Monday, January 31, 2022

The confirmation rush begins - and more news

Wednesday, January 26, I met with the catechists of confirmation to prepare for confirmations next month, from February 10 to 12. There were about thirty catechists from about 36 towns and villages in the parish who have been preparing about 425 for confirmation. We were preparing the Masses in five different places as well as confessions in six places. I’ll be accompanying them in the next two weeks.

Last Saturday, we had the first round of confessions in the main church in Dulce Nombre. There were about 56 confirmation candidates and some adult sponsors who came; even though there was only one priest, the confessions were finished in about three hours. Among those to be confirmed there were 28 who had not made their first communion. They received the Eucharist for the first time at the Mass at the end of confessions.
The pastor also asked me to baptize a couple and their child. I had recently done the final pre-marriage interview with them and I felt privileged to baptize them last Saturday, while the pastor was finishing up confessions. The couple also received their first communion at the Mass.
What a day for sacraments – baptisms, confessions, and first communions.

January has been a bit different this year. Father Kyle Digmann, the pastor of our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, came for a short visit. He had Mass in two communities, including one of the poorest and most distant, Debajiados. He concelebrated at two of the Sunday Masses and presided at the Mass to dedicate a new meeting space in the parish center, named after St. Thomas Aquinas (since much of the funding came from a donation from St. Thomas). We made a quick trip to the Mayan ruins in Copán Ruinas, about 80 minutes from my house. He had a chance to meet some members of the association that exports El Zapote Coffee to Ames. He even helped a short time with the harvest in the parish coffee field. It was all too short. I hope he and others from St. Thomas will visit in the near future.
Since November people have been harvesting coffee throughout the parish. This will continue until February in most places, though a few who have fields at higher elevations will be harvesting until March.

This year the coffee prices are better than I remember. That means that some harvesters are getting significantly more than last year. Last year they got 30 lempiras (about $1.22 for a five gallon bucket of coffee cherries)’ now some are getting between 40 and 50 lempiras.

But the costs have gone up. Some have told me that in some cases a bag of fertilizer costs about twice as much as a few months ago. We’ll see how this leaves the small coffee producers.

My pastoral work has been a little limited these past months. I try not to schedule many formation meetings in January, since the coffee harvest is one of the few ways people in the countryside can earn cash.

There was a parish assembly to do some planning for the year and there will be two small groups working on parish organization and evangelization in the next few days. 

For a number of reasons, exacerbated by the pandemic, the local community church councils have fallen apart in a good number of places; we hope to help revive them, but with an organization more participative than in the past. We also hope to revive the base communities and pastoral work in the towns and villages.

I have continued my custom to go on most Sunday mornings to various villages for Celebrations of the Word with Communion. Yesterday I went to Granadillal and next Sunday I hope to get to visit San Antonio El Alto; I plan to visit the sick after the celebration since they don’t have a communion minister to bring the eucharist to the sick.

One of the customs here is to have prayers in people’s homes on the night after a death, for nine days after the burial, and often for nine days a year after the burial. I was invited to two end of the nine days (novenario) here in Plan Grande. I also celebrated a funeral of an older woman here. 

Sunday a week ago, the pastor came for the funeral of a 97 year old man who is sort of the patriarch of the village, with many children (as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren) including two former mayors. I was also asked to be at the vigil on the night before the funeral. I had visited Don Máximo many times, once just before his death. But a local communion minister regularly brought him Communion, which sustained him. He will be missed.

I had two interviews of two couples who will be getting married. I have another one scheduled for February. I find it very hopeful that there are young people who are getting married in the church. Many have already been living together and have kids. They finally decide for one reason or another to get married. One of the more interesting cases is a couple who weren’t even baptized.

I hope there will be even more. The stability that may come from sacramental marriage can be a real blessing for families. this is important for these families, for our parish, and for Honduras.

Other more mundane concerns have taken up time.

I took the new parish truck for its 20,000 kilometer checkup. In less than 14 months I’ve driven more than 20,000 kilometers, mostly in the parish (though there were a few trips to San Pedro Sula). I also had to take another car to the mechanic in Santa Rosa and ended up buying a new battery.

I have reviewed scholarship applications for 159 young people for an alternative program for the equivalent of junior and high school. The students listen to radio programs, have home work in books, and get together with teachers about once a week. Help from St. Thomas Aquinas helps pay for half of the costs of books.

We had a clergy meeting which I attended. We have a deanery meeting in early February.

Such is life in the parish. I’ll try to offer a more reflective blog post after the confirmations are over.

I have not included any reflection at this time on the political situation in Honduras. The country's first woman president was sworn in at the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Her inaugural speech was filled with hopeful signs of a new Honduras. Yet the National Congress is in disarray. Pray that this may be resolved in a way that furthers the good of the people and helps put an end to corruption and impunity.

I'll try to write more about this later.

Thanks to Elias for the photos of the baptism and first communion. They were published on the facebook page of the parish.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Washing dishes: in memory of Jim Forest and Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peacemaker, teacher of contemplation, passed on in Hue, Vietnam, January 22, 2022. 

