Monday, February 29, 2016

My office of service

What am I doing?

Sunday I decided to go to the 7:00 AM Mass in Concepción. After Mass I went to a nearby village to see what they were doing in their Celebrations of the Word and to make sure the elect – the former catechumens – were there for the first scrutiny.

The village is a bit disorganized but there were three young people who, God willing, will be baptized in the Easter Vigil. I led the Scrutinies since the catechist was not ready.

What struck me, though, is that I recognized one of the catechumens. This village was one of the first I visited in 2007 0r 2008 and where I stayed for several days. I remember being in the church the first day, waiting for people. A number of kids came in the church and were sitting and talking with me. But this one kid, about six, took up the Liturgy of the Hours book I had and began to read it. I was impressed. I am now happy to see that he will be soon baptized.

He is from a poor family. Yet despite this, he is in eighth grade in the school up the hill from his village, probably a 30 minute walk. He asked me for some money for something he needed in school. I talked with him about this and he will try another option (though the mayor’s office); if that doesn’t work, I asked him to have his teacher write me a note.

Last Saturday, we had the first assembly of the new candidates for communion ministry. Nineteen showed up and the current communion ministers explained to them the aspects of their formation – formation in the liturgy, especially the Mass; formation and practice of pastoral care of the sick (including visits to the sick with current communion minsters); formation in prayer and a Eucharistic spirituality (including accompanying the communion ministers during Holy Week visits to the communities and in the days of prayer held in all the sectors every two months). It was a good day.

Friday, I had gone to Santa Rosa de Copán because one of my tires was severely worn. I could see the metal! So I went in and bought two new tires. On the way home I stopped at a supermarket to get a few things and ran into one of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters. She told me where the others were. I found one there and we went and saw the others. As always, it is a real blessing to have these sisters as friends. They are a real support – spiritually and otherwise (especially when Nancy makes cookies and other sweets with lots of dark chocolate.

Wednesday, I had worked with about 65 people from the villages in workshop to prepare for Holy Week. Many of the villages are so far away that they cannot get to the main church for Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Thus they prepare Celebrations of the Word in their communities. Padre German had asked me to do a workshop again this year, so that there is some consistency among the celebrations and so that we avoid some very unusual practices which I’ve seen in the past.

In a number of places on Holy Thursday they used to have reenactments of the Last Supper as part of the service. This included having twelve men (whose feet would be washed) at a table where they would drink Coca-Cola and eat crackers. I realize the intention was good – but it really struck me as being more “drama” than worship.

I specifically addressed one Holy Thursday practice which I witnessed even last year. Twelve men were chosen for the washing of the feet and were given name tags of the apostles. In some places they had to be men who could receive communion. I shared with them the recent message from Pope Francis that those chosen for the foot-washing could include women, children, and old people as well as men. I also encouraged them not to name the persons after an apostle since this isn’t a drama or a re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet. It is a sacramental – a sign of the presence of God and of God’s call for us to serve, washing each others’ feet.

After all this, and in light of sunny warmer weather, I had hoped to spend today washing clothes, cleaning the house, and working on the parish Stations of the Cross for March 18. Yet I got a phone call about 10 am asking if I was going to the funeral Mass for a woman from Montaña Adentro who died the day before. I knew the woman had died since her nephew who a taking care of her (and his grandmother) noted this on his Facebook page. (Yes, Facebook has made it to the villages). I decided to go with Elsa and two other women from Plan Grande who are cousins of the woman who died.

The Mass didn’t start until noon (even though it was scheduled for 11 am.) I spent part of the time showing one of the sisters where to find the readings and the prayers in the Missal and Lectionary. I will work with her on preparing for Holy Week.

I also spoke with Padre German who shared that the woman had suffered for almost 13 years, much of it bed-ridden. Also, about two years ago her husband was killed in cold blood. I had met Candida Natalia a few months back when I visited the village and brought her and her mother communion.

I assisted at the Mass and then went with the family and friends to the cemetery. It is not the general custom of priests here to go to the cemetery – partly because of the number of funerals, partly because they often walk to the cemetery.

