Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Praying our grief

This is a hard time. I would like to invite you to write out what grieves you and put your griefs in the form of a cross – on a wall, on a table where you have a bible and a candle, bringing it to God. When you sit down to pray, bring these laments to God – and see what God does with you.

Why do I think this would be good?

Last December I led a study week for women and men in charge of the formation of new members of religious communities. As I prepared, a good friend. Sister Pat, urged me to consider that the religious life is, at its best, prophetic and mystical.

To prepare, I turned back to a book that I first read about 1983, Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. (The quotes below are from the Fortieth Anniversary Edition.)

Brueggemann notes the importance of lament which can open the path to transformation, in the face of established patterns of injustice and oppression.

Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught. Clearly, the numbness sometimes evokes from us rage and anger, but the numbness is more likely to be penetrated by grief and lament. Death, and that is our state, does not require indignation as much as it requires anguish and the sharing in the pain. The public sharing of pain is one way to let the reality sink in and let the death go. (p. 117)
Kathe Kollwitz
As a part of our morning reflection, we offered a prayer of lament. I asked each person to write one thing that they lament, that brings them to cry, on a sheet of paper. We listened to a passage from the prophet Jeremiah and then this quote from Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Christus vivit – Christ is alive:

Perhaps “those of us who have a reasonably comfortable life don’t know how to weep. Some realities in life are only seen with eyes cleansed by tears. I would like each of you to ask yourself this question: Can I weep? Can I weep when I see a child who is starving, on drugs or on the street, homeless, abandoned, mistreated or exploited as a slave by society?...” Try to learn to weep for all those young people worse off than yourselves. Weeping is also an expression of mercy and compassion. If tears do not come, ask the Lord to give you the grace to weep for the sufferings of others. Once you can weep, then you will be able to help others from the heart. (# 76)

I then invited them to put the slips of paper on the wall in the form of a cross.

For me and for others this was a moving experience, being able to make public, before God and the People of God, what brings us to tears.

This morning, during a Skyped spiritual direction, my director asked me what I am grieving.

I recalled this experience and, at her urging, I decided to do this. My laments are now on the wall by my prayer corner.

I think this could be, for many of us, an important prayer – not only to help us face the grief and to put our concerns in the hands of God. It also, I believe can open us to hope.

Note how Pope Francis wrote, “Once you can weep, then you will be able to help others from the heart.”

Walter Brueggemann also noted that “Expressed suffering is the beginning of counterpower.” (p. 145)

A day ago I came across an essay in Time by N. T. Wright, a scripture scholar and the former Anglican bishop of Durham. It’s poorly titled, but it’s a response to those who keep asking for explanation: how can this be? how can such suffering continue? Where is God?

It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Curfew, violence, and continuing injustice

According to COPECO (sort of like FEMA) a few hours ago,  there are 139 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Honduras with seven deaths and three who have recovered. There have been no new cases.

The government has taken stringent preventative measures. There has been a curfew for about ten days – but it seemed very much an on-off type with people circulating during the day. Stricter measures were announced yesterday – four days of no circulation at all (except for emergency vehicles) and three days when people are allowed to circulate for a few hours each day to get to banks and supermarkets. This means that almost everyone has only one day to leave the house to get necessities.

There are also travel restrictions. The borders have been closed for a few days as well as entry through commercial airlines. Now only Honduran citizens or residents are allowed in, subject to strict checking at the airports and strict measures to prevent any spread of the virus.

It is interesting to note that some municipalities seem to be doing a better job at prevention and at getting the word out. The municipality of San Agustín has been stopping vehicles and fumigating them for more than five days. They also have announced that the town is closed off and only emergency entries and exits will be permitted. The mayor has called for help to assure transparency in the distribution of food and provisions.

I have also heard that at least one aldea has closed off entry. It is very close to the main road between La Entrada and Copán Ruinas (and the Guatemala border) and people from outside were entering the village. As a preventive measure they are closed.

But in the midst of this, the desperate situation of the majority of people continues. I have heard of protests of people who have no food and I have heard of government efforts to pass out basic provisions but I have not seen any of this and so I will not comment.

