Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent: disarmament and waking from the dream of separateness

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13: 11-14

Notes in English for a homily I will share tonight at the Vigil Mass of the First Sunday of Advent in Dolores, Copán, Honduras, inspired by Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, in a year filled with death.

This year the municipality of Honduras has experienced at least six violent deaths: the killing of the mayor, the woman and her two children killed in a murder by arson in San Antonio Dolores, the couple who were killed by machetes in their home in Pasquingual.

It has not been a year of peace, but the prophet Isaiah gives us a vision of peace - on the Lord's mountain: 
“they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks… they shall not train again for war.”

How far is this vision from our reality? But what shall we do?

In the poor neighborhood of Philadelphia, where Shane Clairborne lives with a Christian community, they witnessed the killing of a nineteen year old in the block where Shane lives. Their response was inspired by this passage of Isaiah and they began a campaign to turn weapons into gardening tools, making shovels out of AK-47s. The movement has spread throughout the world.

This is an important first step in a world where weapons abound. This is a first step.

There is a need for nations to pound their weapons into instruments of peace, starting nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In fact, on October 27 this year, the United Nations voted to launch negotiations for a treaty abolishing nuclear weapons. Both France and the United States worked behind the scenes to oppose the move, and together with other nations including Great Britain, and Russia opposed it.

But what even a treaty is not enough.

As Dorothy Day wrote in the September 1938 Catholic Worker, we need “a disarmament of the heart”:
Today the whole world is in the midst of a revolution. We are living through it now – all of us. History will record this time as a time of world revolution. And frankly, we are calling for Saints…. We must prepare now for martyrdom — otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if … attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother [or sister] who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend [themselves] with any forceful means in [their] power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.
How can we do this?

I think St. Paul has much to teach us in this regard. Writing to the Romans, living in the heart of a violent and oppressive empire, he urged them to a heart-felt conversion:
Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…
This is how we can begin disarmament.

But this disarmament, this conversion, takes place when we wake up. As Paul wrote, 
“it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”
Perhaps the first step to wake up is what happened to Thomas Merton on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky, where, as he put it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he woke from a dream of separateness:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness….This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! …There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…. There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

When he begin to see the presence of God in others, when we realize that we are all one and responsible for each other, then we can begin the conversion, the disarmament of the heart that will open us to welcome the disarmed world that God promised to Isaiah and to us who worship the Prince of Peace.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mercy upon mercy upon mercy

Sunday, the feast of Christ the king, we ended the Year of Mercy with a parish-wide Mass in Concepción.

A thousand or more gathered in Dulce Nombre and we walked in the mud and the cold light rain to Concepción. On the way we stopped three times to pray for peace and we also stopped at the city cemetery to commend to God the body of a woman from one of the villages.

In the Mass, we commemorated the Delegates of the Word in the parish. The delegates were formed fifty years ago and are a special way the Honduras Church responded to the lack of Sunday celebrations in the thousands of rural villages. Before his homily, Padre German had one delegate read the letter that Pope Francis had sent to the Honduran bishops praising the delegates. After Mass 4000 tamales were distributed and the people left for their home.

Mateo, delegate of the Word, reading the letter of Pope Francis to the delegates
The Sunday before, the parish had gone to close the Holy Door at the shrine of the Crucified Christ in Quezailica. Parishioners from the parish of Fatima in Santa Rosa and from Dulce Nombre participated.

But that Sunday began auspiciously for me. At 4:30 am, I heard loud cries of lament from the house just below mine. It lasted for at least half an hour. After washing up, I asked another neighbor what was happening. He told me that the father of the family had been killed. I accompanied him and two others to the site of the murder, in another part of Plan Grande. We stayed until the police took the body to the morgue.

Monday, I had to go to Santa Rosa to get my brakes fixed. But first I went to the neighbor’s house and prayed at the coffin. Using the ritual, I blessed the body and sprinkled it with holy water. I hoped to return for a celebration of the word and the burial, but was unable.

I later discovered that his brother, who had also been shot, had died. Last night I attended the last evening of the novenario, the nine days of prayer for the dead in their homes. After others led the rosary, I led a prayer.