Jim Forest, Orthodox peacemaker, writer, husband and father, fell asleep in the Lord on January 13, 2022.

I met Jim Forest any number of times, including once when he gave a lecture in Ames, Iowa. The last time I saw him was in 2006, when I was a guest of his wife Nancy and him the November before I left for Honduras. 

In the Forest kitchen in Alkmaar, Netherlands.

I heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak a number of times.

When I lived in New York City, I read a short booklet of Jim Forest which detailed an experience that he had with Nhat Hanh when he was staying with him in Paris. To me, it speaks of the spirituality they shared – and which can teach us how to live. 

I will quote from Jim’s Eyes of Compassion: Learning from Thich Nhat Hanh.
An animated discussion was going on in the main room just out of earshot, but I had been given the task that evening of doing the washing up. The pots, pans, and rice bowls seemed to reach half way to the ceiling in that closet-sized kitchen. I felt really annoyed. Stuck with an infinity of dirty dishes, I was missing the main event. 
Somehow Nhat Hanh picked up on my irritation. Suddenly he was standing next to me. “Jim,” he asked, “why are you washing the dishes?” I knew I was suddenly facing one of those very tricky Zen questions. Saying it was my turn wasn't adequate. I tried to think of a good Zen answer, but all I could come up with was, “You should wash the dishes to get them clean.” “No,” said Nhat Hanh. “You should wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” I've been mulling over that answer ever since—more than four decades of mulling. I'm still in the dark. But what he said next was instantly helpful: “You should wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.”
I often enjoyed washing dishes. 

I remember Christmas time meals at the home of Uncle Ed and Aunt Bernie, when I was in college. After the meal, I took over the kitchen sink and washed all the dishes.

Living in New York City for grad school in the early 1970s, washing dishes was a way to get warm in cold apartments.

Later when my parents and I went for a meal after Christmas with Uncle George, Aunt Mary, and my cousins, I remember washing dishes with my cousin Mary.

When I lived in Ames, I loved to send people home after a big meal I had prepared. I turned up the music and washed the dishes.

I’m not as enamored of washing dishes these days – no hot water and sometimes no water. But there are still times when it is a joy to wash the dishes. 

Therefore, this story of Nhat Hanh and Jim opens me up to the mystery of Life – being present to every moment and recognizing that when we wash dishes it’s as if we are bathing the baby Jesus and we should wash them with the same love and tenderness.


I also wrote about this here and here

Jim Forest wrote a response to the blog note, recalling Dorothy Day. 

A quote from Dorothy Day that rings the same bells: “Paper work, cleaning the house, cooking the meals, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all these encounters—these things too are the work of peace, and often seem like a very little way.”

Sunday, January 02, 2022

A spirituality of a missionary deacon 1: critique of two recent books

In the past year and a half I have read two books on the diaconate which I found very inadequate. Perhaps my criticisms arise from my unique experience – a deacon living and working in rural Honduras, in a large parish with only one priest. I won’t mention the works but I want to share what caused me concern.

Christmas Vigil Mass - procession to the crib 

I found these problems with the most recent book. 

  • The author ties the permanent diaconate too closely to the sacrament of matrimony and, in this way, he does not get to the core of the vocation of the deacon. At one point he writes, “The evangelizing witness of the deacon is rooted in sacramental marriage, through which he strives to sanctify his family.” 
  • The same book does not mention the importance of Catholic Social Teaching, especially for the deacon. 
  • Speaking of prayer, the author seems to place more emphasis on adoration than on the Mass. 
  • I did not see the author connecting the diakonia of charity with the Eucharist 
  • When dealing with racism, he seems to look almost exclusively at only promoting concord, not addressing the issues of racial justice.  
  • Ministry with the poor is considered more in terms of service to them or for them. Where is the reference to Pope Francis’ culture of encounter? 

The other book proposes a diaconal spirituality which I find limited. 

  • It seems to be a privatized, individualistic spirituality. Where is the ecclesial dimension of the spirituality of a deacon? 
  • The spirituality that seems to be “churchy.” Where is the dimension of the diakonia of Charity? 
  • Where are the poor in the spirituality of the deacon? 
  • Whereas the other book referred to the deacon in the workplace, this book does not pay enough attention to the deacon’s workplace. 
  • I found the spirituality was not very incarnational, pespeically in terms of  recognizing the presence of God in the daily life. Though he refers to De Caussaude’s “sacrament of the present moment,” I felt as if he treated it rather fatalistically. He also did not refer to Pope Francis’ “sacrament of the poor,” which I believe should be central to a diaconal spirituality 
  • There seems to be a dualism in his spirituality. He wrote, “The deacon’s service is first and foremost to God rather than to the people; only in God and with His grace can he truly serve the people.” I believe that this sets up a false dichotomy between God and God’s creation. 
  •  When dealing with service to the poor he relies on the virtue of “empathy.” But what about compassionate accompaniment of the poor? 
  • I also found an overreliance on Collins’ emphasis on the deacon as herald. 