Yet... In the last few days, death has stalked through Plan Grande, where I live.

Friday, I presided at a small prayer in a house for an infant who died shortly after birth. I wrote about this earlier. Yesterday I visited the young woman (who is mentally and emotionally disabled) and brought her communion. I spent an hour talking with her family and saw friends and family dropping by to give them bread.

This morning I awoke to news of two deaths.

One was Don Andrés, a 97 year old man whom I had given a ride two times. The last time he sat in the front seat and we talked. Before he stepped out of the car, he promised to pray for me. The least I could do was to pray beside his coffin. What is most interesting is that he was an evangelical – but not the pushy type. I found out, talking to his son, that he had talked with them about me – and all I had done was give him a ride.
The second death was tragic. Last night about nine I heard “pop pop” a few times. I thought it was fireworks. But this morning I found out that it was gunfire. There seems to have been a dispute and the one guy shot the other six times. Alcohol was present.

I knew the twenty five year old who was killed and the family. I stopped by their house and talked with the family. The mother leaned on me. I put aside my social-distancing fears and held her and talked with her. What else can one do?

Violence, lack of medical care, lack of diversions for youth, the prevalence of alcohol, the lack of conflict management skills, and more are still here. And the poverty. The one who was killed was the only son still here in Honduras; his father and brothers are in the US.

I grieve.

As a way to keep in tough (and stay sane), I will try to write at least every two days. I also might try to do some reflections on My Walk the Way blog.

By the way, the Honduras Bishops Conference released a statement which I have yet to read. I may translate parts of it.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The challenge of a virus curfew

We’ve been on curfew since March 16 and this will continue at least until April 12, Easter. The new regulations prohibit travel on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The other days, access to supermarkets, banks, and other places to get supplies is limited to one day a week, dependent on your identity card. I can stock up on stuff on Fridays.

It feels strange to be confined at home, especially when I want to minister to those who are ill or bed-ridden.

Even for me, an introvert, it's not easy. But I have what I need - as well as the beauty of creation around me.

I have gone out two days – last Wednesday to Santa Rosa to get medicine for a person with severe depression who lives in a remote village and to transport a woman from the local health center to the hospital for surgery; the next day I delivered the medicine and then went to pray with a family in Plan Grande and bury a newborn who died a few hours after birth. Praying in the house beside the tiny coffin was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do recently.

But I stay at home, read, say hello to neighbors (with at least two meters between us), pray, clean, wash clothes, cook. I don’t have many concerns – only wondering if the gas for cooking will last.

I watched Pope Francis’ prayer and blessing on Friday, but I cannot get into televised Masses.

“All this bombardment raises many questions for me. Aren’t we treating believers as if they don’t know how to pray and should depend on the clergy to do so? What have we done so far, have them as spectators?

“Don’t you think that so much Mass on screens keeps people in the passive role of spectators? Or is it that we want to justify our priesthood? Is it that the religious services already on television and radio stations aren’t enough? So far they have been.”

The challenge for the Church is to pray as the Church, wherever we are.

As for me, I’m trying to spend more time on the daily readings and need to pray the Liturgy of the Hours more slowly. I’ve prayed the rosary more than usual. I am also reading a lot and I may just have to work on that book on the diaconate I’ve been trying to write for at least two years.

But I still feel somewhat “useless.”

This feeling is connected to my desire to help – and, in a less noble sense, my desire to not be seen as one who is doing what needs to be done.

So I need to practice patience and put aside the desire to control.

But I think additional challenge for me is to be ready for the aftermath of this pandemic.

      What will we do, as a community of faith?

      We will console those who lost family members or friends.

      We will help rebuild community in our liturgies.

      We will resume the religious formation which we have put on hold.

In our parish, we will baptize 15 young adults, celebrate the sacrament of marriage for more than 20 couples, and celebrate close to 200 confirmations.

My guess is that many people here will also feel even more the trauma of daily life, with poverty, insecurity, and the isolation of more than a month of curfew.

