Friday, September 16, 2016


Today we buried Juan Ángel Pérez, a 31 year old campesino who lived in Debajiados, Copán.

He died of pneumonia -  a disease that is curable.

He was a delegate who celebrated Sunday Celebrations of the Word in his aldea. He was one of those in the formation process to become Extraordinary Ministers of Communion in the parish.

The last two times I visited the aldea I went with him to bring Communion to his parents. The first time, on Good Friday, I went on horseback. 

Juan, his parents and some children on Good Friday
The last time, the day after my ordination as deacon, we drove as far as we could and then we walked.
with Juan on the way to his parents
I arrived in Debajiados early with four folks from Plan Grande and El Zapote. We brought corn from the parish and beans from El Zapote for the widow and her four children, one only four months old.

Because I knew that people in really poor villages such as Debajiados have almost no photos of family members, I brought a framed copy of one I had taken in July to give to the widow and two copies of one I had taken with Juan and his parents on Good Friday.

As I entered the small, dirt-floored house where Juan Ángel and Juventina and their four children lived, I saw the casket – a simple pine box. I sought out the widow whom I hugged as she cried – even more so after I gave her the photo. Then some of Juan Ángel’s sisters came as well as a brother.

Today I hugged a lot of people as they cried. The grief was tangible. At times I had to try to stop the tears welling up within me.

Padre German arrived and I got my briefcase with my vestments out of the car and started to carry it over. I kid asked if he could carry it for me. My first reaction was “I can do it myself.” But then I realized that the kid was Ever, Juan Ángel’s oldest child. He carried it to and from the church.

Because there were so many people we had Mass just outside Juan Ángel’s house. I chose the readings – Wisdom 3: 1-9 and Matthew 11: 25-30.

Juan was one of the just who “will shine as sparks that spread like sparks in a field of sugar cane” (Wisdom 3:7).

But when I proclaimed the Gospel I almost had to stop as the tears welled up within me. 
“I give you thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned
and revealed them to simple people” (Matthew 11: 25)
I feel as if I have learned much from Juan Ángel and people like him. He was, as people attested as they gathered around his coffin at the end of Mass, a simple man, dedicated to God. I remember his smile which was for me a sign of the spark of God within him. Later in the cemetery I spoke with his mother-in-law who saw him as a son, always willing to do something to help, when asked. His simplicity, his faith, his care for others, including his two parents who have been very ill recently, have revealed to me much of who God is.

After Mass I stayed around and planned to go to the cemetery. Padre German had to leave for a Mass in another village about an hour away.

They first took the coffin back inside. I entered and saw that some men were redressing him in a shirt and pants – over his shirt and jeans. They also but the Cord of St. Francis around him.

Then they nailed shut the coffin, the simple pine box.

I went ahead of the pick-up and went to the cemetery. We waited there about an hour as they went from Debajiados to the cemetery in Delicias. I spent the time talking to folks – being present.

When they arrived, put on my stole and went to the grave site – a hole about three meters deep. The ritual prayers at the gravesite are beautiful – recalling the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of resurrection. We prayed an Our Father and a Hail Mary and then I prayed the antiphon which I love – In Paradisum:
May the angels lead you into Paradise;
May the martyrs receive you as you enter
And lead you into the holy city Jerusalem.
May the choir of angels received you,
And, together with Lazarus, who was poor in this life,
May you have eternal rest.
Again, as I read the name of Lazarus, "who once was poor," tears welled up within me. 

We were burying a poor man, a man of deep faith - but we have the hope of Lazarus, a hope that Juan Ángel revealed in his short life.

Juan leaves behind a widow and four children. Padre German spoke directly to her during his moving homily and embraced her and the four month old child she carried.

I spoke with a young man in the aldea who is the coordinator of Social Ministry. People have come together to help. I urged him to see that this continued you and gave him my telephone number if they had a special need. 

In addition, Padre German has suggested to me and to Gloria, a communion minister and herself a widow, that we begin to do something for and with the widows who are in need. My hope is that we can get the extraordinary ministers of Communion to work with the Social Ministry coordinators in every village to identify the widows in need as well as those who are not, so that we can begin to find a way to serve them and to have them serve each other.

Pray for the repose of the soul of Juan Ángel and for his wife and family. Also, pray that God may guide us in finding ways to serve widows and orphans so that together we may experience the mercy of God.