I found both books seem to promote an individualistic spirituality and that Pope Francis’s call to ministry in the margins is minimally addressed. 

Perhaps I am overly critical but both these books, as well as other writings on the diaconate, seem to miss much of what could serve us deacons in our diakonia

 Rather than write an extended critique, I think it is important to begin to elaborate my spirituality of the diaconate, which I will do in a subsequent post.

READING in 2021

Some people make lists of the ten best books they read during the past year. Here’s my reflection on what I’ve been reading. I mostly read on Kindle though I occasionally can get real books when I visit the US or when a Spanish volume is available here. 

 I like narratives, histories, and books filled with stories of real life, especially when there is a strong message that calls me back to my calling – to serve God and the poor, to work for justice and peace. I found these type of books very inspiring. This past year these fit that bill:
Gregory Boyle, The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness. New York: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 2021. In turn, inspiring, joyful, and poignant. Read and laugh, weep, and pray. 
Bill Wylie-Kellerman, Celebrant’s Flame: Daniel Berrigan in Memory and Reflection. Cascade Books, 2021.Great stories of the prophetic poet priest. 
Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage: The Sixties. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021. 
The find of 2021 was the work of Tomas Halik. This Czeck priest, ordained underground during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, is a psychotherapist, theologian, and philosopher. His works refer to many disparate sources, including scripture, Augustine, Therese of Lisieux, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Cervantes, Teilhard de Chardin to approach issues of doubt, faith, atheism, love, the mystery of faith, and more. His chapter in Patience with God on St. Therese de Lisieux is helpful for anyone struggling with faith and doubt, as the Little Flower did. 
Tomáš Halík, Patience with God: The Story of Zaccheus Continuing in Us. New York: Crown Publishing (Random House), 2009. 
 Tomáš Halík, Night of the Confessor: Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Image Books (Doubleday), 2012. 
 Tomas Halik, I Want You to Be: on the God of Love. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016. 
They are also available in Spanish
 On retreat in June, I read Henri J. M. Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son. Anniversary Edition: A Special Two-in-One Volume, including Home Tonight. New York, NY: Convergent, 2016. This was a great accompaniment to an eight day retreat. I highly recommend this. 

I’ve read three books about the diaconate this past year. One was very disappointing, even though it received acclaim from other sources. Tone was mediocre. The only book on the diaconate which I found stimulating and enlightening was Tim O’Donnell’s The Deacon: Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold (New York: Paulist Press, 2020). I wrote about this earlier this year, here. About two months ago, I began reading another book on the diaconate which is quite good, José Gabriel Mesa Angulo’s Diaconado: Orden y Ministerio: Prospectiva teológica desde Lumen Gentium. But since it’s in Spanish and is quite a hefty volume, more than 300 pages, I’m only a third of the way through it.

As a celibate deacon, I am struggling to understand celibacy and sexuality in a different way. I’ve written a number of posts on this on this blog, but I’m always looking for something that really helps. A book I found last year was Ronald Rolheiser’s The Fire Within: Desire, Sexuality, Longing, and God (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021). He provides a very healthy approach to sexuality.

I found another quite helpful volume, Maria Helena López de Mézerville’s Sacerdocio y Burnout: El desgaste en la vida sacerdotal (San Pablo, 2011. This I believe is helpful for anyone in full-time ministry = whether ordained or not. She has also written Sacerdocio y Celibato, which I plan to read this coming year. 

Five other good books
Jon M. Sweeney, Feed the Wolf: Befriending Our Fears in the Way of Saint Francis. Minneapolis MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021. 
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thunder in the Soul: To Be Known by God. (Plough Spiritual Guides: Backpack Classics). Walden, New York: Plough Publishing House, 2021. 
Jon W. Sweeney, Nicholas Black Elk Medicine Man, Catechist, Saint. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2021. 
Jim Forest, Eyes of Compassion: Learning from Nhat Hanh. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021. 
Caryll Houselander, The Risen Christ: The Forty Days After the Resurrection. New York: Scepter Publishers, 2007 (1958).
I've read several novels, most of them mysteries which I devoured for sheer diversion. But the more “serious” novels I read included Daniel Hornsby’s Via Negativa: A Novel (New York, NY: Alfred A Knopf, 2020) and Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road (NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2020). 

In 2022, I want to finish José Gabriel Mesa Angulo’s Diaconado: Orden y Ministerio: Prospectiva teológica desde Lumen Gentium and to read Maria Helena López de Mézerville’s Sacerdocio y Celibato. 

Other books I plan to read include Michael Casey’s Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina; David Power & Michael Downey’s Living the Justice of the Triune God; Henri Nouwen’s Can You Drink the Cup? (which I started reading on December 31); Design for Wholeness by Loughlan Sofield, Carroll Juliano, & Rosine Hammett; Walter Kasper’s Leadership in the Church.

I’ll also be looking for more to read about Saint Oscar Romero, Blessed (soon to be canonized) Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day, and other of my spiritual guides. 

Any suggestions would be appreciated.