But what can we do then in the face of the economic and social breakdown that has come upon us?

I pray that we do not return to the normal of the past – with inadequate health care, with a culture of individualism enhanced by poverty, where people just think of themselves and not their neighbors, especially those most in need.

I pray that we not return to a political and social system where the poor have little or no voice and authorities lord it over them, offering them hand-outs that are highly politicized.

I pray that we do not return to a clericalized church but have learned to pray as the Church in our homes and our places of work, while nurturing a deep hunger for the Eucharistic assemblies with the whole people of God – where we can share the Bread of Life.

I pray that I do not return to the normal of trying to control everything, to look good – while not opening myself to the needs of those around me.

I pray that God opens our hearts, transforms our live, and make of us a people.

And now I will close with some very controversial remarks.

The cardinal archbishop is taking the image of our Lady of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras, over the country in an Armed Forces helicopter, to bless the country.

I have three major problems.

First of all, this feels like an appeal to magic. I believe in the power of prayer – to change the world and to change people, first of all ourselves. Secondly, this seems to be a very costly endeavor, when there are not enough ventilators and other medical supplies in the country. In addition, I object to the use of a military helicopter. Yes, the Virgin of Suyapa is the patroness of the Honduras Armed Forces. But, in the midst of a militarized country with police and military abuses of power, we need a disarmed Virgin to bless us. We need the vulnerability of Jesus in the Eucharist to bless us. We need hospitals, not helicopters.

I know this feat will make some people feel secure – but is this the type of security God wants?

Let’s continue to pray. Maybe this is the time to take seriously what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:6:

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Reading The Plague in a time of pandemic

Last  night I finished reading Albert Camus’s The Plague. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but it deeply touched me.

On the last page, the fictional narrator states why he wrote:

“[he] resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.” (p, 308)

Camus presents some stunning portraits of the people involved, with little commentary. If you haven’t read the book, you might want to put off reading this post. I will be revealing some important parts of the plot.

There are scenes that seemed almost sacramental – something one might not expect of the atheist Camus, but I guess he was so imbued by the Catholic culture of France that he could not fail to reflect them.  The discussion between Tarrou and Dr. Rieux seemed like a confession. After it was over, they went had swam in the sea. Confession and baptism?

Dr. Rieux is central to the account. But I found the smuggler Cottard and the journalist Rambert an interesting contrast.

Rambert keeps trying to find a way to leave the city and return to his love. With the help of Cottard, he waits for two guards who will get him out. Nothing works. Then he gets word that he can leave at midnight. But then he demurs and joins Rieux in the battle against the plague.

What happened?

He comes to feel that “It may be shameful to be happy by oneself.” (p. 209) And then, to explain himself more fully, he notes,

“Until now I always felt a stranger in this town, and that I’d no concern with you people. But now that I’ve seen what I’ve seen, I know that I belong here whether I want it or not. This business is everybody’s business.” (pp. 209-210)

He has been moved from the position of the outsider to one who is part of the others. He has come to see their communality.

Cottard, on the other hand, was an outsider. He was always fearful that the authorities would find out about his past and come to arrest him. He is a smuggler and who knows what else. He is an outsider, in fear. In some way, he seems to have rejoiced in the plague, because everyone, he thought, had become fearful of being caught, just like himself. His was not a solidarity of being together, but a feeling of a share commonness of being pursued. What a contrast with Rambert.

In the midst of the corona virus, who are we like? Rambert or Cottard?

Do we share the conviction that moves Dr. Bernard Rieux who oversees much of the work of resisting the plague? He tells Tarrou that, though he became more modest in his hopes for his work, “Only, I’ve never managed to get used to seeing people die.” Later the doctor tells Father Paneloux, “I refuse to love a scheme of things in which children are put to torture.” (p. 218)

Do we see, as Tarrou does, that the path to peace in the midst of the plague is “the path of sympathy”? (p. 254) I suspect, though, that he really means what we call “empathy.”

This book could stand as an examination of conscience in terms of how we respond to the plagues of our time.