Juan Ángel, Phil Barutha, and Ever

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Shaken with joy

Luke 10:21 is one Gospel passage that is, for me, both challenging and encouraging.
Then and there Jesus celebrated in the holy spirit. “I thank you, Father,” he said, “Lord of heaven and earth! You hid these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to babies.” (N. T. Wright translation, The Kingdom New Testament)  
Reading Pat Farrell’s address to Leadership Conference of Women Religious a few weeks ago, I was struck by her translation of the first. The New American Bible translation is “he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” But as she noted
The Spanish translation of this text prefaces Jesus’ words saying; “Jesús, movido por El Espíritu Santo, se estremeció de alegría y dijo…” In other words, Jesus, moved by the Spirit,” trembled with joy” or ”was shaken with joy” as he exclaimed…
The Greek has the sense of jumping for joy. But I love Pat’s translation since it helps me understand my experience.

During my ordination I was literally shaken with joy – amid tears of joy – on two occasions.

The first was while laying prostrate during the Litany of the Saints. I had a deep sense of being surrounded by the holy women and men whose intercession we sought. But after Monseñor Romero and Charles de Foucauld were mentioned the tears were flowing and my body was literally shaking.

Both of these twentieth century martyrs continue to inspire me – Romero by his commitment to the poor and his willingness to speak up and act, even at the cost of his life, Foucauld by his desire to be among the poor as a sign of God’s presence.

The second moment of the grace of being shaken by joy came during the prayer of consecration. I knelt before the bishop. After laying hands on me while he and the People of God prayed, Bishop Darwin Andino read the words of the consecration of the deacon. I had read it and prayed it several times, but I missed something.

In the prayer the bishop notes, as the English reads,
In the first days of your Church
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
the apostles of your Son appointed seven men of good repute
to assist them in the daily ministry,
so that they themselves might be more free for prayer and preaching.
By prayer and the laying on of the hands
the apostles entrusted to those chosen men the ministry of serving at tables.

But the Spanish has a very significant difference which moved me. Instead of reading “the apostles entrusted to those chosen men the ministry of serving at tables,” the Spanish reads, 
“los dedicaron al servicio de los pobres.’
The apostles dedicated these men to service of the poor.
My body was shaking as tears were welling up within me. I came to Honduras to serve God and those most in need. God was confirming this decision and, through the sacrament of orders, giving me the grace to deepen my commitment.

With joy I heard these words and I was shaken with joy.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Mother Teresa, Eucharistic particles, and the least of these

Today the world celebrated the canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, officially recognizing the holiness of this woman who left home to join the Sisters of Loreto, then left the security of the sisters in schools in India, and then spent her life with those at the margins of society, attending in person those who were dying and inspiring and leading others to serve.

Yes, there are people who critique Mother Teresa – but she, as all saints, had her imperfections and God has a way of working through our failings. Some have criticized her for not speaking out on injustice, but I have recently come across pictures of her visiting Dorothy Day and Eileen Egan at the New York Catholic Worker in 1979 and a picture of Mother Teresa visiting the house in the cancer hospital where Monseñor Oscar Romero lived.

In our diocese we celebrated a Mass in Santa Rosa de Copán where the Missionaries of Charity run Hogar San José, a center for malnourished children under five. I used to visit and play with the kids a lot when I first came here. I need to find a way to go there at least once a month.

The commemoration began with a procession from the Cathedral to an auditorium where Mass was celebrated. Some children rode in the pick up carrying the statue of Mother Teresa.

As a deacon, I participated in the Mass, proclaiming the Gospel and serving at the altar.

As I looked out at the overflowing crowd, I saw lots of kids, including some from Amigos de Jesús, which I visited earlier this week. I found out that some of their children had been in Hogar San José and were returning for the celebration.

After Communion, as a deacon, my role is to purify the vessels.

Here, there are often many fragments of the hosts which I carefully gathered together and consumed. I made sure the vessels were clean and that there were no fragments on the corporal.

There are some people who are scrupulous about making sure that all fragments of the host, the Body of Christ, are gathered up. There are some who might even mock the care some take to assure that there are no fragments unconsumed.

But as I was gathering together the many fragments, I thought of the care I was taking for each and every particle – for they are the Body of Christ. I tried to be careful of even the smallest particle.

But, looking up and seeing the children there and thinking of the care that the Missionaries of Charity and other women religious show to the poorest, I began to recall the care God has for the least of God’s creatures, for the children, the aged, the unborn, the persons with disabilities. Each of them is like a particle of the host; they show me the Body of Christ. Each of them deserves the respect and care that I take for the particles of the Eucharist.

They too are Christ, often in mysterious disguise.