Thursday, April 22, 2021

Some thoughts on migration

Last Tuesday I listened to a webinar organized by some Catholic groups working here in Honduras. Afterwards, I reflected on migration from here, mostly to the US. Here are a few of my thoughts on this extremely complicated issue, largely in terms of why people are migrating. I may later suggest ways to alleviate the situation and promote more humane refugee policies, but that is for another day. 

But first it is important to realize that this is not an issue – these are people: José, María, Consuela, Alejandro, Brenda, Adonay, Jesús, Fernando, Walter, Hernan, and many more. 

We need to remember the humans involved.

Migration is a sign of something that is wrong. 

Why would a parent leave their family in search of a job in a foreign land where they speak a different language? Why would a parent leave with a child, or with the entire family, and undertake a perilous journey with no assurance of employment? Why would a person go into a multi-thousand dollar debt with no assurance of a job in another land?

I am sure that there are young men who go because it seems like a great adventure, when he’s been living a boring life. But there are young people who go because they see no future here in Honduras, even with an education. As one young man told me many years ago during a long discussion, “What does Honduras offer.” 

Each person, each family has a story. We need to listen.


Some from the large cities leave because of the threats of gangs in their neighborhoods; they may fear that their children might be recruited into the gangs; others may have received threats because they cannot pay the “war tax” that some gangs impose on businesses in their “territory.”

In other parts of the country, people experience the presence of drug traffickers and the attendant violence.

Throughout the country many more have experienced violence – from gangs or from common criminals. 

There are also the conflicts over land and over lovers. These are exacerbated by the presence of arms and rampant problems of alcohol abuse. There are the many women fleeing domestic violence; I recently was a headline in a newspaper that this year a woman has been killed an average of every 17 hours.

The violence occurs in a political situation where impunity reigns.

The police, despite massive investment by foreign governments (especially the US), together with the judicial system don’t have much success in their investigations and in prosecutions. Many crimes go uninvestigated. Thus, many people have little trust in the police and justice system.

Since there seems to be little justice in the face of crimes, there is the temptation to taking the law into one’s own hands. Vengeance killings are not uncommon. 

I would add that in this climate there is not much experience in working through conflicts in nonviolent creative ways.

In some workshops I’ve led, I notice that the usual responses to conflict are avoidance and flight from the situation. Yes, there is some fight, but it is not always focused.

In the face of this, even those who have not experienced violence want to leave. As a young man I know wrote me after I told him of a brutal death in a village near where he grew up, “That’s a part of why I left – to escape that type of violence.”


Corruption runs rampant in Honduras. Not only have a number of Hondurans been convicted and jailed in the US for drug trafficking (including the brother of the current president) or for money laundering (including one presidential candidate), but there are stories of involvement of political, military, and police connections with drugs. And the US continues to provide millions to the government, which has led to the militarization of the country and even of police functions.

The US government has had major influence in Honduras for many decades, but hardly on the side of the poor. In the 1980s it staffed an air-force base in central Honduras during a rather bloody time in Honduras history (with death squads and military repression); the base also supported US operations in support of the repressive Salvadoran government and the Contras, rebels fighting against the Nicaraguan government. US government and military actions in the region are not pretty.

I’ll only mention the continuing influence of multi-national corporations in the country, from the US banana companies of the nineteenth centuries to the Canadian and other mining operations, as well as the maquilas from Korea, the US, and elsewhere.

Honduras is rich in resources and in people. But it has been impoverished – by internal corruption and international exploitation.


Honduras is the second poorest country in Latin America – after Haiti. Over 60% live in poverty and over 30% in extreme poverty.

Unemployment is a major problem as well as inadequate wages.

In some areas there is seasonal employment. In my region people pick coffee between November and early March. They usually get between 25 and 35 lempiras per five gallon container of picked coffee berries. Some can pick ten, twelve, or even more a day, but most average between six and eight. That means that many earn between $11 and $32 per day. For many this is their only access to cash during the whole year.

In terms of public employment – for example, in health, education, and local government services – there are many problems. For me, one of the most devastating problems is the way public employment is politicized. In all too many cases, you are more likely to get a job if you belong to the party in power in your municipality and then you may be required to do campaigning for the party when the elections come around.

There are also problems, especially in the health sector, of unpaid wages. 

In addition, the governments often promote a system of dependence – handouts, especially before the elections; major projects at times dependent on the way your village votes; tin roofing when needed; road projects; and aid for building churches. (Don’t get me going on this last.) These type of government projects promote dependency and often crush initiatives of people and efforts to join together in independent organizations.

I will only briefly mention the two hurricanes that hit here last November.

Not only did people lose homes and employment, they were stranded – as the people living under overpasses in San Pedro Sula attest or as people living in mountains villages experience as they maneuver washouts, landslides, and settling of the soil. 

Then, there is the slow pace at which rebuilding is happening, despite promises of foreign aid. 


I will note that, though there are regions that are not much affected by COVID-19, the pandemic has affected the country, especially an already-broken health system, and has been handled poorly. At times it appears as if the government has used public health policy to instill fear in the people (and squash public protest). But there are also cases of real malfeasance and what appears to be outright corruption and misuse of funds. Multi-mobile hospitals were purchased but only one or two have been set up – and at least another had been deemed inadequate for response to COVID.


And so, what can they do?

One of the panelists in the webinar noted that there is a history of trauma – of the separation of parents from the family.