It has not been the custom, either, for the delegates of the Word or communion ministers to go to the gravesite to pray. At times the family brings holy water to sprinkle in the grave. But we will begin the practice of praying at the gravesite this year since Padre German and I see it as a very important way to show the mercy and compassion of God.

So I went to the gravesite.  I was surprised to see that they had holy water. I used some of the ritual prayers, which I found so consoling when my father and my mother were buried. Then I poured holy water in the form of a cross on the casket and asked family members to also do it. They then asked me about holy water in the grave. I did it explaining that only a priest or deacon could liturgically bless a grave.

It was for me a moving morning and early afternoon.

I got home about 3:30, in time to wash the rest of the clothes and take down the clothes that had dried. The second batch of clothes still needs to dry.

Tomorrow, I’ll go to Santa Rosa for my regular three month medical check up; I need to watch cholesterol and blood pressure. Nothing serious, but it’s good to be on top of health matters.

The rest of the week I’ll try to do some visits to communities, preferably with Padre German for Mass. I’ll also work on the Stations for March 18 as well as a for a meeting of youth group leaders on Sunday.

Next week I’ll be attending the retreat for clergy of the diocese – even though I’m not yet a cleric.

After that the big events are the parish Stations of the Cross on March 18 and Holy Week. I'll be going to the really poor village of Debajiados for Good Friday. I was there a few years ago and it was moving to be there. Easter Sunday morning I'll be heading for Delicias Concepción, on the side of the mountain. I have a retreat for youth leaders on Monday of Holy Week. I will be in Dulce Nombre for the Palm Sunday Procession and Mass and the Easter Vigil. I still don't know where I'll be for Holy Thursday.

What I have written above is only part of my life here. I’m also in contact with a small coffee association. I just got word that St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Ames will probably purchase 3000 pounds of their coffee this year – at a price that is much better than the 60¢ per pound that they are getting for unprocessed coffee.

 Please don’t think that I am super busy – I have plenty of time to read and spend all too much time on the computer.

Why am I sharing all these details? Mostly so people can know a bit of what I am doing. But also to help me look at what I do.

Sunday afternoon I sat down and read three essays by Karl Rahner on the diaconate in the US Catholic Bishops Conference’s e-book Foundations for the Renewal of the Diaconate, articles written about the time the Second Vatican Council proposed the diaconate as permanent. I was taken aback at how much his ideas reflect some of my initial thoughts on the diaconate. Rahner's insights take on new meaning as I look at how I serve here in the parish,.

For Rahner, to simplify, the diaconate as "office" was already being practiced in the church as an office,  through non-ordained members of the Church. There are innumerable people serving as catechists, serving the poor.

It is certainly true that in the Latin Church only sacramentally ordained deacons possess the powers of administering solemn baptism and of distributing holy communion in the ordinary course of events. But it would be arbitrary and objectively unjustified to conceive these two powers as the real nature of the diaconate, as if this nature were present only when these powers are present. These two powers do not have any essential superiority over any others, if only because no one can dispute the fact that the Church could, if she wished, confer these two powers even without the sacramental ordination. The remaining duties of proclaiming God’s word; of fulfilling important administrative functions as auxiliary organs of the bishop; of teaching Christian doctrine to the rising generation; duties of catechesis of adults; marriage instructions; even—in exceptional cases—of looking after a parish that is without a priest; duties of directing Christian organizations and clubs; and so forth, all these are certainly factors just as important in extent and depth for the total office and commission of the Church as are the specifically liturgical functions, which one may not indeed exclude from the basic elements of the office of deacon… (p. 152)

He proposed that

Those individuals ought to be put forward for ordination who have already de facto acquired sufficient formation and experience in the Church’s work, and who are already performing the official functions of deacons. (p. 189)

Thus the ordained deacon, or the one who receives the “grace of the office,” can make the whole church more aware of its diaconal calling and of those who serve in diaconal offices.

