and communion with this hunger in mind?

Can we pray and discuss these questions as we find ways for couples to be married as a sacramental sign of God’s love which they may already be living?

These are questions that deeply touch my heart.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A day of revelations

Many days here in the parish of Dulce Nombre go by in which nothing special or different happens. That’s fine because that’s sometime when God works best with us.

I get up; I put on the coffee; I shower; I get the coffee and sit down to pray and read. Then, I go downstairs and eat breakfast while checking mail and Facebook. Then I head out for a meeting, a visit with Padre German, or a trip to Santa Rosa to get supplies or get the car checked out.

But other days are blessed by little events that make life shine. Today was one of those days.

I headed out to El Zapote de Santa Rosa for a workshop with catechists from one of the zones of the parish. Tuesday I had facilitated the same workshop for catechists in another zone. I have two more workshops next week.


I had arranged to meet with some of the small coffee growers who are forming an association with hopes of developing a good market for their coffee. These four had sent five sacks of coffee to the US this year. I had some money for them.

After handing over the money, they told me that the Beneficio that had processed their coffee was interested in working with them. The beneficio noted the quality of their semi-high altitude coffee (1.2 kilometers high). This could be very good but I hope that St. Thomas can continue to work with them to buy some of the coffee.


The workshop began with twenty catechists - a few were missing for various reasons (school or health) but they are a good group.

These past two years we have been trying to help the people pray the scriptures and not just read them for moralistic admonitions – which happens all too often here.

We have tried to teach them a form of lectio divina, a prayerful reading of a scripture passage; when a word or phrase touches your heart, stop, repeat it, and let it sink into your heart.

The base communities are reading Gospel passages with a form of Ignatian contemplation in which the readers put themselves into the scene, into the action, and pays attention to feelings and sentiments, letting the actions of Jesus become real for them.

Today I tried something new for me. I read Psalm 23 and asked them to pay attention to the phrase that touched them. I handed out paper, pencils, and crayons and asked them to draw the image that touched them. 

They really got into this and took about half an hour working on their drawings.

Then we read the psalm again and posted the drawings after a phrase was read.  As happened in Tuesday’s workshop, almost every phrase had at least one drawing, some of them quite detailed.
from Tuesday's workshop
Psalm 23 drawings
from today's workshop

What a marvelous way for them to approach prayer – moving from the mind to the heart to the hands.

I looked on in wonder.


During lunch I sat under a tree with a few catechists and they asked me about the diaconate.

Since the permanent diaconate is virtually unknown in Honduras – there are only two in Tegucigalpa – there were a number of questions, including one if that meant I would become a priest.

I explained that the diaconate is a separate vocation – representing Christ the Servant to the community as a way to encourage all the faithful to live up to their baptismal call to being a servant.

We talked about other aspects of the diaconate and I especially expressed my concern that the permanent diaconate in Honduras could become a phenomenon of the cities and of people who had much more education than most of the people who live in the countryside. The need for servants – deacons – is in the countryside.

But then Matias mentioned that perhaps the deacon was one who could bring the concerns of the people to the bishop and then bring those of the bishop to the people.

I nearly fell off the bench I was seated on.

An Italian bishop at Council of Trent had urged the restoration of the diaconate noting that 
“The Church has always used [the service of deacons]. Not only in ministering at the altar, but in baptism, in care of hospitals, of widows, and of suffering persons. Finally all the needs of the people are mediated to the bishop by deacons.”
A recent article by Deacon Thomas Baker noted that 
“This special flavor of the deacon’s identity found expression, in time, in the ancient thought that the deacons served as “the bishop’s eyes and ears”  —informing the community about the concerns and desires of the bishop, and reporting to the bishop the needs and situation of his people.”
No theology, no study had given Matias this insight into what a deacon is.

I was floored.


As I left a farmer I had met on Tuesday on my way to the other workshop came up with a large sack of oranges and mandarins.