Years ago, some parents left their families in the countryside to seek jobs in the major cities, in hopes of a better life for their loved ones. Thus, the idea of leaving is not new and, though it might be difficult, even traumatic, to leave for the US or Spain, this is not a new experience.

The question becomes for many mere survival, as a panelist noted. They long for a life where their family can thrive and so pursue a solution elsewhere. 

Some I know have gone to Spain and work there (even though they enter as tourists), but this option may be being restricted as Spain changes its policies.

In the past a few men here have worked for six or nine months in Canada (in Québec, some told me as they noted how cold it was there); there they are contracted to do agricultural work. But that is quite limited.

And so, despite the dangers of the journey, the uncertainty of employment or of even crossing the border, and even the threat of imprisonment, people continue to flee. Some make it; others are flown back. There are even some who, after being in the US for a number of months, decide to return to Honduras. 

But many are still looking for a way out.

Hearing of some of Biden’s initiatives to soften the drastic and inhumane policies of the Trump administration, some had hope that there would be a way to get to the US for some employment. 

Many “coyotes” (as we call those who promote and promise transportation to the US) took advantage of this hope and the desperation to promote even more aggressively their money-making businesses, telling people that they would have more chance of getting into the US (and being able to stay there) if they went with a child. I know of two cases where the father was going to leave with a child under five. I tried to tell them that the coyotes were not telling them the truth, trying to dissuade them. Neither sent with their sons, not because I convinced them but because the coyotes changed their tune and told them that the situation had changed.


In all this, I feel saddened, frustrated. So many are suffering and there seems no way out.

I also feel indignant, not hopeful that there will be serious changes in US policies regarding immigration. I also fear that the US will continue to support policies that will keep the corrupt in power here in Honduras.

But I hope and pray that the people here can begin to take small steps to change the situation and that people in the US can promote real change in migration policy and in foreign relations with corrupt regimes, such as here in Honduras.

There are small signs of hope – but they are often hard to see.

There’s the coffee association in El Zapote that is working and trying to increase the efficiency of their work and the quality of their coffee. There is the neighbor and his cousin who are growing great tomatoes and branching out into other vegetables. There is also the effort of the diocesan CARITAS office to provide psychological support and legal aid for the poor at no cost.

The goal for me at this point is discern how to be present when people face the challenges and accompany them when they try to move forward. 

How will I do this? That’s not one question but it provokes a series of questions that I can only try to face with the help of the people and other friends here.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Life and death - the second week of Easter

This past week I had three pre-marriage interviews. I have at least one next week. For some reason people are getting married in the church.

The couples who want to get married first have an interview with the pastor and then have a formation process in their villages, usually lasting about twelve weeks. Then they have an interview, most often with me, though the transitional deacon has done a few. This is an interview with witnesses to make sure there are no obstacles and that the couple has some idea of what their commitments will be as married Catholics. 

I have had many sorts of couples – a few older couples who have been together many years and have grown children; others have been together for a few years, sometimes with a few children; and there are the usually young couples who have decided to get married. Most often they are campesinos with the men working in the fields and the women working at home, but I have had a young agricultural engineer and a young man who is teaching six grades in a rural school and working on a college degree.

For me, it is a joy and a privilege to be with them. I often offer tell them how I admire their decision to get married in the church when the culture of short-term relationships or of living together is common. (I must acknowledge that for many of the older couples there was probably not much opportunity to get married in the church, since the priest didn’t get to the villages very often in the past.)  

This is one aspect of my diaconate that I never expected to do but which I usually find important and fulfilling. 

As I have mentioned often, another aspect of my diaconal ministry that is important is accompanying the families of those who have died.

This Friday I assisted at two Masses for the dead, though the pastor preached. In a previous blogpost, I shared accompanying a community that experienced a violent death on Easter Monday.
The custom here is to have a novena of prayer for nine days after the burial, with an altar of nine steps in the house of the one who died or a family member. At the end of the nine days, there is a special prayer, and people often request a Mass in the home.

The end of the novena in Las Pavas was Friday and Padre German said he would be there for Mass at 1 pm.

I got there a bit late – but not as late as the pastor who had to respond to some serious situations.

We used two non-traditional readings at the Mass, since the death was a homicide. The first reading was from Genesis, the story of Cain and Abel. The Gospel was part of the passion according to Saint Luke, in which Jesus asks God the Father to forgive them and Jesus promises the Kingdom to the Good Thief. 

The pastor preached on the important of forgiveness as well as the importance of denouncing the crime to the judicial authorities. 

There is a culture of violence and vengeance here, largely because the judicial system is not inefficient and corrupt and so many crimes against the poor do not receive a just trial. There is thus the importance of helping the people forgive, but still seek justice. It’s tricky, but we will try to accompany the family. 

The pastor had to leave for two more Masses and so left me to say prayers for the dead in the room where the altar had been erected.

I prayed there with two of the children of the man who had been killed. Then, at the request of a son, I blessed his tiny house – where he, his wife, and their three-year old live. This was not easy. 

But there was another funeral Mass that night, supposedly at 8:30 pm, in a nearby village. 

A Delegate of the Word had been suffering, from cancer I believe, for several years.

Last Saturday. I was in a meeting in the parish when one of his daughters came to the office and asked someone to come see her father at a nearby medical clinic. The pastor was gone and so I went. 

He was very weak and unable to speak but he was conscious and attentive as we prayed. 

