Sunday, May 29, 2016

Corpus Christi in the streets

I arrived back in Honduras on Saturday, May 28, after taking part in a pre-ordination retreat with the deacon candidates of the archdiocese of Newark.

Toward the end of the retreat I started reading Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God, a classic work on Mary from 1945. The work is rich in so many ways, opening up a contemplative spirituality of everyday life.  

One section, on page 59, particularly struck me:
Today Christ is dependent upon men. In the Host He is literally put into a man's hands. A man must carry Him to the dying, must take Him into the prisons, workhouses, and hospitals, must carry Him in a tiny pyx over the heart onto the field of battle, must give Him to little children and “lay Him by” in His “leaflight” house of gold.
Now we would rightly say that Christ is dependent on human persons to bring Him to the corners of the world.

I think of the Communion ministers in our parish who visit the sick nearby and lead days of prayer every other month in distant parts of the parish. I particularly recall Marco Tulio who has been known to walk three hours to bring Communion to a village.

This morning I went into Dulce Nombre for the Corpus Christi Mass and procession. I usually try to get to one of the four or five Masses Padre German celebrates each Sunday in different parts of the parish.

We started at the outskirts of Dulce Nombre and processed to the main church, stopping five times at altars for a reflection (on creation, mercy, the family, violence, and evangelization) and blessing with the monstrance.

Padre German had me carry the monstrance twice during the procession. The second time I was keenly aware that I was carrying Christ in the streets of the town, passing by people who may or may not believe or practice their faith. I saw a few young guys I know from Plan Grande and all I wanted to do was to turn the monstrance toward them so that they might get a glimpse of a God who is vulnerable and loves each of us.

I know that Christ is already here in all parts of our world. But we need a special presence of God, a God who is vulnerable, who is willing to be broken for us, who is our food and nourishment.

This call to bring Christ in a special way to the vulnerable was one of the fruits of my retreat. Sad to say I won’t be able to do this today – I’m still feeling tired after a day long journey from Newark to Plan Grande and I’m still feeling a bit ill, a cold that I picked up in the US.

But the importance of being there with others, in remote parts of our parish, is clearly something that I have to pay attention as I prepare for ordination as a permanent deacon on July 15.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Celebrating St Isidore and more

This year the feast of San Isidro Labrador – Saint Isidore the Farmer – falls on Pentecost Sunday. But patronal feasts are very important here and so there were some interesting ways we celebrating liturgies.

Saint Isidore, a farmer laborer from near Madrid, lived from 1070 to 1130. He is the patron of farmers, together with his wife, Saint Maria de la Cabeza, also known as Saint Turibia.

Interestingly Saint Isidore was canonized with a bunch of heavy weights - Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, and Philip Neri.

Here he is invoked by many farmers and usually his feast is accompanied by rains, though this year we are still waiting. It's been a very dry, hot year and there are fears of drought and water shortages, partly due to climate change and partly due to the destruction of the forests here - for the sake of financial gain.

But there is a refrain often used here: 
San Isidro, ponga la lluvia y quita el sol.
 Loosely paraphrased:
Saint Isidore, bring on the rains, and stop the raging sun.
On Saturday, Padre German celebrated Mass in the morning in San Isidro La Cueva. The night before they had a procession as well as a vigil until early in the morning. The Mass was simple and included blessing of seeds.

San Isidro La Cueva
On Sunday, today,n we had Mass in Yaruconte, whose patron is Saint Isidore, who is also patron of the sector of the parish. People arrived and walked in procession from a soccer field to a farm building which had been prepared for Mass. We celebrated in what is a “trapiche” – a place where sugar cane is locally processed.  It was the only place int he village large enough to accommodate the crowd. How appropriate that we celebrated the Eucharist in a trapiche.

Padre German, who I fear has been wearing himself out with numerous Masses, asked me to say a few words at each place. He has become very insistent on the necessity to care for the earth and to stop the burnings. 

I spoke briefly at each Mass.

What first strikes me about Saint Isidore is that he is a campesino, a farm laborer, who lived out his life of holiness, together with his wife, in the daily labors of a farmer. The people I work with are more like him than me. God helps us work out our holiness in our daily lives.

In many ways he lived out the first reading for his feast – from the first chapter of Genesis. I challenged the people to think about “dominating” in terms of working the land as the Lord (“Dominus,” in Latin) does – with tenderness. He cared for the land. In contrast I reminded the people of the quemas,  the burning of fields mostly to clear them for planting coffee. We ought to imitate Isidore’s care for the land.
Quema en El Raizal, on the way to San Isidro La Cueva
Secondly, Saint Isidore, though himself poor, welcomed the poor to his table. He also had a great love for all of God’s creation. I shared the story of how, one winter day, he opened his sack of wheat to share with some hungry birds. People made fun of him but when he got to the mill to grind his corn, the bag was full.