Albert Camus wrote part of this novel in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon where he had gone in response to a bout of tuberculosis in 1942.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was a center of rescue for Jews, led by the Reformed Church pastor, André Trocmé and his wife Magda. I don’t know if Camus knew of this effort, but I’m sure he would approve. Pastor Trocmé would fit his description of a religious leader in tune with his people and the needs of the suffering. Camus’ Dr. Rieux remarks about the erudite Jesuit father Paneloux who seems to have given a justification for suffering: “He hasn’t come into contact with death….” But, Dr. Rieux notes “every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its excellence.” (p. 126) To his credit, Paneloux later joins Rieux’s efforts and risks his life and health.

When I first read about Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in Philipp Hallie’s Lest Innocent Blood Was Shed, I was fascinated by the efforts of Pastor Trocmé and his flock. But one incident still stirs me. His wife, Magda, heard a knock at the door of the vestry and opened the door to find a family of Jews at their doorstep. As I remember it, the family was a little reluctant to ask for shelter, but Magda, with all the naiveté of a simple believer, told them, “Come in. Come in.” For her it was natural and fundamentally human to welcome someone at the door. In  The Plague,  Grand agrees to stay with Cottard; “I can’t say that I really know him, but one’s got to help a neighbor, hasn’t one?” (p. 20)

That seems to me to be central to The Plague. One must be true to oneself and one’s humanity. As Dr. Rieux says to Rambert,

“It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fight a plague is — common decency.” (p, 163)

I cannot help recall the speech Camus made in 1948, a year or so after he finished The Plague, to a group of Dominicans at Latour-Maubourg. Fragments are found in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, an amazing collection of Camus’s articles.

I close this blog with a few citations from that speech, citations that have inspired me since I first read them, during the Viet Nam War.

“Perhaps we cannot prevent the world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children.” (p. 73)

“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.” (p, 71)

“And what I know—which sometimes creates a deep longing in me— is that if Christians made up their minds to it, millions of voices–millions, I say—throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and for [humans].” (p, 74)

How will we respond to the plagues around us? Not only the corona virus pandemic, but the plagues of violence, poverty, racism, and more.

When the pandemic is over, will be return to the “normal” beforehand. Or will we seek, together with all people of good will, to begin to forge a civilization of solidarity, where the least are welcomed and the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) of the Mother of the Lord becomes a reality, a God who has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things.”

Albert Camus, The Plague. Vintage International, 1991. (© 1948)
Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. Vintage Books, 1974 (© 1960)

Hands of a deacon

A few weeks ago, before the rite of election of the catechumens in our parish on the first Sunday of Lent, we had a special rite of acceptance into the catechumenate of two young men who had been unable to get to the parish celebration in December of the rite of acceptance into the catechumenate.

The signing of the catechumens in the rite of acceptance is, for me, one of the most moving rites. The presider and then the sponsors sign the senses of the one who will become a catechumen. The rite here doesn’t have the signing of the feet, as is found in the US ritual, and so I have introduced it in our parish. It is moving to see the presider and the sponsors kneeling before the one who wants to enter the People of God.

But this time, after singing the hands of the two young men, remarked that he was glad to feel their callouses, signs that they were working men.

Thinking back this reminded me of my ministry as a deacon.

While I was discerning how to respond to my bishop’s invitation to consider the permanent diaconate, I came across this quotation of Father Paul McPartlan who wrote:[1]

“The deacon stands at the altar and prepares the gifts with clean hands, but he stands also where the practical need is greatest, getting his hands very dirty.”  

I am an anomaly as a permanent deacon.

I am single, celibate for all my life. There are perhaps less than five percent of us celibate deacons, who are not in transition to the priesthood or members of religious orders.

I also work full time in a parish. Most deacons have full-time work outside the parish – some are professionals, others are manual workers. They bring their world of work with them to the altar, showing in a concrete way that the altar and the workplace are not to be separated.