He was not eating, since he couldn’t swallow. So, after praying and talking to Don Manuel, I took the daughter and her brother outside the room where her father was hooked up for what I presumed was intravenous hydration and perhaps more. 

I decided to talk with them straightforwardly and tell them that their father was probably near death. The doctor came out to talk with one of the family members and he concurred. I wondered whether this was a good thing to say to them but I decided that it was important that they were prepared.

On Friday morning about 5:45 am, I got a call from the daughter and she told me he had died. She was trying to get the pastor but couldn’t get through to him. I later sent him a WhatsApp message and he told me about the evening Mass. 

Three couples preparing for message and two families mourning the loss of loved ones – life and death – in the second week of Easter.

The mystery of life - and death.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

A lacuna in the theology of the permanent deacon

I just finished Tim O’Donnell’s The Deacon Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold, a scholarly and practical theological and pastoral reflection on the diaconate today. I am working on a review of this book which I think is a landmark in theological reflection on the diaconate, In the process of seeking some citations for the review, I came across an article that I had started in June but had not finished in response to an article in Commonweal. I decided to publish this, with a few changes, even though it is incomplete and needs more thought as well as some serious editing. But I have not changed the title, though I think O'Donnell is helping us begin to fill the lacuna.
My path to the diaconate is probably much different from that of most permanent deacons in the world.

First of all, I never thought of the diaconate until the bishop asked me to consider it over dinner one night in October 2014. Secondly, there is no formal plan for study and formation in our diocese, since I am the first permanent deacon, and so I am mostly self-taught (and the bishop had no problem with this), except for two on-line courses. 

I should also note that I was the third person ordained a permanent deacon here in Honduras. Yet, having worked in pastoral and campus ministry in the US for almost 24 years before coming to Honduras and having worked in the diocese here since 2007, I had been teaching and studying the Catholic faith for over three decades, including teaching courses on "Introduction to Catholicism" and "Catholic Social Thought" at Iowa State University.

During my discernment I devoured numerous books and documents on the diaconate.

I have been serving as a deacon in a rural parish since my ordination in July 2016; it’s a large parish with more than forty rural communities, where I was serving as a lay missionary for many years.

One further difference from most permanent deacons is that I am celibate.

Over the course of these past years, since the bishop’s invitation, I have been trying to formulate my theology and spirituality of the permanent diaconate. I am trying to write a book about my call to the diaconate and also about the role of the celibate deacon. But I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts I have been pondering a bit more widely, via my blog

I found much of the writing available very helpful, including the work of William Ditewig, Greg Kendra, James Keating, Bishop Shawn McKnight, and Michael J. Tkacik. But still something seems to be missing, especially as I look at discussions on Facebook pages, some blogs, and even articles by theologians.

My vision of the diaconate and my diaconal vocation is largely shaped by paragraph 16 of the Vatican II document on mission, Ad Gentes. As I was discerning whether God was calling me, I was taken aback when I read paragraph 16:
Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life, according to the norms of the Constitution on the Church. For there are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon’s office, either by preaching the Word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar. Thus they can carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.
I was already doing not one, but all three of the ministries mentioned. I felt that what God was perhaps offering me was the grace of orders to live out this mission more fully and more ordered to the good of the People of God, in a permanent commitment. 

But a question remained: How does one “bind more closely to the altar”? 

 In our diocese in Honduras, we organize our pastoral work around what we call the Triple Ministry – prophet, priest, and king - with three ministries: prophetic, liturgical, and social.

As I see it, the deacon is ordained to live this baptismal call in a special way, with an emphasis on being the servant. For me the diaconate is trying to live as evangelizer, servant of the poor, and minister at the altar.

I am concerned about a diaconate that is seen only as another step up in ministry in the church, for married males, that is meant above all to be seen at the altar. I think this is behind some of Pope Francis’ rather sharp words to deacons.

In the June 2020 issue of Commonweal, Christopher Ruddy asked “What are deacons for?” In his article he seems to pit his understanding of the view of Pope Francis on the diaconate with a different understanding rooted in the work of John Collins. 

According to Ruddy: “Francis’s words represent a widely held view that the diaconate is about service, especially the humble service exemplified in foot-washing…” 

 He contrasts this to Collins’s analysis of the use of the word “diaconos”. In Ruddy’s words, the deacon is seen as “an ambassador or an intermediary who is commissioned by a superior authority to proclaim a message or perform a deed. The deacon’s service is thus directed primarily toward his bishop, not to the needy.”

To a degree, I agree with Ruddy’s critique of a one-dimensional view of the deacon: “This interpretation [of the deacon conceived in terms of humble, loving service] contributes to a deformation of diaconal identity and a breakdown of the necessary interdependence of his ministries of liturgy, Word, and charity-service. The deacon’s rightful and necessary place is at the altar, in the pulpit, and in the street.” 

But I think Ruddy overstates this: “It is important, then, that we recover a sense of the deacon as a herald—which is why he is the ordinary minister of the Gospel at Mass—who serves the bishop and is sent by him to proclaim the Word in various ways and places.” 

I especially find Ruddy leaning to a one-dimensional view of the diaconate, over-emphasizing the liturgical: “And although both the ‘humble service’ proponents and Collins himself tend to underemphasize or overlook it, the diaconate is also fundamentally a liturgical ministry.” 

He is much clearer when he writes: “The diaconate, in its fullness, reveals that the church’s outreach to the poor and marginalized is rooted and catalyzed most deeply in the liturgy, where the Word is proclaimed and the Sacrifice offered.” 