Lastly, I reminded the people that this care for the land, this love of the poor and al created beings, came from his love of God, his faith, his connection with God. (The Gospel was from the Last Supper where Jesus reminds his disciples that He is the vine and we are the branches and we need to continue to be connected with Him.) He went to daily Mass and he prayed as he worked. I reminded the people that we do need to come together for the Eucharist but we also can pray when we work. Indeed, our work can become a prayer.

New statue of San Isidro en la Cueva
It was good to be able to be with the people to celebrate these days.

The past few days have been busy – and some of it has been draining.

Friday, Padre German sent me to a village to see about a tragic event. A jilted boyfriend, jealous and vengeful, had chained the door of the room where his former girlfriend was sleeping with her two young children, another man, and two of her nephews. Then he set it on fire. The little children and the woman were in the hospital but the two young boys and her sister were there and we talked for a while. The boys were without a change of clothes and so I arranged some shirts and pants for them.  Sadly, the woman died this morning in a hospital in Tegucigalpa. The family still feels threatened, even though the police are looking for the arsonist. So they are having two groups of men from the village watch the house during the night.

This is a village that has suffered much this past year. There have been several cases of assaults with machetes or guns – mostly because of drug or alcohol abuse, as I was told.

There was also a tragic case where two young men were killed by military in the village and another young man unjustly imprisoned.

It was hard to be there but that is what we are about here – accompanying people n their joys and pains.

Lest you think I didn’t celebrate Pentecost, I took part in the Vigil we had in Dulce Nombre, from 6:30 to 10:30 pm on Saturday. First a bonfire, then a procession, then a Holy Hour, and then Mass (with five readings).

Needless to say I’m a bit tired, but the next two days are quite full.

St. Thomas Aquinas Coffee Committee is ready to receive about 3000 pounds of green coffee from the coffee association and we have to arrange to get it to the Beneficio that will process it this week. Finally, it will be on its way to Ames in June.

But I also have to try to contact the bishop to determine the date of my ordination as a permanent deacon for the diocese.

All this is before I leave for Newark on Wednesday for my pre-ordination retreat, which a friend helped arrange with the Office of the Diaconate in the Newark Archdiocese.

Life is not uncomplicated and full – but it is ever a joy.

¡Gracias a Dios!

I almost forgot one of the joys of Mass today. Two babies were presented to the people gathered for Mass in Yaruconte. Presentation of babies about forty days after their birth is a common custom here in the countryside.

¡Gracias a la Vida!

Looking out the church door in San Isidro La Cueva

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The smell of coffee (flowers) in the air.

I wish I could send smells through the internet.


The coffee fields are blooming and the flowers emit an incredible fragrance. The closest fragrance in the US is the smell of honey suckle.

Thus the fragrance evokes good memories of growing up in blue-collar suburban Philadelphia, in Darby. Our neighbors had a honeysuckle bush.

Today I walked to the parish coffee field which is here in Plan Grande. What a gorgeous sight and what incredible smells.

I also noted that a few of the madriago trees (Gliricidia sepium) which had been planted a few months ago were growing. They will provide some shade – as well as help counteract the deforestation going on around us.

I also noticed this tree as I walked down to the coffee field. What beauty.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Wanton destruction and graced beauty

Wednesday driving out to a workshop with base community leaders in the farthest zone of the parish I passed a horrid site – a hillside denuded by burning and cutting of trees.

As we are facing severe water shortages in the face of high temperatures and little rain, this is a serious attack on creation.

The previous night I had seen a fire in the distance and nearly wept.

But in the midst of this there is beauty.

Last week we had a heavy rain in the afternoon which unleashed the incredible fragrance of the guama trees by my neighbor’s house.

Then there was the beautiful sunset on Saturday.

But the real glory of the acacias is upon us. These trees, sometimes called arbol del fuego or flame tree, bloom at the end of the dry season here. Their red flowers are gorgeous.

Flowers are blooming in the garden on the south side of my house.

Yet I was in for a major surprise yesterday. I saw two brightly colored birds, mostly yellow, by windows in the second floor of the house. They are skittish and flew away as I approached, trying to take a picture.

These two birds, oropendolas, reappeared this afternoon. Laying down on the sofa in my chapel I heard them and managed to get a blurry image of one of them.

So it is also in terms of the people.

People are killed or threatened because they speak for the poor and for creation. Berta Cáceres was killed more than a month ago; a journalist had two attempts on his life a few days ago; a priest I know received death threats for being at the side of his people as they face large scale gold mining in a river in their parish near Macquelizo. Poverty continues; deaths continue.

But in the midst of this there is life.

We’ve had four workshops with base community leaders where Padre German led them in a very participative reflection on what is Church.

 We also had fifty-five young people, together with about 8 adults, participate last Saturday in the diocesan youth encounter.

A few days ago a neighbor's son harvested a flor de izote on a tree in my yard. i hope they enjoyed it. Three more should be blooming soon.

And tomorrow Goyo, a young man from Plan Grande, will be married in the church in El Zapote.

The mystery of life in the midst of death.