…these pastoral reasons for the office, even where the office itself already exists, are also reasons for the opportuneness of the restoration of the sacramental transmission of the office, and this precisely because a sacramental transmission of office (as distinct from a nonsacramental transmission) can make the faithful more aware of the significance of the office itself, and can increase the attraction, propagation, and appreciation of the office itself for and among the faithful. (p. 154)

I share these words of Rahner as I look at what I’ve been doing – not just in the past week, but in the past eight and a half years here in Honduras. In some ways I’ve been graced with the opportunity to serve in the office of deacon, without being ordained. If I should be ordained (possibly this coming June or July), I pray that the grace of the office may help me better serve God and God’s people here. For, as I understand it, that is part of the reason for ordaining a deacon.

Any conferment of office by the Church and in her, therefore, always also constitutes the offering and the promise of that grace which alone really makes the fulfillment of this office an ecclesiastical fulfillment in the full sense. Any such “grace of office,” therefore, is given precisely in order that the individual holder of the office may fulfill his ministry for the other members of the Church in accordance with its true nature. It “sanctifies” the holder of the office precisely inasmuch as it equips him not to seek his own sanctification in an “egoistical” manner, but rather, by directing his gaze away from himself and forgetting himself, to serve his neighbor in the Church.
…this grace of office is not something that takes place solely at that particular point in time when the office is sacramentally conferred and actually constitutes that point, but rather implies the promise of God to support with his grace the whole conduct of office on the part of the ordained individual in his life, a promise which, therefore, is constantly achieving fresh actualization in the life of the deacon. (p. 208)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A missionary martyr

A missionary martyr from Oklahoma? 

Ash Wednesday I finished a new book about a missionary martyr, The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Father Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma by María Ruiz Scaperlanda.

I have read Henri Nouwen’s book, Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story, as well as the chapter on Fr. Stan Rother in Murdered in Central America: The Stories of Eleven U.S. Missionaries by Donna Whitson Brett and Edward T. Brett.

I have twice visited Santiago Atitlán, once with a Guatemalan who spoke one of the languages spoken there and knew some of the people. I remember the shrine with Fr. Stan’s heart on the right side as I entered the church. I took some pictures a few of which I scanned. But I only have one of the cross and retable available here in Honduras.

But this book helped me to understand even more deeply the witness of this US missionary and to make it personal.

María Ruiz Scaperlanda gives us a moving portrait of Fr. Stan. What comes through in the book is Stan’s humanity which included his struggle with anger. He is no plaster saint, but a real person.

I was particularly impressed by his simplicity – an Oklahoma farm boy who flourished in a different context, because of his love for the people.  Reading the book, I was reminded of Father Ron Hennessey, a Maryknoll missionary and Iowa farm boy, who also served in Guatemala about the same time as Father Stan Rother. (I wrote about Ron here.)

As María Ruiz Scaperlanda writes (p. 228):
Because he understood the Gospel values, not as a set of ideas but an affair of the heart, Father Stanley could take care of the most menial duties with his whole being. Whether listening to someone’s pain, fixing a car, changing a diaper, driving someone to the doctor, or shopping for supplies for the mission, he understood the reality of God’s presence in each act — and by doing so, he proclaimed the Gospel of love, joy, and hope with his whole being.
At the end of the book, the author compares Fr. Stan with Saint John Marie Vianney, the Curé de Ars. They both struggled with seminary studies. They both served in out of the way parishes where their love of the people was exemplary.

But what really hit me as I finished reading it on Ash Wednesday evening was Fr. Stan’s commitment and his total giving of himself to the people. The word often used here is entrega, giving oneself over. It stirred me to examine what I am doing here. Am I really given myself to the people, really moving out of myself in order to serve the people here.

I especially appreciated the author’s discussion of the importance of presence. For me, one of the essential aspects of missionary life is being present. What we do is often less important than our presence, or accompanying the people in their lives and in their struggles.

As the author wrote (p. 228):
By constantly striving to deliberately be present to the people in front of him, to the needs in front of him, Father Stanley proclaimed a God who lives and suffers with his people.
Fr. Stanley Rother explained it this way (pp. 181-182):
“[O]ur presence here means a lot for the people,” Father Stanley wrote to Frankie Williams. He continued: When I hear the people during Mass here on Sunday or Thursday, the cacophony of prayers going up to the Lord, His presence must be there. I am delighted to be a part…. At first signs of danger, the shepherd can’t run and leave the sheep fend for themselves.”
A few years ago, before the 2009 Honduras coup, a friend here asked me if I’d leave in the face of violence or military invasion. I said no because I am here with the people and they are for me God’s security.

