Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ministry and more in the hills of Honduras

It’s been almost a month since the last time I wrote on my ministry on this blog – that was on the multiple celebrations of Saint Anthony. I did write a post on Popular Religiosity on another blog of mine. 


The week after, I spent some time working with the Coffee Association which is exporting some coffee through a group in Ames, Café El Zapote. They took about 3600 pounds to the Beneficio in Santa Rosa that will be processing it. It should be shipped to the US this month.

I returned to meet with the Association in early July when they met with the new director of Caritas on a new project with a Spanish group that wants to import coffee from five sites in our diocese and invest in projects to improve the lives of all the members of the villages. One of them is El Zapote. They are enthused about the possibilities – for their crops and for their village.


The big events in July, though, were the Forty Hours devotion and the celebrations of Corpus Christi in many churches in our parish. In more than sixteen churches the Eucharist was exposed and people came to spend time in prayer. In many cases people from nearby villages came for part of the time.

In Plan Grande
The devotion ended with processions and Mass in many locations. I took part in two Masses with processions. The Mass on Saturday evening from Oromilaca to Dolores lasted close to ninety minutes.

Near Camalote
I arranged for the villages of Granadillal and San Antonio Alto to have exposition, going on Friday afternoon and returning Sunday morning for a procession and Celebration of the Word with Communion.

An altar in the procession in San Anotnio El Alto

The next week I had four workshops with catechists – in the different zones of the parish. There are some problems we are experiencing in this ministry. Some catechists are not coming to the formation meetings. Others have dropped out.

But there are several villages where there are five catechists who are willing to begin a new project of religious formation based on ages. Up to now most of our formation has been focused on preparing for the sacraments which is essential but leaves gaps in on-going formation of children and youth in living their faith.

Yet there are hopeful signs. About thirty people, mostly young, came to our second training session for new catechists in July.


We have had other formation events in the parish in the past month and I’ve assisted our pastor, Padre German.

We had a training session for Delegates of the Word. The delegates of the word are people in the communities who lead the Sunday celebrations of the Word. Some have been delegates for decades – and there are about ten new candidates. I did a background on the Gospel of Luke, since this is the Gospel used in this year’s lectionary. I’m hoping that this helped them in their Sunday reflections.

We had training sessions in two zones in the parish for the community councils, the groups in each village that oversee the life of the faith community. We had planned sessions for ht two other zones but had to postpone them because of a scheduling conflict.

I also assisted Padre German in our encounter for the youth of the parish.


I’ve continued my custom of trying to visit a different village each Sunday morning to preside at a Celebration of the Word with Communion. I try to go to villages where there is no communion minister so that more people have a chance to go to Communion.  One Sunday I got to Vertientes where they are building a rather impressive new church.

the new church in Vertientes
Each Sunday I also get to a Mass in another place and I usually end up preaching there too, since Padre German likes to take a little break from preaching – since he has at least four Masses each Sunday in disparate parts of the parish.

I occasionally accompany Padre German to the villages during the week for Mass – often preaching. 

I went to San Juan for their feast day, June 24, and watched as some young folks hung out int he church tower.

San Juan
Monday I got to the neighboring village of Candelaria to celebrate their feast day, the Virgin of Carmen. 

A school marching band played for the procession before Mass.
It was a real joy for me to get to one community this Monday for the third anniversary of my ordination as a deacon. I didn’t preach because I had been at that church the day before and didn’t want to bore them with my preaching, again!

I’ve presided at one funeral and today I served as deacon at another.

I’ve also had two interviews with couples planning to get married. There’s another this Friday.

And, a first for me, I blessed scapulars of Our Lady of Mount Carmel today (at the funeral Mass) and then Padre German and I placed the scapulars over the heads of many who came forward.


There are two educational programs, run by Las Hijas de María, a congregation founded by a US priest but with many sisters from Mexico, the Philippines, and Korea. They provide free education and formation for young people at two sites near Tegucigalpa from seventh grade to graduation from high school (usually five years). There are a good number of students there from our parish. Today two sisters came to administer a test for those hoping to go there. Thirty-one children between 12 and 14 showed up. We’re see how many are accepted.


