Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Forty-five days a deacon

The other day driving in to Santa Rosa with Padre German, he asked me how I was being a deacon.

My first response was that in many ways I’m not doing a lot more than I did before my ordination. I’m preparing catechists, working with youth groups, visiting communities, assisting at Mass with Padre German several times a week, consulting with people about preparing upcoming feasts. I am preaching occasionally and baptizing.

But most of all I feel graced to be able to serve the people in varied ways.

Yesterday I went to Santa Rosa on a few errands. On the way a young guy in Candelaria hitched a ride to Dulce Nombre. (My policy is not to give rides when the busses are running but I knew there were no busses at that a hour and the kid was familiar.) He told me that his grandmother had died and he was going to Dulce Nombre to see about a few things. We talked a bit. When I was driving back I noticed people around a house on the road in Candelaria and stopped to offer my condolences.

This morning I stopped in Dulce Nombre to see what was going on in the parish and to see how I could help Padre German. He had four Masses today, the first of which was the funeral in Candelaria. I accompanied him.

As he was preparing for Mass, he asked me to preach. I was hardly ready – but the Spirit inspired me (and I preached less than ten minutes). After Mass he had to see some sick persons and so I went to the cemetery and led prayers at the graveside. Sadly I didn’t have the ritual book and couldn’t pray my favorite prayer for those who had died – the “In Paradisum.”
"May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest."
Comforting those who are mourning and burying the dead are not easy, but I find these an important part of my ministry as a deacon.

I also find myself spending a bit more time just being with people – especially those who are on the margins of the church.

I have often noticed how young men will come to the church but will congregate around the church door. I often go and speak with them and jokingly call them the church’s bodyguards!

But in Plan Grande I have tried a different tactic. The municipality is putting in a sewer line and will be paving the road from the church up to the top of the hill. Males in town, especially adolescents, are working on this project. 

I showed up the first day and did some work with the pick axe. Needless to say, I am not in shape and couldn’t do more than a few hours in the morning. It didn’t help that it was very hot and sunny. I didn’t work in the afternoon since I had to go get a homeless man living here in Plan Grande from the hospital in Santa Rosa. (He has no home but is well-cared for by the people here. )

But what I have been doing, when I’m in Plan Grande, is bringing the workers one or two three-liter bottles of pop (soda, for you non-Iowa folks).

Another way of serving – and trying to reach out to a group that is not always present in the church.

What else have I been doing? Proclaiming the Gospel at Masses and occasionally preaching, visiting the sick, connecting with various activities in the parish and in the diocese.

Last Saturday, I went with Padre German for the Mass in the Santa Rosa cathedral which was part of the novena before the canonization of Mother Teresa. Last Sunday, I participated in the special Mass in San Agustín on their feast day. Tomorrow I will go to Amigos de Jesús, a center for children about two hours from here, for the Mass of installation as lector and acolyte of a young man preparing for the priesthood who will be serving them. Next Sunday, there will be a special Mass in honor of the canonization of Mother Teresa. I’ll be there to proclaim he Gospel.

Next week is the Pastoral Study week for the clergy which I’ll attend. I’ll stay in Dulce Nombre each night (since I need to leave my car at the mechanic’s for three days to get the valves fixed.) And then, on Monday, September 12, we’ll celebrate the feast of the parish.

Such is my life as a deacon now. What it will be later, we’ll see.

But I continue to pray that God may use me to serve the People of God and give me the joy and courage I need.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fear, Thomas Merton, and William Willimon

Last night I finished two books just before going to sleep. I recommend them both.

I usually read a few books at a time but this time these two books provided me with a lot to think about. And they both concern “fear”.

Jim Forest’s The Root of War Is Fear: Thomas Merton's advice to peacemakers was published this week and, getting it on Kindle, I devoured it in four days. 

Thomas Merton has been a significant person in my life.

Merton's collection of quotes from Gandhi in Gandhi on Non-Violence played a major role in helping me in the late 1960s discern how to respond to war and peace. I was against the war in Viet Nam, but Gandhi’s explanation of the courage that is needed for the nonviolence of the strong spurred me to a commitment to active nonviolence.