But what does this mean? 

In July 2020, the Vatican’s Congregation on the Clergy released an Instruction on The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church. Significantly there is a large section on deacons. There, the deacon is seen mostly in terms of evangelization and charity. The liturgical dimension is extremely important but the key words seem to be “evangelization” and “charity.”

Paragraph 82 reads, in part:
the history of the diaconate recalls that it was established within the framework of a ministerial vision of the Church, as an ordained ministry at the service of the Word and of charity; this latter context includes the administration of goods. The twofold mission of the deacon is expressed in the liturgical sphere, where he is called to proclaim the Gospel and to serve at the Eucharistic table. (Italics mine.)
My question is how are we called to live, in an integrated way, these three aspects of our diaconal ministry, evangelization, worship, and service – the deacon’s ways of living out our baptismal call of all the faithful to be icons of Christ, who is prophet, priest, and servant king. How are the aspects of our ministry related? What makes it distinctly diaconal? 

I would suggest that we look at how the three ministries are related – in theology and in practice. Here is a preliminary outline of a longer discussion which obviously needs to be fleshed out, but I offer there unsystematic remarks for further discussion.

1. Service and liturgy: 

All are called to serve. 

But what is the deacon’s role? Pope Saint Paul VI, spoke of the deacon as the “animator of diakonia.”  

Since the early days of the church the deacons had a special role in caring for the poor. Note the poor as the "treasure" in the story of the deacon-martyr Lawrence. 

We also find the role of the deacon described as the eyes and ears of the bishop, especially in terms of the needs of God’s people. 

I believe that the work of Collins and others can lead to a false dichotomy – between the deacon as an intermediary or ambassador and the deacon as one who represents Christ the Servant, not just at the altar but also in humble service to the marginalized.

An ambassador is an intermediary – not just a messenger from one party to another. It’s not a one-way street. 

The deacon, from the time pf Pseudo-Clement was spoken of as “the eyes and ears of the bishop.” 

Cardinal Walter Kasper has noted that “The deacons can act as the eyes and ears of the bishop in identifying areas of need and can help him in his task of being father to the poor.” 

And Greg Kandra, in “The Catholic Deacon Today,“ noted that “He can serve as the eyes and ears for the bishop or pastor—and as a voice for the people.” 

 2. Evangelization and liturgy: 

Evangelization is what all the baptized are called to do. The bishop has a special role in the church as the teacher of the diocese. The priest, in his care of souls, is called to spread the good news to all the world. 

But the deacon?

I’d suggest that a distinctive element of the evangelization by the deacon is not reading the Gospel and preaching, but connecting the Good News of the Gospel with the lives of ordinary people. 

It is not without interest that a major breakthrough toward the reinstitution of the diaconate as a permanent way of life began at Dachau where the concern about the church’s awareness of the evil of Nazism was a real concern. 

3. Liturgy 

But what is the liturgical ministry of the deacon? 

I would suggest that it is closely connected with his connection with the poor as well as with the mission of the people of God. 

Tres munera

This idea of the integrity of the tripartite dimension of diaconal ministry seems to be missing from much of the discussion. 

What we need is a theology that really integrates the three dimensions. 

One brings the needs of the people of God, especially the poor, to the table of the Lord, and one goes out with the good news our redemption to the highways and by-ways. Because of the celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord, the sufferings of the people of God are transformed into signs of hope, which we share with all the world.

Have we taken seriously enough these three munera [the diakonia of the Word, the diakonia of the Sacrament, and the diakonia of Charity] are inseparable [not just interdependent as Ruddy says]– not because a pope or a Vatican congregation says so. They are inseparable dimensions of who we are as baptized in Christ. 

The English version of the prayer of anointing after Baptism reads: “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.” 

 The Spanish version, which I use, prays, “Les unja con el crisma de la salvación, para que se incorporen a su pueblo y sean para siempre miembros de Cristo, Sacerdote, Profeta y Rey.” 

I even checked the Latin: “ipse te linit chrísmate salutis, ut, eius aggregátus pópulo, Christi sacerdótis, prophétae et regis membrum permáneas in vitam ætérnam.” “May he anoint you with the chrism of salvation, so that, gathered together in his people, you may remain forever (to eternal life) as a member of Christ, priest, prophet, and king. of the priest, a member of the king, and stand not in the life of the prophets.” 

My translation would be, taking the Latin and the Spanish into account:
“May he anoint you with the Chrism of salvation, so that, gathered together into His people you man remain forever a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King.”
Christ is prophet, priest, and servant-king; the Church is called to live this; every Christian disciple is, by baptism, a member of Christ, prophet, priest and king. 

The July 2020 Instruction noted above, can help us see this aspect of our diaconal mission. In paragraph 80 (italics added)
"The deacon is, so to say, the custodian of service in the Church. Every word must be carefully measured. You are the guardians of service in the Church: service to the Word, service to the Altar, service to the poor."
Paragraph 81 adds:
“In an audience with participants at the International Congress on the Diaconate, Paul VI reaffirmed that the deacon serves Christian communities “’n proclaiming the Word of God, in sacramental ministry and in the exercise of charity.’”
Paragraph 82 is an initial effort to relate these three dimensions.
“the history of the diaconate recalls that it was established within the framework of a ministerial vision of the Church, as an ordained ministry at the service of the Word and of charity; this latter context includes the administration of goods. The twofold mission of the deacon is expressed in the liturgical sphere, where he is called to proclaim the Gospel and to serve at the Eucharistic table. These references can help identify the specific tasks of a deacon, adding value to that which is proper to the diaconate, with a view to promoting the diaconal ministry.”
This concludes the draft I was working on last year.