As I understand it, that was one of the concerns of the priests in cell block 26 of the Dachau concentration camps when they wondered why the church’s response to the threat of Hitler and Nazism was so weak. As Deacon William Ditewig put it, “why wasn’t the church able to somehow influence society to prevent all of this from happening? What can we do in the future so this doesn’t happen again?” Was the clergy so separated from the daily lives of people that they didn’t see the evil at their doorsteps? Did the church need persons who would bring the experience of their daily life to the altar? Did they need persons who would be the “eyes and ears” of the church in the everyday world

I think that’s a part of what Pope Saint John Paul II was referring to when he said in a 1993 general audience:

A deeply felt need in the decision to re-establish the permanent diaconate was and is that of a greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in the various spheres of the family, work, school etc., in addition to existing pastoral structures.[2]

What I as a deacon do outside the liturgy is as central to my diaconal identity as what I do at the altar.

In an article[3] Fr. Paul Mc Partland sent me, he wrote:

In preparing the gifts all of the work of the deacon promoting communion between the bishop and the people, solidarity between the Church and the world, and the link between the altar and the workplace is symbolized. All of that work can be seen, in ways more or less remote, as preparation of the gifts: alleviating suffering and hardship so that the needy can feel the love of the Lord, hear the Gospel and respond to it (see Acts 6:1-6); being alongside people at work, sharing their troubles and dreams, helping them to see that all of those matter to the Lord who came to save us and that nothing is beyond the scope of his mercy; keeping the Church’s leaders and members aware of the marginalized and the abandoned, and seeking in every way to facilitate contact and care. In countless practical ways, the deacon is called to connect the world to the saving sacrifice of the Lord, and to help transform the raw material of human life into spiritual sacrifices. If priests must “teach the faithful to offer the divine victim to God the Father in the sacrifice of the Mass and with the victim to make an offering of their whole life” (PO 5), the task of deacons is to help the faithful to do so and to show them how.

Are my hands embracing the poor and the sick? Am I taking up the shovel and the broom to help clean not just the church but the homes of the poor? Am I washing the poor man who has been in his bed for weeks without a bath?

One experience at a diocesan liturgy to celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta brought the connection home to me.

I was purifying the vessels after communion. The hosts that we use here have lots of particles and so I was trying to carefully consume the particles and clean the ciboriums. I looked and there in the middle of the aisle in the auditorium were kids from Amigos de Jesús, a home for kids who were orphaned, abandoned, or being raised in precarious situations. I had gone several times to their center and met the kids and spent some time with the volunteers. I also know the directors as well as their priest chaplain (who had not yet been ordained at the time of this Mass.)

As I looked up, I immediately sensed the connection of what I was doing with what they do at Amigos de Jesús. I was caring for the smallest particle of Jesus in the hosts. They are calling for those who are smallest in this world. As I would not want to neglect to care for the smallest particle of the Eucharistic Body of Christ, I don’t want to neglect the smallest and most abandoned child in this world.

The Eucharist is where Jesus and the abandoned of this world come together. As my hands care for the Eucharist, so too must they care for the least among us. Without the one, does the other make sense.

In fact, I feel there is more than a casual connection between them. There is a necessary connection. Thus I have changed the quote of Fr. McPartland:

The deacon serves at the table of the altar with clean hands because he has dirtied his hands serving at the table of the poor.

I write these words on the feast of the martyred bishop Saint Óscar Romero, forty years after he was gunned down at the altar, at the end of his homily. These were the last words he preached, connecting the Body and Blood of Christ with the reality of the world he lived in.

May this Body immolated and this Blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and pain — like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.
Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer…[4]

And let us bring our hands – so that Christ may use them for the healing of our world.

[1] Rev. Paul McPartlan, “The Deacon and Gaudium et Spes,The Deacon Reader (p. 67)
[2] Papa Juan Pablo II, Audiencia General, Deacons Serve the Kingdom of God [Los diáconos sirven el Reino de Dios] (6 de octubre de 1993), núm. 6.
[3] Msgr. Paul McPartlan, “Priesthood and the Deacon”, Chicago Studies, Winter 2017, Volume 56:2. pp.48-49

[4] Archbishop Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements, p. 193..  (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Ruminating on Isaiah 65

Today’s first reading, Isaiah 65: 17-21, is a challenge.