Last Wednesday I went to Gracias, to prepare for a workshop on Thursday and Friday on Alternatives to Violence in the prison. It was a very good group, very responsive to the theme we had chosen: anger. But in the time there I was several times face to face with the injustice of the so-called “justice” system in Honduras. As I knew, there are people who have incarcerated for more than a year without a trial; there are others who are unjustly imprisoned; there are others who are imprisoned for what seems to be what would be called “legitimate self-defense” in the US.

Yesterday, I was called to visit a sick young woman in a village about an hour from Plan Grande. Our pastor is away on a much-needed vacation and so I went.

I was surprised to find out that the sick woman was only seventeen years old. She has been ill for over four months and had had a surgery; she was waiting for an appointment in San Pero Sula. But she had been bed-ridden for several days and was not eating. She was also suffering from anemia. I found out that she has kidney problems but, because of an inflamed liver, a doctor who visited her advised against sending her to San Pedro Sula. The doctor also noted that there was no medicine available in the clinic or the nearby hospital for her. She also had a nine-month old boy, who was – thanks be to God – in good health.

I prayed at her bedside with her mother and a few others nearby. She is living with a young man and wanted to go to confession but Padre German is out of the parish until next week. I told her about God’s merciful forgiveness. Though I didn’t give her Communion, I placed the pyx with the Blessed Sacrament on her chest. How I longed to give her Communion…

Today I’m off to Gracias to share a noon meal with the sisters there and with a Common Venture group from Iowa that is helping the Gracias parish in building their retreat center. But I’ll have to get back to do a Celebration of the Word with Communion at the main church in Dulce Nombre.

This weekend will be busy. Saturday morning I have a Celebration of the Word with Communion in Dolores for those graduating from ninth grade. I’ll return that night for a 7:00 pm Sunday vigil Celebration with Communion. Sunday morning I’ll head out to Concepción for a 7:00 am Celebration of the word with Communion. Later at 10:00 am we’ll have the parish wide celebration of those over fourteen who are entering the catechumenate in order to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. Padre German won’t be back until Sunday night and so I’ll be presiding over the Rite of Entry into the Catechumenate as well as the Celebration of the Word with Communion.

I’m also trying to finish up some writing for a project that some young priests of the diocese have to provide material for base communities, based on the Sunday readings.

And the internet has not been dependable.

But today, Thanksgiving in the US, I feel grateful for God – in the midst of the joys and pains of God’s people, here in Honduras. For God is merciful.

Monday, November 14, 2016

US bishops on the poor thirty years ago

Thirty years ago, on November 14, 1986, the U. S. Catholic Bishops released one of their most prophetic documents, Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy.
It would be good for the bishops and all followers of Christ to read it again – or for the first time. It is available here. There are parts that reflect the reality of the 1980s but there is much in its theology and spirituality, as well in its elaboration of Catholic Social Teaching which holds true.

I would suggest that one of the most important paragraphs of this document is found in the section on “Poverty, Riches, and the Challenges of Discipleship.” Paragraph 52 reads:
Such perspectives provide a basis for what is called the “preferential option for the poor.” Though in the Gospels and in the New Testament as a whole the offer of salvation is extended to all peoples, Jesus takes the side of those most in need, physically and spiritually. The example of Jesus poses a number of challenges to the contemporary Church. It imposes a prophetic mandate to speak for those who have no one to speak for them, to be a defender of the defenseless, who in biblical terms are the poor. It also demands a compassionate vision which enables the Church to see things from the side of the poor and powerless, and to assess lifestyles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. It summons the Church also to be an instrument in assisting people to experience the liberating power of God in their own lives so that they may respond to the Gospel in freedom and dignity. Finally, and most radically, it calls for an emptying of self, both individually and corporately, that allows the Church to experience the power of God in the midst of poverty and powerlessness.
The option for the poor is rooted not in politics or economics but in Jesus, God made human among the poor. This option challenges the church to speak prophetically, to provide a vision of compassion, to speak from the side of the poor, to help people experience the liberating power of God in all aspects of their lives.

These are still challenges for us – not just for the institutional church, but for all members of the People of God.

Are we prophets on the side of the poor, offering hope and assisting liberation for all forms of slavery?

But, more than this, are we willing to empty ourselves of power and wealth, leaving these to the side, not letting them control us and our choices?

The bishops based their option of the poor on the emptying of Christ (Philippians 2).

But are we all too easily swayed by wealth and power, not wanting to appear weak?

