Friday, February 28, 2020

Lent, plant-based burgers, and the real world

There is a discussion in the US Catholic Church about eating plant-based burgers during Lent. There have even been statements from church authorities, like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Perhaps the problem is not the burger but the discussion.

I am a vegetarian and I like veggie-burger once in a while. Most of them are okay but nothing to brag about, though the black-bean burger at an Ames, Iowa, restaurant is outstanding.

Ash Wednesday, after morning Mass in which we sent forth more than thirty persons with ashes for their communities, I went to visit the sick in two communities, bringing ashes and communion.

How was I supposed to talk to them about fasting? I did explain to some the three disciplines of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But fasting and abstinence. Every day is a fast day for most of the people I know. And abstinence? Most people in the countryside here in Honduras might have meat once a week – or once a month! My guess is that most of the world is in the same situation or worse.

I am sorry, but the discussion about plant-based burgers is what we need to abstain from. Try beans and rice and tortillas, what I ate today at a workshop with members of our parish.

Parce, Domine,parce populo tuo.

Saint Oscar Romero put it well in a September 3, 1978 homily:

When Pope Paul VI modified the meaning of penance for the Christian people, he said that there are different ways to understand the meaning of penance in the Christian life.  
Fasting is done in one way in developed countries, where people eat well, and another way in underdeveloped countries, where life is almost always lived in a fast. In this situation, he said, penance means to put austerity where there is much well-being and to put courage and solidarity with the suffering and efforts for a better world where life is almost a perpetual fast. 
This is penance, this is God’s will.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The deacon as driving force for diakonia

One of my major objections to the suggestion that I become a permanent deacon as this concern: the gap between me and the people might increase.

I am not like the members of the parish or the people among whom I live. I have access to money. I am living on my social security which is more than enough for life here but is much more than most people earn. I have a US passport and can go there when I want. If I wanted to escape the situation here, I’d just get on a plane and fly away. I have an education, access to the internet, and other tools for learning.

My question was – and still is: As a deacon am I widening the gulf between me and the people around me? I have access to power and privilege that my neighbors never have.

But even more, I know that people already leaders in the church – men and women, young and old. Would I be pushing them aside?

But as I read, prayed, and discerned, I began to see the wisdom of the words of Pope Saint Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter Ad pascendum, 15 August 1972

The Second Vatican Council supported the wishes and requests that, where such would lead to the good of souls, the permanent diaconate should be restored as an intermediate order between the higher ranks of the Church's hierarchy and the rest of the people of God, as an expression of the needs and desires of the Christian communities, as a driving force for the Church's service or diaconia towards the local Christian communities, and as a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who "came not to be served but to serve."

A driving force for the diakonia of the church. The Spanish reads “inspirador del servicio, o sea, de la diaconía de la Iglesia” – the one who inspires service, or, the diakonia of the church.

I began to see myself and what I have been doing as a way to “animate” the community. I am not replacing their ministries but, hopefully, inspiring them, driving them forward.

And then I read Deacon James Keating has written in Forming Deacons:
The deacon possesses no unique power by virtue of ordination but possesses a mission in being sent by the bishop; he evokes from others the power that is theirs by baptism.

This as a critical dimension of my ministry. I consider it very important since this can be a way of empowering the laity, letting them assume their baptismal call to be prophets, priests, and servant-kings.

Yet I struggle with this. I like to teach and I have certain ideas about ministry that some here might find difficult to understand. I have therefore not involved local leadership in the training of catechists. This is what I hope to do this year.

I do a lot of training of the catechists. Last week I had a training of catechists – more than 103 came, about 20 of them new. We have a seminarian who finished his studies with us for a few months. I had him give a short talk and lead some song and activities. What I really want to do is find three to five people who can help with the training sessions which we’ll have the rest of this year.

But what I have been doing to helping them develop a participative methodology and a pastoral sense. They have been all too much influenced by a top-down style of teaching where the teacher or priest has all the answers and all they have to do is repeat what they are told. They also have had a very legalistic sense of the church and applied regulations in very rigid ways. Slowly, I see them moving forward.

Since my ordination I have been trying to help organize and train those involved in social ministry. I the past some of restricted this ministry to raising funds for the church. But I’m finding many are developing a broad understanding of this ministry.