“I create Jerusalem to be a joy.”

How can we react to such a joyful message – stuck at home, insecurity in terms of the health situation in the country, and reading Albert Camus’s The Plague?

“No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying…”

God, you’ve got to be mocking us? Though there are few cases of corona virus 19 here in Honduras, we’re confined to our houses. Some towns are letting people out for 3 hours – but from where I am it’s not really possible to get to Dulce Nombre (and they are saying that they’ll confiscate vehicles.)

But there are people who have little or no food – who are hungry. How get food for them?

Is this just a taste of what the people in the time of Isaiah were experiencing in exile? How can he say such words of hope?

“They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.”

But my neighbor is working on his house. And two guys are working on the local church meeting hall. I am concerned that they are putting themselves at risk. But…

Yesterday I was rather upset that more than twenty people were in the local church. Though they had cancelled the Celebration of the Word, people were gathered – without much sense of a distance between them. And the mayor was not far away from where they were gathering. When I shared my concern, someone said that was fear. No, I insisted.

I may be wrong but the idea of a social distancing has little sense for the culture here.

In the meantime, I keep a distance – wash clothes and dishes, do some reading and writing, pray, and whatever. I also am keeping myself ready if I am called for anything.

But Isaiah shares these words of the Lord:

“I am about to create new heav­ens and a new earth…”

Will we let God create of us a new heaven and a new earth?

Will our social isolation open us to a new vision or will we return to the same old social isolation that is part of an individualistic culture?
Will we learn anything from this? Will be learn to be a people? Will we learn that we are in this together? This is not a way to make the concern less, as it seems to be for Cottard in The Plague. This may be a way to help us learn that we belong and thus stay in the struggle as Rambert does. Though he has a chance to escape in a few hours, he decides to stay and shares these thoughts with Dr. Rieux:

“Until now I always felt a stranger in this town, and that I’d no concern with you people. But now that I’ve seen what I’ve seen, I know that I belong here whether I want it or not. This business is everybody’s business.’

Make of us, Lord, a people who truly share in the joys and sorrows of others.

Providentially, today’s New Testament reading for Vigils in Benedictine Daily Prayer is 2 Corinthians 1:1-7, one of my favorite passages from Saint Paul, especially verse 7:

“Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so too also you share in our consolation.”

Have hope.

- Albert Camus, The Plague, pp. 209-210. (Vintage International)
- Photo of Jerusalem from the church Dominus Flevit - The Lord Wept.
- Print of Kathe Kollwitz from a museum in Köln, Germany 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Communicating - ramblings of an introvert

I am old fashioned. I prefer to speak to people face to face.

I remember one time, way back in 1980, when I was working in Vermont and wanted to talk with the principal of a Catholic school. I called her and asked to see her to talk. She proposed just the phone call. We eventually talked face to face.

Then came e-mail. This was almost perfect for an introvert. I could write what I was thinking and send it and then wait for a response. If it was something a little complicated, I could write a few paragraphs.

The problem – sometimes the temptation is to respond too quickly. A first response might be an emotional reaction, without taking time to reflect. I know some who lost friends over this.

Then came Facebook. But it was first for folks connected with a university. Fine. But then it was open for everyone.

This worked fine for many years. You could choose your friends and they could accept or reject you (without you really knowing, I think.)

But then the society – both in church and state – became polarized. And “memes” abounded, especially ones that caricatured your opponents. Then people responded to a FB post – without much reflection. And then someone reflected on what someone said in a comment that had nothing to do with the initial post. ANGER PREVAILED, with or without the use of capital letters.

Then there were the people who wrote on Facebook to pick a fight – not to begin a discussion. (I wonder if some of them were foreign agents – trying to provoke more division, in state and in church.) They’re still around – and sometimes I think they abound.

