Saturday, December 29, 2018

Reading - this year and the future

As the year comes to a close, I’m looking back at what this year has brought, what I have been doing, and what has influenced me in my life and ministry. One area I’m looking at is my reading habits.

This year I have not read as much as in previous years, but there have been and are a few books that have really touched me or helped me in my ministry.

Currently I am reading Bishop Shawn McKnight’s work on the diaconate, Understanding the Diaconate: Historical, Theological, and Sociological Foundations. It is scholarly and accessible and it’s helping me look at my diaconate in a deeper way.

Earlier this year I read several other works on the diaconate, but the one that struck me was Michael J. Tkacik’s Deacons and Vatican II: The Making of a Servant Church. He placed the diaconate within the mission of the Second Vatican Council.

For many years, I have seen the importance of considering not just institutions and people in our social and theological analysis, but also what St. Paul calls the” principalities and powers of this world.” William Stringfellow opened my eyes to this dimension of reality. Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s Principalities in Particular: A Practical Theology of the Powers That Be, is an important work that tries to make this analysis concrete, recognizing that “It is the spiritual dimension that must needs be unmasked, seen, and recognized if the principalities are to be fully engaged.”

With the canonization of Monseñor Oscar Romero this past October there have been numerous new books on his life and thought. I have two on my “to read” list, but the one new book that really impressed me was Michael E. Lee’s Revolutionary Saint: The Theological Legacy of Oscar Romero. This book examines Romero in terms of spirituality and theology and in the political, social, and ecclesiastical context of El Salvador in Romero’s. It’s one of the best analyses I’ve read, partly because I myself see Romero in a similar way. For the author a central question is: “How might Christians think and live differently because of Óscar Romero?”

There are several other books that I found helpful.
In trying to deepen and expand my way of reading the scripture, I have found the work of walter Brueggemann very helpful. This year I read A Gospel of Hope, which has selections from his writings and sermons.

For me peacemaking has been a central concern since my high school days, during the VietNam War. This year I found a twenty-year-old book helpful: The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategies by Robert Schreiter, C.PP.S.

There are so many works on spirituality and I am continually nurtured by reading Thomas merton. This year, though, these two books nourished by spirit: Ronald Rolheiser’s Wrestling with God: Finding Hope and Meaning in Our Daily Struggles to Be Human and
Paul Quenon’s In Praise of the Useless Life: a monk’s memoir.

In terms of pastoral ministry, I found little to compare to Gaudete et Exsultate, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis. It is, in my mind and heart, a masterpiece. Another work that opens up the pastoral theology of Pope Francis is Andrea Riccardi’s To the Margins: Pope Francis and the Mission of the Church.

And what might I read in 2019?

As often is the case, I am in the middle of several books which I hope to finish by the end of January. They include
José Antonio Pagola, Jesús: Aproximación histórica
Michael F. Steltenkamp, Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Missionary, Mystic
Bishop Shawn McKnight, Understanding the Diaconate: Historical, Theological, and Sociological Foundations.
Dana Frank’s The Long Honduran Night:
Donal Door’s Option for the Poor and the Earth

There are a good number of books I hope to read but especially these:
Yves Congar’s Power and Poverty in the Church
Terence C. Wright’s Dorothy Day
Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus
Thomas Merton, A Course in Christian Mysticism
Marie Dennis, ed., Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence
Rafael Luciani, Pope Francis and the Theology of the People
Edgardo Colón-Emeric, Óscar Romero’s Theological Vision: Liberation and the Transfiguration of the Poor

I will also be looking at reading essays by Hannah Arendt, Wendell Berry, and others.

There are at least three books in Spanish, related to Honduras, that I want to read.
Ramón Amaya Amador, Prisíon Verde, a novel situated in the great sugar workers strike of the 1950s in Honduras
Adalid Martínez Perdomo,  Fausto Milla: un sacerdote revolucionario
Leopoldo Serrano López, La Vidita: relatos de la vida de Padre Beto y pensamientos sobre la vida.