 O’Donnell’s book takes the lacuna I perceived very seriously. As he notes on page 134. 
“On the functional side, the model [of Christ the Servant] reflects how Christ serves the this-worldly needs of those who suffer within a broader ministry incorporating proclamation and prayer. The model thus undergirds the foundational understanding of the diaconal tasks as integrating word, liturgy, and charity, with a center of gravity in charity."

Monday, April 12, 2021

Celibacy and happiness


For at least three years, one passage of Psalm 16 has challenged me in trying to live as a celibate diaconate: 
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord. My happiness lies in you alone.” 

I know that I seek happiness in many things, many experiences. But I do long to be able to pray this verse with my whole heart.
A celibate deacon may experience many temptations to seek happiness, or pleasure, in what is not really fulfilling. There are, obviously, sexual temptations of many sorts, from masturbation to sexual fantasy to viewing pornography – but these leave us empty. 

There is also the more subtle temptation to seek our happiness in what we do as deacons, longing for success or looking for adulation for our ministry.

There is also the temptation to power, to use our ministry not to serve others but to enhance our power and “authority” in the church and the world. This is the temptation to a clericalism that offers honors and positions as substitutes for humble unknown service. 

So, the critical question for us is found in Psalm 4,
“What can bring us happiness?” many say.”
Reading Ronald Rolheiser’s The Fire Within: Desire, Sexuality, Longing, and God, I begun to see the question of happiness in a different light.

No longer are these passages merely an indictment of my failure to put my trust in God alone. They reveal our nature, our destiny, who we are – persons who cannot find our true happiness in the limited. As Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

We are barren and cannot find fulness in this life:
“Barrenness describes the universal human condition in its incapacity to be generative in the way it would like and the vacuum and frustration this leaves inside lives. No matter if we have biological children of our own or not, we still all find ourselves barren in that none of us are finished here on earth.” (p. 43)
We long for intimacy, for fulfillment. But we need to recognize that the ultimate intimacy is with God. Henri Nouwen puts it well in Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy. Prayer, and Contemplation:
“…all human intimacy finds its deepest meaning and fulfillment when it is experienced and lived as a participation in the intimacy of God alone. The celibate man or woman proclaims this hope by recognizing, receiving, and living the gift of celibacy.” (p. 37).
Those who are married experience this in one way, remembering that nothing limited can fulfill our longing for the infinite, for God. But we celibates are called to live out our essential emptiness in another way, as a sign for others. As Nouwen wrote:
“Celibates live out a holy emptiness by not marrying, by not trying to build for themselves a house or a fortune, by not trying to wield as much influence as possible, and by not filling their lives with events, people, or creations for which they will be remembered. The hope is that by their ‘empty’ lives, God will be more readily recognized as the source of all human life and activity. “(p. 47).
This means that we need to develop a prayer life that nurtures our intimacy with God, opens us to a healthy intimacy with others, and put all our life in perspective. The we may be able to pray these words of Psalm 4:
You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from abundance of grain and new wine.
A future post will consider celibacy, intimacy, and friendship.

Previous posts on celibacy

“The Joy of Love for Celibates,” October 22, 2015

“The Promise of Celibacy,” July 3, 2016 

“Celibacy and Holy Orders I: Some misunderstandings of the celibate deacon,” January 13, 2020

“Celibacy and Holy Orders II: Celibacy and Latin Rite Catholic priests: an exception for the Amazon? Why permanent deacons probably aren’t enough?” January 16, 2020

“Celibacy and Holy Orders III: The married deacon’s challenge to the celibate deacons,” Janaury 17, 2020.

“Celibacy and Holy Orders IV: Two new books for celibate clerics,” January 31, 2020

"Celibacy and Holy Orders V: The undivided heart of the married and celibate deacon, " May 26, 2020

"Celibacy and Holy Orders VI: The Celibate Deacon as Older Brother," November 3, 2020 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Life and death - Holy Week and Easter

This was a strange Holy Week for me. 

Perhaps this flowering rose bush is a good symbol. The bush has almost died a few times and has been devastated a few times by sompopos (cutter ants who eat all the leaves).But this year it bloomed with multiple roses on a single branch - the first time it has done this so extravagantly.
Last year I spent Holy Week as a hermit, alone at home. 

This year there are some activities, but we are trying to avoid major concentrations of people and urging people to take health safeguards. 

For many years we began Holy Week with a parish-wide stations of the Cross in Dulce Nombre on the Friday before Holy Week, traditionally celebrated in honor of Our Mother of Sorrows. Most years I wrote the Stations, usually with a specific local concern in mind. The texts were photocopied for the use of people in their villages on Good Friday. To avoid major concentrations of people, we cancelled this year’s parish Stations. 

Because we often had a number of catechumens baptized at the Easter Vigil, we usually had only one parish-wide vigil. This year there will be Vigil celebrations in many communities. The Dulce Nombre Vigil was smaller, since only people from a few communities will be invited. Fernando, a transitional deacon in our parish, led a celebration in San Agustín and I went to Vertientes for a Vigil with them and the nearby community of San José El Bosque. 

But there is more to the ministry of a deacon in Holy Week – and throughout the year. 