Last Monday I had a meeting of those involved in social ministry. About 28 arrived. I decided to share with them some ideas on the role of the ministry as well as what can be done. What amazed me is how they shared what they were doing. I felt more like a person giving them a place to look at their ministry, not in isolation but with others. I was in admiration and urged them to learn from each other. I, of course, had suggestions, but often they were already doing much – visiting the sick, raising funds for the needy, planting trees and cleaning up the villages. I can offer them motivation, providing a place for sharing, as well as helping them to reflect on their ministry and deepen their faith.

I also accompany the communion ministers, especially in their monthly meetings. This past week we had an amazing event. Tuesday, I took a group of 8 communion ministers and the seminarian to San Agustín. The communion minister there has been visiting a large number of persons who were ill or home-bound. But she has been ill recently. I don’t know here the idea came from, but we decided to have a group come and do a day of visiting. I suggested February 11, the World Day of the Sick. It was energizing for all involved. With guides from San Agustín, they visited about 32 people. When I saw they didn’t have sufficient guides, I decided not to go out and visit. I stayed at the church, praying and reading.

I had my concerns that becoming a deacon could distance me from the people. This is a danger and a temptation. (Some would name this the temptation of clericalism.) But I have found that the grace of God has helped me to deepen my commitment and put me more in contact with the people, especially those on the margins of society.

It’s not easy, but I’m learning. But more important, the grace of God can do marvels, even with those who, like me, come from a place of privilege.

I will close with this photo that someone from Honduras Amigas took of me last year when I was with their medical brigade in one of the villages. 

I love this photo because I am not the one in charge. The Honduran man is showing me the way.

James Keating, “Themes for a Canonical Retreat: The Spiritual Apex of Diaconal Formation,” Forming Deacons: Ministers of Soul and Leaven

Monday, February 10, 2020

God working among us

When things get rough and life leaves me feeling lonely, God has a way of stirring my heart.

Yesterday it was going to a distant village for a Celebration of the Word with Communion at 9 in the morning. The community has had some serious problems, including divisions. At the request of our pastor I spoke with one of the parties involved. What he said to me was the mirror image of what our pastor had told me of the experience of the other person. Both say that they are open to reconciliation but the other one isn’t. I advised the person I spoke with to speak directly with the other person or find a person whom the other respects to pass the message on that he is open to reconciliation. I don’t know if anything will come from this and I felt helpless, unable to resolve the situation then and there. But it is in the long process that reconciliation can happen. I hope and pray that I planted seeds that may sprout in the hearts of these two men.

After the Celebration I went and visited three places to bring communion to the sick and home bound. The first was in a very isolated place. There I found a beautiful couple. I spoke at length with the husband who was a delight. He and his wife were married in the church last year but have been together more than forty years. It was a grace to be able to share the Body of Christ with them.

Then I visited the house of one of the persons guiding me around the community. There I met her daughter who, I believe, is suffering from a severe trauma since one of her young children was murdered. She spoke of how she loved to play the guitar and sing, but I sensed a deep grief. Then we went to visit an older woman up the mountain, the grandmother of the woman. It was a short visit since I was going to a Mass at 2 o’clock in a village about 45 minutes away. I barely made it.

Today I had a meeting of persons involved in Social Ministry in the villages. We had about thirty participants. After some explanation of what social ministry is and can be, I shared some of the areas in which we might be working. It was an eye-opening experience as many shared what they were doing in their villages. I am amazed at some of their efforts.

In one village, I found out that the youth group was visiting the sick and collected corn and beans for poor families.

In another village, they have a group of ten who are working to respond to the needs of the sick and poor. They have organized a solidarity fund to help those in need. I have been trying to push this in the parish since last year and it is taking root in various parts of the parish.

I came away edified. So much being done, with so few resources, to meet so great needs. I ended up sharing with them the thoughts of Dorothy Day from Loaves and Fishes:
People say, "What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes.

Tomorrow seven or eight communion ministers will go with me to San Agustín to visit the sick and homebound. There is only one communion minister year and she has been ill. So we are going to meet together for prayer and then go out to visit eighteen to twenty persons there and in a neighboring village.

These experiences give me life – and are real gifts from God.