And then there’s WhatsApp. I resisted this for years, but I had to get on it for my ministry. I dislike WhatsApp. It seems to bring out the worst in some people who have to comment on everything. And sometime the comments lack basic charity. In the last few days I probably deleted over 150 messages.

In Facebook and WhatsApp I often see a real lack of looking for ways to discuss a topic, to try to figure something out with the help of others. It’s often more about winning and scoring my point of view.

I probably have offended a few people. Sorry, but try to see what I am trying to promote – an online culture where we really try to understand each other, where we avoid caricatures and categorizing people, where we really try to seek the truth – the TRUTH, not just my take on truth. I’ll gladly hear your take on truth, in the hopes that we can really have a discussion, not a fight.

In the meantime, bring back e-mail.

Or you can always read my blogs:

Walk the Way: https://walktheway.wordpress.com/

A wall painting in the old meeting hall of the parish - now destroyed.
Don't ask me what it means. I don't know. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Here I am - in Honduras

I am here in Honduras. I am NOT stuck here. I am here, by the grace of God.

I want to make one thing clear to all those I know.

I have been asked many times by Hondurans, “How long will you be here?” My response has been, “Hasta que Dios quiera”.  This is the closest to my response when people in the US asked me when I discerned that I would go to Honduras, “Until God calls me somewhere else.” I sometimes would add that this might mean until I die here.

That is still my hope – remaining here until God calls me elsewhere.

I lived through the 2009 coup and am now living in the midst of COVID -19. I have no plans of leaving.

First of all, I believe this is where God continues to call me to serve. When I came here in 2007, I came to be of service to those most in need, as I explained to my spiritual director and some close friends. I still try to do that, even when it seems difficult.

Secondly, I was ordained a permanent deacon in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán in June 2016. I am no longer a volunteer in the diocese (though I don’t get paid by them.) As a deacon, I have a permanent commitment to the diocese that was made clear during the ordination. I am not a free agent but owe obedience (listening attentively) to the church, speaking through the bishop.

Thirdly, in 2018 I got the equivalent of permanent residency. My Honduran Id lists my status as “inmigrado”. I have not given up my US citizenship, but I no longer have temporary residence (of five years or so.) I am a part of this society.

Many US volunteers here register with the US Embassy. I have not and I don’t intend to. I am not here as a US citizen but as a member of the universal (Catholic) Church. My identity is first of all as a follower of Jesus in the Catholic Church.

So, here I am.

While I’m here I will do what I can to serve God and God’s people, the poor.

It’s a little harder now since I am stuck at home in the 24 hour per day eight day curfew – though I have walked outside and spoken (with the appropriate social spacing) with neighbors and friends. I visited the parish coffee field yesterday – which is in bloom. 

Today I stopped at a pulpería to get some time on my phone. I also stopped by the mayor’s house and told him that he could call on me if there was a need – even for transportation (since my pick up’s tank is full.)

I have no idea how long this curfew and the other restrictions will go on. I do have enough food for about a week (with a bit of Lenten austerity). The electricity and water are still functioning. I have gas for the stove and bottled water, which I hope will be enough. And, unlike many neighbors, I have internet access.

During these days, I am reading a lot, praying a fair amount, washing clothes and cleaning the house. I have two writing projects for the parish – but right now I don’t have the concentration I need to do them well.

As usual, I am in the middle of reading several books.

Before this craziness began here, I felt a need for a retreat and started reading Abide in the Heart of Christ; A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Ignatius Loyola, by Joe Laramie S.J. It’s a popularized form of the first week of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and was good for me.

Because I am supposed to write the parish Stations of the Cross, I started reading Caryll Houselander’s The Way of the Cross, which I’m finding very helpful – personally.

Yesterday I picked up Albert Camus’s The Plague, a novel I had read in the 1960s which had a major effect on my commitment to a faith seeking justice. I’ve read about half of it – even though it’s not an easy read. But it has helped me try to understand what is happening.

I am also in the middle of Ann Garrido’s Let’s Talk about Truth: A Guide for Preachers, Teachers, and Other Catholic Leaders in a World of Doubt and Discord. Stimulating.