For me Holy Week began on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, helping guide a geologist and a civil engineer in the community of San Marcos Pavas, which suffered serious damages during the hurricanes last year.
The two men in their thirties (the guys in straw hats in the first photo) came from Santa Rosa and spent almost five hours going through the community and examining the terrain and the houses. Several community members accompanied them, showing them what had happened and giving a little history, since there have been problems of landslides and sinking soil for many years. 
The geologist will make a report that he’ll share with the community so that they can send it to various public authorities and other institutions to see what can be done to stabilize the situation of the community. 

It was a long and hot day, with lots of walking, and I forgot my hat. So, I found myself over-tired. 

Palm Sunday 

I went to Dulce Nombre to participate in the Palm Sunday procession and Mass. After Mass we sent about 14 parishioners as missionaries in several communities in the parish.
Monday, after getting the car washed in Dulce Nombre, I went to get some items in Santa Rosa de Copán. In the afternoon I went to Debajiados to preside at a Celebration of the end of the novenario for the young woman who died there and whom I mentioned in an earlier blog post

The custom here is to have nine days of prayer in the home after the death of a family member. The people often request a Mass at the end of the novenario, especially if they were not able to have a funeral Mass. Padre German couldn’t make it to the community for the Mass at the end of the novenario and so I went.

A small crowd gathered in the church. I used the daily readings, partly because it was Holy Week and partly because it was the Gospel of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus. In think that like Mary, Maria Maricela was full of love and enthusiasm for her Lord.
the church in Debajiados 

Tuesday, I went to San Antonio Alto. 

In the morning we had the Lenten retreat It wasn’t well attended, partly because many people are still harvesting coffee in the fields. After the retreat, I went and visited the sick – eleven persons in a small village. I’ve gone there several times to visit the sick but there were never this many. 

I tried not to rush the visits, because it’s important to talk with them, to see how they are doing. I had decided to use the first verse of the Holy Thursday Gospel with them, to help them see the love that God has for them, accompanying them in their sickness.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
Wednesday, I went to Granadillal. Again, I led the retreat in the morning and visited the sick afterwards. There were only two houses to visit, though I spent some time talking with a catechist about two persons with mental health problems. Thank God there is a psychiatrist who is willing to help these and other persons with serious problems. 

Thursday, one of the diocesan Chrism Masses was held in Santa Rosa de Copán. Many of the priests from this part of the diocese were there as well as the three transitional deacons who will be ordained to the presbyterate on May 1. 

Part of the Mass is procession of the oils at the offertory. The oils are brought to the bishop and then one of the deacons takes them to the table where they would later be blessed or consecrated. I ended up taking the Oil of the Sick, which seemed so fitting after visiting so many suffering people this week. 

In the afternoon, I presided at a Celebration of the Word with Communion in Concepción and later in the evening at Plan Grande. Washing the feet of the people is such a privilege. One of the persons whose foot I washed in Concepción is an older man who always walks around barefoot. His and others are not feet that are cushioned by good footwear. Many have rough feet as well as bunions caused by inadequate shoes. I caressed their feet with gentleness. I recalled this icon which I used on the prayer card for my ordination.
Good Friday, it was raining and so I didn’t go out to the Stations here in Plan Grande in the morning. I also felt a need for some quiet reflection. 

I was planning to go to Plan de Naranjo in the afternoon for the Celebration of the Office of the Passion. A half hour before I planned to leave, I got a phone call from someone there, advising me not to come since the roads were slippery with all the rain. I was glad that they called me because I was a bit concerned, remembering how slippery it was the last time I went there.

I ended up at the celebration in Dulce Nombre. This was the first time as a deacon that I served at a parish Good Friday liturgy. Usually, I’ve gone to remote villages that don’t have a Communion minister. I was moved, especially seeing the newly restored crucifix that belonged to Padre Juan Gennaro, the Italian missionary who built the church.
Holy Saturday, I spent at home, cleaning and baking. I made bread and cinnamon rolls to share with the Franciscan sisters at lunch on Easter in La Entrada. I also made enough cinnamon rolls to share some with the pastor who asked me for some.

Saturday evening I presided at the Easter Vigil in Vertientes, which included participation from other nearby communities. We decided to celebrate in the unfinished church and so they put in some provisional lighting. The large church was filled!
We began in darkness outside the church with a great Easter Fire. Then we entered and proceeded with the Vigil. We didn’t use all the Old Testament readings but this let us have a careful reading of the creation and exodus passages. (I also could get home before 9:30 pm).
The planners did an excellent job with the liturgy and it was a time of rebirth.

Easter Sunday for me began with a Mass in Dulce Nombre. We welcomed back the missionaries who had spent the week in several communities. 

I ended up preaching. The liturgy was recorded by a local channel and I checked out my homily – with my grammatical errors at the end. The surprise – it was almost exactly 7 minutes.

After the Mass, I hurried to La Entrada for lunch with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters and an associate who lives across from their house in Gracias. It was good to be with them, to share good food (including vegetarian quiche and pecan pie), and to catch up on life. I was quite tired and so I left earlier than the others. 

Easter Monday 

I intended to spend Monday as a day of rest. I got up late, spent a lot of time praying, and was about to begin doing some chores around the house as well as catch up on reading. Then I got a call. 

Cristina from Las Pavas couldn’t get through to the pastor and so tried me. She wanted to know if there were provisions to help a family that had suffered the death of a family member and would need some food for the all-night vigil as well as for the novenario

Providing food is an important part of the experience of sitting with those who have died and with their families. I arranged to get the food and proceeded there, only to find people outside the church, with several police cars. 