Have we forgotten the call of Pope Saint John XXIII to be a “church of the poor” and the call of Pope Francis to be a “poor church” and a “church for the poor”?

Have we closed our ears to the call Pope Francis made to the Popular Movements a few weeks ago to show a real austerity in the way we live and work?

Can we take up again the preferential option for the poor by emptying ourselves – as Jesus did?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Dread and hope

This past week I was attending the Santa Rosa diocese annual pastoral assembly with more than 100 priests and lay people of the diocese to evaluate what we have done and to plan for the future.

Tuesday, at our evening prayer, we prayed the rosary. As I prayed, I felt a deep sense of dread about the US elections. I asked Mary, who under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is patroness of the US, to guide and care for the nation.

The feeling was not of fear or anger – but a sense that something was not right.

I had been hearing all day questions about the election and a concern from many – not all – that Trump would be elected. This was in part a reaction to his statements about deporting undocumented migrants.

But my dread was not centered on a possible Trump victory. I had a sense that whoever won, the result might not necessarily be good for the poor of the world. And so I also prayed that God would have mercy on the US.

When I woke up in the middle of the night I checked the results on the internet and found that Trump had won the electoral vote. I did not feel angry or indignant but I felt sad more than anything else. (To be clear, I would not have necessarily felt happy if Hilary had won.)

When I got up and sat down to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I found myself comforted by the last verses of Psalm 82.

Arise, O God, judge the earth
for you rule the nations.

God is the ruler of the world, no matter who is president of the United States. May God’s Reign rule. May that Reign inspire each of us to seek to make a world open to the poor, to the Other, to all those marginalized – in our own lives and in our communities.

I was soon to see a sign of that Reign.

Today, Saturday, I went to three zones to talk to their zonal councils about some up-coming events in the parish.

At the first, I saw a young man from the village of Debajiados. I asked him about the widow of Juan Ángel López who died last September, leaving her with four kids between five months and eight years old. The smallest child is in the hospital, but the community has gathered around the family to help. The landowner is arranging the papers for the land where the house of the widow is and there may even be the gift of some land for them. Such generosity in one of the poorest villages in the parish.

But then he told me something that gives me hope. The community has decided to set up a separate fund to be available in cases of emergency. They are asking everyone who goes out to harvest coffee to give one lempira each day they work.

You have to realize that the coffee harvest is almost the only source of cash income for many people in our parish and so this is significant. Right now the coffee harvesters get 30 lempiras (about $1.36) for every five-gallon bucket picked. Usually people can fill between 3 and 5 buckets a day.

This may not seem to be much but it so impressed me that I recommended it to the three zonal councils I visited. (I couldn’t find the fourth one in time to get there.)

What impressed me is that this initiative comes from a very poor community. This sign of the presence of God’s Kingdom give me hope.

On the urging of our pastor I had begun talking with some communion ministers and the zonal coordinators of social ministry about responding to widows and others in need. We will also, God willing try to set up a fund, administered by members of the parish, to help respond to emergencies in a way that doesn’t create dependency but which tries to help the efforts of the persons affected and their communities to respond to basic needs, usually related to health.

But something has started without me, by the pure grace of God touching the hearts of the poor so that they can respond to each other.

I am filled with a quiet hope.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Carta a los obispos de la Conferencia de Religiosos y Religiosas de Honduras

Carta: Para los obispos de la Conferencia Episcopal de Honduras. De: las hermanas y hermanos participantes de la asamblea anual de la CONFEREH.

“Dichosos los que tienen hambre y sed de justicia, 
porque Dios los saciará” Mt 5, 6.

Nosotras hermanas y hermanos de la Vida Consagrada que nos encontramos reunidos en la Asamblea del 18 al 21 de octubre de 2016 en Tres Rosas Valle de Ángeles, Tegucigalpa; queremos expresar una palabra solidaria y comprometida desde nuestro ser discípulas y discípulos de Jesús en esta casa común de Honduras.