He had given me about forty mandarins on Tuesday, most of which I distributed at the workshop that day.

He had promised to give me more, as well as some oranges, on Thursday when I was in El Zapote (he is from El Zapote). There were about forty mandarins and forty oranges.

I came some mandarins to folks here in Plan Grande as I returned home, but I still have many to eat and share.

The farmer’s wife is suffering with rheumatoid arthritis and he is concerned about medicine for her.

But with all this he was happy to give me lots of citrus – which I love.


While we were doing the evaluation, one of the workshop participants noted how the people in San Agustin were happy with how I had helped them with the confirmation liturgy this past Monday.

I will be working with people from this zone on Saturday to prepare the confirmation liturgy here in El Zapote on November 13. I had worked with folks from another zone on Tuesday to help them prepare their liturgy.

I reflected aloud on my approach. The liturgy has to be theirs, but often this is overwhelming. The bishop is coming! We have to do it right!

What I try to do is make it easier for them to do it well. I try to give them a clear idea of what we are going to do but I leave much to them. They choose the readers; they agree to the readings we’ll use; they choose different people for the offertory procession; etc. But I have the readings prepared; I have a list of things that need to be done; and I promise to be there at least an hour before so that we can make sure all goes well.

I reflected on this out loud, in light of the principle of subsidiarity.

In some way I am trying to live out the Catholic Social Principle of subsidiarity.  According to that principle higher level institutions should not do what more grass roots institutions can do – but they also should provide assistance (“subsidy”). You don’t do everything for people but you provide help so that they can prosper.

That’s what I am here for – to accompany the people in their path toward being signs of God’s Reign here in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

Today was a day that help me to learn more about that ministry of accompaniment, about that way of trying to become a servant, about what it means to be a “deacon.”

Monday, October 26, 2015

Installed lector

I have been a lector at Mass for many years, privileged to read the Word of God so that others may hear and respond.

Yesterday morning I was installed as a lector by our bishop, Monseñor Darwin Andino, in a short ritual in the village of Montaña Adentro, where the bishop had gone to confirm more than sixty people – which included two elderly women.

The bishop had originally wanted to have the ritual at the afternoon Mass in the main parish church in Dulce Nombre, but both Padre German, our pastor, and I persuaded the bishop at the last moment – almost literally. I am so glad that it happened there.

I think it is significant that this happened among the poor, in a church on a mountainside.

There are two other reasons I think the place was appropriate. Several years ago a group of students from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames came and helped with the foundations of the Montaña Adentro church.

Also, in the past few years Montaña Adentro has experienced the killing of four members of its small community.

So here I was, before the bishop, to be installed as an “official” lector.

What does that mean?

In 1972 when Pope Paul VI changed the four “minor orders” for two ministries: lector and acolyte, he wrote, in the Apostolic Letter Ministeria Quaedam:
The reader is appointed for a function proper to him, that of reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly. Accordingly, he is to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture, except for the gospel in the Mass and other sacred celebrations; he is to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; he is to present the intentions for the general intercessions in the absence of a deacon or cantor; he is to direct the singing and the participation by the faithful; he is to instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments. He may also, insofar as may be necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations. That he may more fittingly and perfectly fulfill these functions, he is to meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture.
Aware of the office he has undertaken, the reader is to make every effort and employ suitable means to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of Scripture that will make him a more perfect disciple of the Lord.
Here in Honduras I have not been reading as much as I did in the United States. In most ways, it’s more appropriate that native speakers read the scriptures.

But more recently I have been trying to help them read the scriptures better. Many of the people I work with have very little formal education and so reading publicly can be quite a challenge. Thus it is important for an “installed” lector to help them become better proclaimers of the Word of God which many of them are practicing better than I am.

But the real challenge of the lectorate is to meditate more on scripture, to acquire an “increasingly warm and living love and knowledge” of the Word of God, to become a better disciple of the Lord.