Two unfinished books are J A Pagola’s Jesús: una aproximación histórica (which I have been going through slowly for more than a year) and John O’Donohue’s  Anam Cara: a book of Celtic Wisdom (suggested by my confessor).

I wish I had a good mystery novel that was a fast read, a diversion from all the seriousness. I’ll have to look.

(By the way, except for Camus’s The Plague, the other books are on Kindle. I brought Camus down with me since it and a collection of his essays, Resistance, Rebelling, and Death, have played a major role in who I am.)

Meantime, I am on the internet (too much), I have written a few friends, and I have called a few folks. But what I really long to do is to be with the people. How I do this, in a way that is not risky for them, I have to think about and wait for opportunities that God puts in my way. I have to wait patiently. 

In the meantime, let us pray for each other.

At this time, I would invoke the intercession of Saint Raphael the Archangel who accompanied Tobiah on his journey and healed his father Tobit. He is patron of the sick and healers. He is also the patron of the church where I was baptized, Saint Raphael’s in the Meadows in Philadelphia (which no longer exists), and he is the patron of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. (I served for almost 24 years in a parish and student center in the archdiocese.) May Saint Raphael guide us and heal the world.

Icon from Printery House of Concepcion Abbey

Friday, March 20, 2020

Shut down competing visions

I'm stuck here in Plan Grande - which is really not all that bad - especially with a view like this.

The municipal centers of Dulce Nombre de Copán and San Agustín Copán have shut the entrances to the cities. As I read it, that means no one can enter or leave.

I am fine – with water, electricity, internet, and enough food for at least a week. Two days ago I washed clothes. I will probably have to bake bread today tomorrow, but that would be a good use of time.

I have neighbors that I can talk with and I can even walk through Plan Grande without meeting many people and thus being able to maintain “social distancing,” which is a concept almost totally alien to Latin Americans.

Yesterday, I walked to the parish coffee fields which are here in Plan Grande. They are flowering, promising a crop at the end of the year. The beauty and the sweet perfume of the flowers are life-giving.

I’m trying to pray, begin a few writing projects, and clean up the house. I'm reading. I'm finishing up Jesuit Father Joe Laramie's Abide in the Heart of Christ: a 10-Day Personal Retreat, which I, providentially, began about 12 days ago. I am about halfway through Ann Garrido's Let's Talk about Truth.

But it’s hard to read or do intellectual work when I feel so distracted. (I have to cut down on internet time.) And so today I decided to do something a bit different.

A few days ago I pulled out Albert Camus' THE PLAGUE, an important novel for me that I read in the 1960s and brought along with me to Honduras. This novel and some of Camus's essays in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death have challenged me in how I live my faith. ButI never thought the challenge would be this real. So this morning I decided that it was time to start reading it again.

In the first three pages Albert Camus describes Oran in terms of its "ordinariness," its "banality," where "everyone is bored." It is a town without "intimations," without "an inkling of something different." "Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, 'doing business'."

Is that what the world has become, even before the corona virus, at least the developed world?

The stock market crash seems to be more important than the lives of persons threatened throughout the world. The lack of toilet paper in US stores seems more a crisis than the lack of respiratory equipment in places like Honduras. Access to internet as a platform to blame others is more important than disseminating the truth about what is happened.

One remark of the narrator struck me: “What is more exceptional in our town is the difficulty that one may experience there in dying.”

And then he remarks, “Being ill is never agreeable, but there are towns that stand by you, so to speak, when you are sick; in which you can after a fashion. Let yourself go. An invalid needs small attentions, he likes to have something to rely on, and that’s natural enough.”

What type of town am I living in? In what way am I responding to the small attentions of the invalids?

Maybe it’s too early to say exactly what we can and should do. I have read of places where the elderly and the sick are getting attention – a meal, a greeting, and, even, pastoral attention. But here? What can I do?

In this meantime, I will be praying and trying to imagine ways to “stand by” people. I have offered to drive people in emergencies. I haven’t received any calls yet – but I am ready – prepared in heart and spirit.