I soon learned that Carlos Arturo, 36 years old and suffering from epilepsy, had been killed and his body still lay in the coffee field across from the church. 

I found the mother and a brother of the murder victim and prayed with them. Later I approached the field and saw the body covered by a plastic tablecloth. I prayed and blessed the body. I spent a few hours there, speaking with people. 

More police came in about an hour to examine the site where the body was found as well as make an initial examination of the body. 

The carried the body up the hill and placed it on the ground outside the church. People gathered around.

It was not easy to watch, as they examined the four machete wounds. I can’t imagine how hard it was for the family. 

Then they took the body to the morgue in Santa Rosa de Copán and told the family they could come and get the body the next day. 

I stayed for a while and agreed to come the following morning to take some folks to bring the body back to Las Pavas. 


Tuesday was a long day – an hour from my house to get to Las Pavas and then two hours to the morgue in Santa Rosa. We were about three hours waiting at the morgue, though I went with a school teacher from Las Pavas to get lunch for those who came. Before we got lunch, she invited me to have a cup of coffee in a coffee with another woman from Las Pavas.

We got back to Las Pavas late in the afternoon. 

They had planned to wake the body – an all-night vigil, in the family home. The road was slippery from the rain and so they carried the body down the hill. 
I had visited the parents last year before the pandemic, bringing them communion, but I hardly recognized the father who had had a stroke and couldn’t speak. But when he saw me, he came up to me and I put my arm around him. We stood there for quite some time. I did not know how to comfort him – a few words, but most of all he rested his head on my shoulder.

Before I left, we had a short prayer around the casket, commending Carlos Arturo to God. The pastor is away, and I couldn’t return for the burial Wednesday morning since I had a catechists meeting. With a sad heart, I left. I’m hoping that the pastor can get to Las Pavas for a Mass at the end of the novenario

Wednesday I rested after the catechists meeting here in Plan Grande. Two of the catechists arrived early and so I showed them my garden, where they insisted on taking a few photos.
Today, Thursday, I intended to go to Santa Rosa for some supplies but I got a call from the parish secretary asking if I could preside at a funeral service at 1 pm this afternoon. Tomorrow, I have two couples who will be coming to the parish for the final pre-marriage interview. Life goes on and there are new beginnings, even in the face of death. And there are the surprises of flowering roses from bushes that seemed dead.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Accompany those who mourn

It’s Easter Monday. I had intended to take a day for relaxing, reading, and praying. But God has other plans.

About 10:30 am, I got a call from someone in San Marcos Pavas asking me if there were some provisions to help a family whose son had died since they didn’t have enough for the food for the vigil. (The custom is to have food for the all-night vigil.) 

I went to the parish and got some stuff and arrived at the village about 2 pm. 

But it wasn’t a normal death.

This morning, about 8 am, a body was found in the coffee field across from the church. Carlos Arturo, a 36 year old man with epilepsy had been killed.

When I arrived the police were there investigating, taking pictures and talking with family members.

I brought the provisions to the family who were gathered just outside the church. The mother was there as well as at least one brother, Gennaro, who is a delegate of the Word in the community. 

I spoke with the mother and we prayed.

Later I went to look where the body was, covered with a plastic tablecloth, and blessed the body. 

I decided to stay and be present. 

 After a while the Fiscalía [the public prosecutor’s office] and the medical examiner arrived. They moved the body out of the field and laid in on the road in front of the church. A crowd gathered.

It was gruesome to watch as they examined the body – but I tried to be close to the mother and brother. We prayed a few times and before they took the body to Santa Rosa I blessed the body again. 

People spoke well of Carlos Arturo and have no idea why he was killed or who did it. But the body showed signs of three or four slashes with a machete. 

Such wanton violence.

What can one do? At this point, all I could do was be there. 

I will go tomorrow morning to take the brother and two others to Santa Rosa to get the body for the vigil and funeral in the village. (It’s about two hours from the village to Santa Rosa.) I hope the pastor can come for a funeral Mass, but I’ll be available if he can’t. 

It’s the Easter season – but Good Friday continues to touch the lives of the poor.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Stations of the Cross in our midst

In 2004, I had the blessing to spend twelve days in the Holy Land, as a guest of a friend who was volunteering in Bethlehem.

One day I decided to go to Jerusalem, alone, and visit the Holy sites, walking the Way of the Cross. I visited the Dome of the Rock and then began the Stations of the Cross. I stopped at a few places and entered open chapels but what most affected me was seeing people walking in the streets where Jesus walked – not as pilgrims but as people going about their daily lives. I am including below what I wrote a few months after my pilgrimage. 

I took one photo that has moved me many times. A man and his son, with a small backpack, are walking where Jesus walked.
Jesus walked to his death, carrying the cross, in the midst of the daily lives of many people of his times. Some noticed him, as the women who wept. But many didn’t. But Jesus was there, suffering in their midst – and sharing their suffering. 

And so, too, he walks among us, carrying his cross – but also carrying the cross of the multitudes who suffer every day – especially here in Honduras, but also in every corner of the globe. 

May they always remember the presence of a God who suffers with them. 

A few weeks ago I gave a friend a ride to San Pedro Sula. Sister Pat was going to give a series of talks on the Cross to a congregation of sisters devoted to the Cross. As we talked, one idea touched me – the cross is the sign of the transformative power of “suffering with”. 