I therefore take great comfort and courage from Father Stan’s note to a friend (p. 158):
I haven’t received any threats as such, but if anything happens that is the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t intend to run from danger, but at the same time I don’t intend to unnecessarily put myself into danger. I want to live like anyone else. What I have told you here is just for you, not to say any of this to the folks…. We just need the help of God to do our work well and to be able to take it if the time comes that we are asked to suffer for Him.
I treasure this book as reminder of my mission and as a challenge and consolation in the midst of my ministry in western Honduras.

The Shepherd Who Didn't Run can be ordered on Amazon or from Our Sunday Visitor.

Thomas Melville's book on Ron Hennessey, Through A Glass Darkly: The U.S. Holocaust in Central America is available on Kindle from Amazon.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Who is not a Christian?

Who is not a Christian?

Pope Francis touched a high voltage electric wire when he said, in an airborne interview after leaving Mexico:
A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. 
It is important to put his words in context, reading the entire interview, as reported by ZENIT: 
Question: “You spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigrants. On the other side of the border, however, there is a rather tough electoral campaign in progress. One of the candidates to the White House, the Republican Donald Trump, recently said in an interview that His Holiness is a man of politics or indeed even a pawn in the hands of the Mexican government to favor a policy of immigration. He has declared that, if elected, he intends to construct a 2,500 kilometer wall along the border between Mexico and the United States, and to deport eleven million illegal immigrants, thus separating families, and so on. I would like to ask, first of all, what you think of these accusations and whether an American Catholic can vote for such a person”.
Pope Francis: “I thank God that he has said I am a politician, as Aristotle defined the human being as an ‘animal politicus’: at least I am a human being! And that I am a pawn … perhaps, I do not know. I will leave that to your judgment, to the people. A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. With regard to what I would advise, to vote or not to vote: I would not like to become involved. I would say only that this man is not Christian. It is necessary to see if he has said these things, and for this reason I would give the benefit of the doubt”.
But the blog Super Martyrio puts the Pope’s statement in the context of other similar statements of the pontiff (which, not surprisingly, means “bridge-builder).
  • A Christian who withdraws into himself, who hides everything that the Lord has given him... is not a Christian!
  • A Christian without joy is not Christian.
  • A Christian without memory is not a true Christian …
  • One who gives alms and sounds the trumpet so that everyone knows is not a Christian.
  • A Christian who continually lives in sadness is not Christian.
  • One who simply speaks and acts, is not a true prophet, is not a true Christian.
  • If you can’t forgive, you are not a Christian.
  • When a Christian would prefer not to show the light of God but prefers his own darkness … he’s missing something and is not a true Christian.
In the blog entry, delightfully entitled "Francis goes apophatic, Trump goes apoplectic," the writer Carlos refers to several quotes of Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero about the true church, but I think this quote of Monseñor Romero, from February 17, 1980 , speaks much more closely to what Pope Francis said and meant:

This is the commitment of being a Christian: to follow Christ in his incarnation. If Christ, the God of majesty, became a lowly human and lived with the poor and even died on a cross like a slave, our Christian faith should also be lived in the same way. The Christian who does not want to live his commitment of solidarity with the poor is not worthy to be called Christian. 

This statement, a little more than a month before his martyrdom, is reflected in a homily he gave in his first year as archbishop, on November 13, 1977: 
Do you want to know if your Christianity is genuine?Here is the touchstone:Whom do you get along with?Who are those who criticize you?Who are those who do not accept you?Who are those who flatter you?Know from that what Christ said once:“I have come not to bring peace, but division.”10
There will be division even in the same family,because some want to live more comfortablyby the world’s principles, those of power and money.But others have embraced the call of Christand must reject all that cannot be just in the world. 

These words of Blessed Monseñor Romero and the words of Pope Francis can serve as points for an examination of conscience for everyone who dare call herself or himself a Christian.