If I can get a copy, I’d also like to read two new books on the diaconate in Spanish:
Enzo Petrolino,  El diaconado en el pensamiento del Papa Francisco
Victor Loaiza, Diácono, el servidor de todos. Ministerio eclesiástico de la Iglesia

I will also try to read a few books just for fun – mostly novels (especially suspense novels.)

Any suggestions for reading, of any kind, are most welcome.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Being a deacon and the witness of the martyrs

This morning I awakened remembering a dream in which I reaffirmed my commitment as a deacon. It was very fitting since today is the feast of Saint Stephen, according to the tradition, the first deacon and the first martyr.

I will be preaching today at Mass in at least one village and so I spent a lot of time praying and meditating on the scriptures. (The homily in Spanish can be read here.)

What strikes me today is how much I feel the diaconate is connected to martyrdom. We deacons prepare the bread and wine, lift up the chalice with the Blood of Christ at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, and are ministers of the Eucharist, especially the Blood of Christ.

For me this year has been marked by Central American martyrs.

In January, Padre German, my pastor, and I made a pilgrimage to Santiago Atitlán, where we prayed in the room where Blessed Stanley Rother, Padre Aplas’, was killed and in the church where we celebrated the Eucharist – Padre presided and I served as a deacon. (An account here.) Padre Aplas’s commitment as a missionary from the US and his desire to stay with the people remind me of the importance of accompanying the people – not just for a short visit, but to share their lives, their joys and sorrows, and to let oneself be vulnerable. 

In October. Padre German and I went to Rome for the canonization of Monseñor Óscar Romero. As I was preparing for my diaconal ordination, I visited his tomb about two weeks before my ordination and dedicated my ordination to him. (My account of that visit is here.)

A month before his martyrdom, Monseñor Romero wrote this in his notebook:
“My disposition should be to give my life for God, however it should end. The grace of God will enable us to live through the unknown circumstances. He aided the martyrs and, if it should be necessary that I die as they did, I will feel him very close to me at the moment of breathing my last breath. But more important than the moment of death is to give him all my life and live for him and for my own mission.”
I will share these words in today’s homily – since we are all called to be martyrs, witnesses.

After coming back from the canonization and a short visit to Iowa, I went to the beatification of two Franciscans in Guatemala, an Italian missionary priest, Fray Tulio Maruzzo, and Luis Obdulio Arroyo, a lay Franciscan, catechist and helper in the parish. Another missionary martyr. But I was impressed by the simplicity and the commitment of Blessed Luis Obdulio, who helped in the parish and drove the sick to the hospital in the parish vehicle. (My reflection after the beatification Mass is here.)

This month, on December 8, nineteen martyrs of Algeria were beatified. When I first read the story of the Trappists monks of Tibhurine, I was touched by their commitment to be with the people in the midst of violence. The testament of Père Christian de Chergé, written before his death, is one of the most moving letters I’ve written, displaying his love and his willingness to embrace the person who might kill him in the future.  (You can download and read it from this site. Also, here’s a short reflection on their witness.)

The witness of these martyrs sustains me and give me courage hope in the midst of difficulties.

I have no desire to be a martyr, especially now that I have permanent residency here in Guatemala and want to enjoy that for many more years.

But the third century document Didascalia of the Apostles (chapter  XVI, iii, 13) notes:
“And know what the ministry is, according as our Lord and Savior said in the Gospel: Whoso among you desires to be chief, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many. So ought you the deacons also to do, if it falls to you to lay down your life for your brethren in the ministry which is due to them.” 
But laying own my life means dying every day – becoming more available for the poor, becoming more flexible, putting aside my desires to be in control or undisturbed.

So, today, I pray to Saint Stephen. May God make me a better deacon, a better servant, to be of service to God, to the church, and, most of all to people in need.


The image of Saint Stephen is from the works of Ade Bethune whose drawings were often published in The Catholic Worker.  Saint Catherine University has a collection of here works.