Jesus suffered with us, suffered for us, and shows us the power of suffering with others, sharing their sorrows and trials. 

As I reflect on this rainy Good Friday I realize that a central part of my ministry is being with people in the midst of their pain and suffering.

Last Monday, I went to Debajiados to preside at a Celebration of the Word for the end of the novena, the nine days after the death of a fifteen year old who had several physical problems but was a special young woman, very affectionate and exuberant. When we celebrated her funeral, I found myself close to tears while reading the Gospel.
This past Tuesday, I went to San Antonio El Alto and visited the sick – all eleven of them in this small village. Wednesday, I visited two sick persons in the nearby village of Granadillal. I also talked with someone about the need to get psychiatric help for at least two persons. 

 Visiting the sick is not always easy but is, for me, one of the most important my ministry as a deacon. Another important ministry is presiding at funerals. 

I find that I am transformed when I am at the side of those who are suffering and grieving. That’s what Good Friday is for me. 

 * * * * * 

from my Palestine vignettes, slightly edited

My friend had arranged a very full schedule for me for my twelve days in the holy land. I was so busy that I hardly experienced any jetlag. 

But by the end of the first week, I decided that I needed a day of quiet, walking alone through the Old City of Jerusalem. 

I had hoped to get into Jerusalem early enough in the morning to visit the Harim al Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, the site of the Dome of the Rock. However, I left Bethlehem late and managed to get lost in the Old City. So, when I arrived at the entrance, it was about to be closed to non-Muslims. 

I proceeded to walk down the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Pater Noster on the summit. This is supposedly the site where Jesus often went with his disciples, where he taught them the Lord’s Prayer, and shared with them the discourses in Matthew 24 –25. The church has the Lord’s Prayer in more than 100 languages on plaques on the walls of the grounds. I stopped and prayed in several languages. I made an effort to read the prayer in Nahuatl, the language of many Central Americans, as I remembered their suffering. I finally stopped in the little chapel on the site and sang the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. 

“Your will be done” echoed in my heart. 


I proceeded down the Mount of Olives to visit and pray again in the Church of the Agony and in the Tomb of the Virgin. 

After a short prayer in both places, I hurried to the Western Wall since the access to the Dome of the Rock would be open for an hour. I walked around and marveled at the beauty of the mosque with its exterior mosaic walls. The mosque is only open to Muslims.

I left the area by the exit near the Lions Gate and proceeded to walk the stations of the cross. 

As I walked I saw some children in the Muslim Quarter playing; other children were just getting out of school, carrying their book bags on their back. At one point I came across twenty or so Israeli soldiers, young men and women, filing out of a house and filling the street. They looked like new recruits.

As I stopped and prayed at the stations, vendors invited me into their stores and men offered to guide me to the holy sites. I turned down their offers – wanting the silence.

On the route of the first stations the streets are not very narrow and are open to the sky. But as I approached the seventh station the streets narrowed. Shops with everything from backlava to clothing to souvenirs crowded the street.

Praying at the little chapel of the fifth station, Simon helps Jesus carry the cross, I thought of my call to help carry the cross of the suffering people of the world.

But it was in the street, by the eighth station that I felt the weight of the cross – the pain and suffering of so many people. At the eighth station Jesus met the women of Jerusalem who are weeping. Jesus told them to weep, not for him but for themselves and for their children. I was again near tears, having witnessed not only the sufferings of Jesus but of the people of this blessed land. 

As I approached the church of the Holy Sepulcher I realized that Christ went to his death not on a special day – but in the midst of a city that was bustling with people. And it is here that the crucified Jesus suffers still.

The Holy Sepulcher

✠ ✠ ✠ ✠ ✠

I was inspired to write this by a post of Deacon Greg Kandra in The Deacon's Bench. Click here to read his reflection.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Not the subtlest barrier

“Our times are firmly in tune with Christianity, in that suffering is part of their character... They help us genuinely and completely to accept the vow of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure but rather the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”  (Mother Maria Skobtsova, 1938)
When the bishop asked me in 2014 if I would consider the permanent diaconate, I shared with him one of my serious concerns. Would being a deacon separate me from the people I serve? Would it create more barriers between them and me? 

I recognize that there are barriers. I don’t speak Spanish perfectly and my accent sometimes confuses some people. I am a vegetarian, among people who seldom eat meat but who often offer meat to visitors (especially the clergy). I have money in a bank account, while many people are struggling to survive. I have a US passport and can go to the US whenever I want (though now there are the COVID-19 requirements for entry into the US), whereas many people here would love to have the opportunity to work in the US to provide a better life for their families. I can leave whenever I want. I can go to the US and get the COVID vaccine, whereas most here may not receive the vaccine for months, if not years. 

These are some of the potential barriers between the people here in the countryside and me. They are real differences, but they can become ways to separate me from the people. 

It has helped that I was serving in the parish even before I began discernment about the diaconate. I think my sense of humor has helped bridge the differences since they know that I love to joke, sometimes at my own expense. Bringing candy to meetings doesn't hurt. 

But what helps me most is the conviction that God is working among the people and I am called to accompany them, to help them see the signs of God’s love amid their joys and sufferings. In addition, I have been blessed to be opened to the wisdom and the love that they have. I have learned from them. We are sisters and brothers on the way with God. 

For this, I am most grateful. And so I continually ask God to help break down any barriers, even the subtlest.