For more than two weeks I’ve been under the weather – cough, chest congestion, stomach problems, and more. But I’m slowly improving, thanks for rest and medicine.

In the midst of this I’m having dental work – including a root canal. The young dentist is delightful and professional; she also speaks English and likes to practice with me.

Last week I was supposed to go to a national clergy study week. But, first of all, I had been given the wrong dates and was prepared. Padre German was going and offered me a ride. But thinking of the prospect of more than six hours in a car, with my cough and a sour stomach, I decided to stay home. It was a wise decision, even though the topic was very important. Padre German told me it was a good week and shared materials with me.

In the midst of this I keep trying to pray – especially spending time in the morning in my prayer room. I’m also trying to do a bit more reading. I came across a Kindle book that has eight books of Henri Nouwen. I finished two, and hope to finish one tomorrow. One book, Intimacy, written in the 1960s was particularly interesting since some of the concerns expressed are still with us.

There was one thing, though, that struck me as I was reading Intimacy. I felt as if it took more time to read one chapter than I thought it should. All of a sudden I realized why. Nouwen’s language was non-inclusive and used “man” instead of more inclusive terms. This never happened to me before. I found this enlightening. I subconsciously expect authors not to use exclusive language.

I’m also trying to finish a book I started a few years ago and never got around to finishing – Donal Dorr’s classic, Option for the Poor and for the Earth: Catholic Social Teaching.  I had read his earlier Option for the Poor and began the revised edition but never got round to finishing it. Ow I want to finish it since, at the end of the month, I will be doing a study week with two Franciscan novices of the Dubuque Franciscans who are doing their formation with the sisters here in Honduras. I’m looking forward to the time we’ll have to explore Catholic Social Teaching in the framework of Latin America. I am also trying to find ways to put a Franciscan touch to our exploration. It will be a bit of a challenge since it will all be in Spanish.


Please keep us in your prayers. The times are challenging, which may just mean that God is trying to work wonders among us. 

The political situation is precarious. The lives of the campesino, the persons who live on the land, continue to be difficult, with rising costs of living and costs of agricultural inputs, combined with very low prices for coffee. We are also experiencing more migration from our area – mostly because of desperation in the face of the impoverishment and well as extreme temperatures and either no rain or too heavy rains, which make farming even more difficult.

But in the midst of this, the people go forward. And the corn looks good.

Blessings from the hills of Honduras.

Come visit. - and see our beautiful flowers.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Deacons and Roman collars part 2

Last week I posted on deacons and Roman collars. I posted a link to the post on a private Facebook group.

There were perhaps a few parts of my original article that were not clear. I also recognize that my position has roots in the clericalization found in the Honduran Catholic culture, as well as in some of my experiences in decades of lay ministry in the church in the US. (I do have to admit, though, that most of my experience with clergy was very positive and I saw little clericalism.)

Some of the responses to my blog help me clarify what my real concerns are. I am a bit more open to a limited use of the Roman collar by permanent deacons but my concerns about its use and the vehemence of some responses in defense of its use continue.

I was questioned several times whether ordination to the transitional and permanent diaconate were the same. I thought that would be obvious and so I didn’t mention it.

The post was not meant to castigate anyone but to raise what I think are serious questions about the ministry of permanent deacons.

But what struck me is that many of the responses focused on the question of the use of the Roman collar by deacons. My other concerns were only noted by a few commentators.

One person, a chaplain with a federal agency, explained why he wore the Roman collar. His reasoning struck me as sincere and really oriented to the role of the deacon.

At least one person spoke of the need to use the collar for safety in prison ministry. Another who worked for years in prison ministry has never worn the collar.

I think of my early years here in Honduras when I was a lay missionary. I often accompanied a Spanish Franciscan sister in the local prison. She, by the way, does not wear a habit and in now in her eighties – and still visits the prison, every week, I believe. I did not feel threatened. More recently I have been accompanying a US Franciscan sister with Alternatives to Violence workshops in another part of Honduras. I don’t feel threatened. My white skin (and my association with two sisters who regularly minister in prisons) are my “Roman collar.” I can understand the justification of the use of the Roman collar in limited circumstances in prison ministry, though I still have a few concerns.