In the service in Montaña Adentro, the bishop read the recommended remarks from the ritual, which included several admonitions to the lector, or, as he is called, “the messenger of the Word of God.”
You will proclaim the Word of God in the liturgical assembly; you will educate children and adults in the faith and prepare them to receive the sacraments; you will announce the message of salvation to those who do not know it.
In this was and with your cooperation, all will be able to attain an understanding of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, sent be him, and they will be able to attain eternal salvation.
When you announce to others the Word of God, be docile to the Holy Spirit and receiving that Word, meditate on it with diligence in order that you may progressively acquire the soft and living affection [suave y vivo afecto] for the divine Word and that your life way give witness to our Savior Jesus Christ.
After a prayer the bishop handed me a Bible with these words:
Receive the book of the Sacred Scripture
and faithfully hand on the Word of God
that it may be more alive and effective
in the hearts of men [and women].

Reading scripture, mostly the psalms of the Liturgy of Hours each day and the daily readings from the lectionary, has been an important part of my life for many years. But perhaps what I really need to do is to read it, to study it, to pray it with more dedication in the coming year.

My ministry in the Dulce Nombre will help this since we will dedicate the year of studying the Bible for pastoral workers.

But above, it will mean trying not to rush through the psalms and the daily readings, trying to read them prayerfully – and in light of the signs of the times, so that I may better serve the people here.


More confirmation photos can be found here.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

St. Francis and the violin of sticks

Yesterday I went to El Zapote Santa Rosa. I was planning to go to their Mass for the vigil of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, their patron. When I got there I found out that Mass wouldn’t start until 6:00 PM. I decided I’d stay until the procession began, since I was planning on going to two Masses on Sunday, his feast day.

Despite being an introvert, I sometimes find myself being rather overflowing with energy, interacting with a lot of folks. Last night was one of those times.

I talked to scores of the people waiting for the procession to begin – kidding around with the kids, talking with the young men who are almost always at the edge of church meetings, scaring a few infants but entertaining many kids.

There was a marching band of percussion from Dulce Nombre who had come out for the procession. 

While they were drumming, I remembered the Philadelphia Mummers Day parades on January 1. I began to strut and “dance” to the rhythm. I invited others to join – but no one did. In fact, I think I scared one older woman!

Then, while near the truck with the statue of St. Francis, I remember the story of St. Francis picking up two sticks and playing his “violin.” I even got two kids to play two sticks.

I was having a lot of fun and full of joy and wonder.

The procession began after Padre German arrived with the sound system. The truck with the statue of St. Francis was followed by kids and others with saplings which they were going to distribute Sunday to be planted.

I left a little sad because I wouldn’t be joining them for Mass, since that would mean getting home about 8:30 PM. But I watched as they walked to the church.

When I got home I looked for the tale of Francis and the stick violin. I found several but the one I like is from Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel Saint Francis:
      One morning he sat up in bed and clapped his hands with elation. “Do you know what I’ve been thinking all night long, Brother Leo?” he shouted to me. “That every piece of wood is a lute or violin; that it has a voice and glorifies the Lord. . . . If you want my blessing, Brother Leo, bring me two pieces of wood.”
      I brought them. He placed the first on his shoulder and slid the other over it with rapid bowlike motions. Seated on his mattress, he played and sang endlessly, beside himself with joy. His eyes were closed, his head thrown back: he was in ecstasy.          “Do you hear the pieces of wood, do you hear them singing?” he asked me. “Listen!”
      At first I heard nothing but the two sticks rubbing and grating against each other. But gradually my ear became attuned, my soul awoke, and I began to hear an infinitely sweet melody coming from the two dry branches. In Francis’s hands the mute wood had become a viol.
      “Do you hear, Brother Leo? Do you hear? Cast aside your mind and leave your heart free to listen. When a person believes in God there is no such thing as a mute piece of wood, or pain unaccompanied by exultation, or ordinary everyday life without miracles!”
All creation speaks and sings in praise of God, even the piece of wood that appears mute.