Hermanos Obispos, unidos con el sentir que ustedes expresaron en el escrito que recientemente presentaron al pueblo de Dios sobre las problemáticas y desafíos que se dan en el país. Queremos expresar algunos aspectos que nos preocupa de esta realidad:
1.     La privatización de los bienes públicos y del Estado, como el agua y la energía eléctrica; así como los conflictos que ha generado los puestos de peaje en el norte del país.
2.     La ola de asesinatos de jóvenes en los barrios que viven en la periferia de nuestras ciudades y las comunidades rurales.
3.     La migración masiva de la niñez, juventud y mujeres madres que huyen de la violencia y del empobrecimiento de los hogares.
4.     Los asesinatos en aumento de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y ambientales. “Entre 2002 y 2014, 111 defensores y defensoras de los derechos humanos fueron asesinados como castigo por su trabajo: 12 de ellos únicamente en 2014 y 8  en 2015.
El 2 de marzo 2016 fue asesinada Berta Cáceres. En el 2013 fue asesinado Tomas García, y en marzo 2016 fue asesinado Nelson García. En  La Paz, durante 2015, fueron asesinados al menos 3 indígenas Vinculados a la lucha contra las represas. El 27 de agosto del 2014 mataron a tiros, a la  dirigente campesina Margarita Murillo” (GLOBAL WITNESS, 2016).
Conocemos con dolor, que el 19 de octubre se dio el asesinato de José Ángel Flores presidente del MUCA, en el bajo Aguan, junto con Silmer Dionisio George, ambos tenían medidas cautelares otorgadas por la CDIH.
5.     Preocupa que en algunas parroquias de las diócesis se está marginando y excluyendo a agentes de pastoral de la participación eclesial, por estar comprometidos con organizaciones de defensa de derechos humanos y ambientales, especialmente en los pueblos indígenas.

 Ante esta realidad de muerte organizada y sistemática hacia los defensores y defensoras de los bienes naturales y los derechos humanos de las comunidades campesinas e indígenas; donde los conflictos son generados por los empresarios mineros y de hidroeléctricas, con las comunidades y líderes que defienden los bienes naturales, el patrimonio cultural y comunitario. Queremos renovar nuestro compromiso de discípulas y discípulos de Jesús desde nuestros carismas fundacionales, en comunión con el pastoreo que ustedes desarrollan en las diferentes diócesis del país.

Dejándonos llevar por el Espíritu Santo, proponemos:
1.        Salir de nuestro capillismo congregacional y parroquial para el encuentro con los pueblos empobrecidos y excluidos que están a la puerta de nuestra casa y templos.
2.        Estar abiertos al diálogo y al compromiso solidario en acciones y procesos con los diferentes grupos organizados que buscan defender y cuidar los bienes naturales.
3.        Denunciar las acciones corruptas de los servidores del Estado que favorecen a las empresas extractivas, sin realizar las consultas previas y de buena fe en las comunidades, junto con estudios amañados de impacto ambiental. Como la privatización del agua en los municipios.
4.        Denunciar las acciones violentas y criminalización que realizan los empresarios de la minería e hidroeléctricas, y mono cultivos, hacia las comunidades campesinas e indígenas.
5.        Denunciar a las autoridades policiales y militares que violan los derechos humanos en las comunidades y con sus líderes.
6.        Establecer redes intercongregacionales en las diócesis, en procesos pastorales a favor de la justicia y rescate de las situaciones de violencia sistemática.
7.        Promover y exigir a los medios de comunicación católicos la difusión de las denuncias y los compromisos solidarios en estas causas evangélicas de la defensa  y cuido de los bienes naturales, biodiversidad y territorios comunitarios; principalmente en defender a las y los líderes defensores de las comunidades.
8.        Apoyar como Iglesia las denuncias y procesos formativos del Equipo de Reflexión e investigación y comunicación, SJ (ERIC); que están realizando actualmente ante las injusticias y corrupción que se dan en el país.

Finalizamos haciendo votos de seguir caminando en comunión y sirviendo al pueblo que camina en nuestro territorio, junto con toda la creación regalada por Dios. Citamos las palabras inspiradoras del papa Francisco, en la bula de la misericordia:

“No será inútil en este contexto recordar la relación existente entre justicia y misericordia. No son dos momentos contrastantes entre sí, sino dos dimensiones de una única realidad que se desarrolla progresivamente hasta alcanzar su ápice en la plenitud del amor. La justicia es un concepto fundamental para la sociedad civil cuando, normalmente, se hace referencia a un orden jurídico a través del cual se aplica la ley” (#20).

Unidos en Cristo, la Conferencia de religiosas y religiosos de Honduras
Las Tres Rosas, Valle de Ángeles; 20 de octubre de 2016