Merton's collection of quotes on the Desert Fathers, The Wisdom of the Desert, opened up for me another aspect of living with God – especially the Zen-like quips and deeds of those who left for the desert – in part to offer an alternative to a Christianity allied with the Empire.

The collection of essays Raids on the Unspeakable sustains and challenges me even now. Here he wrote on the Eichmann trial, inspired by Hannah Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial. His essay, “The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room,” has provided me with a Christmas meditation almost every year. The opening essay, “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” pulls together an ancient Christian writer, the existentialist dramatist Ionesco, rain, and war.

But the essay “The Root of War Is Fear” is one of his most important writings for me. It is full of great wisdom and a challenge for all of us.

Jim Forest, a personal friend, takes the title of his work from this essay but goes well beyond Merton’s challenges expressed there. Jim, who has written a great biography of Merton, Living with Wisdom, with fantastic photos – as well as one of Dorothy Day,  All Is Grace – gives an overview of Merton’s life, with great insights gleaned from Jim’s visits and correspondence with Merton.  

The book is filled with extensive quotations from Merton, most often situated in their context by Jim’s marvelous prose. The full text of the letter from Jim that provoked the Merton letter known in its abbreviated form as “Letter to a Young Activist” is included, together with the full text of Merton’s response – which reveals a wisdom and a sensitivity that are badly needed today. An unpublished satirical letter of Merton’s, in the style of Jonathan Swift, from Marco J. Frisbee, is included as an appendix.

I will return to this book in the next few months, savoring the wisdom of Merton.

The other book I finished last night was William Willimon’s Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love is the work of a Methodist theologian and bishop responding to the current site of fear in the United States (and around the globe).

I ran across Willimon’s writing many years ago and am probably one of the few Catholics who read and really liked the 1989 book he co-wrote with Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. I was also impressed by other writings, especially in relation to higher education. I thus persuaded the planning committee of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association to invite him to one of their national conventions.

In Fear of the Other, Willimon offers a vision of faith, centered in Jesus Christ, who comes forward to us and changes our way of being. As he writes, “God is shown, in Christ, to be pure will toward embrace.”

And thus, “I take the step toward [the Other] and open my arms, not primarily because of my enlightened redefinition of the Other but rather because of Jesus’s redefinition of me.”

Again, it is a book full of gems that challenge us, especially in his reinterpretation of the story of the Good Samaritan. I will not write here what he suggests, lest I spoil the impact it had on me – and may have on most US church-goers.

These two books are very different but they have both helped me begin to understand why I do not experience a lot of fear, even though there is violence around us here in Honduras. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to take seriously the challenge of Merton and Willimon.

Willimon writes:
         We are commissioned to the active, searching, seeking, embracing love of the Other.

And, as Merton wrote to Jim Forest:
All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Receiving a hundred fold

Why am I continually surprised here in delightful ways?

Sunday, the road from my house was blocked by a car that had fallen into the sewage ditch that the community is digging. But Isaías dropped by and told me that there was an alternative way, that we should be able to get through.

So we left, a little early – the car loaded with people going to Mass in Toreras. I made sure I had the four wheel drive ready to go.

But that wasn’t enough. On a muddy incline we got stuck. I had a heavy rope and so everyone got out of the car (except for a kid, a baby and his mother who were in the cabin) and the men and one woman tried pulling the car. That didn’t work. But within a few minutes at least five neighbors showed up and with them pushing and others pulling we got out of the mud and proceeded to Mass.

It takes a village.

I purposely parked my car that night up the road in the mayor’s yard. A good decision since not one but two cars got stuck in the ditch and had to be extracted by sheer manpower - no women pulling or pushing this time.

That afternoon one of the young men working on the ditch dropped by and told me that I could probably drive my car down here. I told him I preferred to wait, especially since it looked as if it was going to rain. And it later did – torrentially.

We talked for a while. But what really surprised – and gladdened me – is that this kid who has only finished fifth grade corrected my Spanish.

He had corrected me earlier that day and I had expressed my gratitude.

This really surprised me since most people are deferential and are reluctant to correct others (especially a gringo). What a gift Donaldo gave me.

There are some of the surprises that I keep experiencing.

Being here is not a sacrifice, since I find myself receiving a hundredfold. 

Thanks be to God.