At least one commentator did get one of my concerns.
I’m not exactly anti collar - I wear clerics in the prison for the reasons already mentioned. I see, however, a growing trend where the collar becomes for some a symbol of separation and status, whereby the ministry of the deacon tilts heavily toward the liturgical functions serving those inside the church and not the ministerial functions serving those on the margins.

Though clericalism wasn’t my main concern when I wrote the article, I am wondering whether it is a serious issue, at least a serious temptation. One stated that, “Clericalism is often a canard for those who are uncomfortable being clergy.”

Perhaps an extended discussion about clericalism is desperately needed – among priests and deacons. Pope Francis seems to think this is a problem.

I won’t refer to his writings at this point but to a book I read in February: Clericalism: The Death of the Priesthood, by Father George B. Wilson, S.J., published in 2008 by Liturgical Press. I will not try to summarize the book, which deserves a careful reading, but share some points that struck me.

This book, Clericalism, is a nuanced approach to the issue, recognizing that there are clerical cultures and that “clergyhood is essential to organizational development.” In his analysis, Fr. Wilson notes the presence of “clergy status” among doctors, lawyers, university professors, as well as ordained clergy.

But, the author notes, “Clergyhood brings genuine benefits- and harmful potential.”

He notes several seeds of clericalism:
·      “Clericalism grants automatic status.”
·      “Clergyhood’s embodiments: dress and address and perks”
·      “Strengths can become weaknesses”
·      “Clerics are sensitive to critique”
·      “Clerics focus on image”
·      “The power of arcane language.”
·      “Economic advancement confers status.”
·      “Clerics lose touch with those to be served.”
·      “Distinction turns into superiority.”
·      “Clericalism breeds secrecy and lack of accountability
·      “The name itself creates the power”

Fr. Wilson notes the relation between ordained priesthood and the priesthood of baptism, denying neither but trying to open a dialogue on their relationship.
“The priesthood of the ordained is real and not simply metaphorical. But it is meaningful only to the extent that it actually participates in and contributes to the life and holiness of the primary priesthood, the gathered faithful.”

I think this is one of the areas where we deacons need to examine in depth. Fr. Wilson writes of the exercise of priesthood by the community in this way.
“The Christian community priests when its members take on the mind and heart of Jesus; when they show forth singleness of purpose in their following of the risen Lord; when their daily lives are an expression of praise and gratitude—and joyous song—to the One Jesus called “Father”; when they identify compassionately with the broken and dispossessed of society; when they relate personally to others as peers, as brothers and sisters; and when they use the power of their voice to speak out and act for the rights of the voiceless.”

A question for us deacons is how we take on the mind and heart of Christ Jesus the Servant and how we animate the Servanthood of all the faithful. After all, in the words of Pope Paul VI, the deacon ought to be “the animator of the Church’s diaconia.” How do we do this – not just in the service of the Word or the service of Sacrament, but also in the service of Charity? And how are we present to the efforts of all the faithful to live a life of love and justice in the world, helping them see how they are and can be true servants of the Love of God – in the church and in the world, even in their daily occupations.

When I was a lay campus minister, I often tried to help students and other parishioners see that they live out their faith in their daily lives, not just in church activities. I believe that the permanent diaconate has the possibility to help make this real for more people.

Consider what it might mean for a campesino, an agricultural worker, a farmer seeing someone like himself at the Table of the Lord, knowing that he also serves at the Table of the poor, and also that he has a job like his where he serves the world and a family where he struggles with living the love of God.

I think that might be a challenge for us permanent deacons.

I write this post on the third anniversary of my diaconal ordination which is also the feast of Saint Bonaventure. When I was young I had a holy card with a quote from Bonaventure that still sustains me.
“Constant fidelity in little matters is a great and heroic virtue.”

Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, shares an expanded version:
“The perfection of a religious [person] is to do common things in a perfect manner, and a constant fidelity in small matters is great and heroic virtue.”

I will reflect on this today as I celebrate the gift and challenge of being a deacon.

Ordination, 15 July 2016
Bringing communion to the sick, Debajiados, July16, 2016, with Juan Ángel (RIP)
Heling dig a sewage trench, Plan Grande, August 2016

Baptizing in Plan Grande, August 2016