St. Oscar Romero

This is a bit belated, but:  I was at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh this past weekend giving an Ignatian retreat for women.  As is the practice there, I offered the reflection at the closing Mass.  Since I had already spoken during the course of the retreat on Sunday’s Gospel (sell all you have and give to the poor), since Romero was being canonized that day, I decided to speak about him.  This is a shortened version of what I said:

Romero was a wonderful person to end our retreat with, first becuase he is an example of the fact that conversion is a process and we can grow into our “yes”s to God; and second, because he demonstrated a firm commitment to carrying out God’s work, even when the cost becomes enormously high.

For those not familiar with El Salvador’s history, for many years, repression, torture and murder were carried on in El Salvador by dictators installed and supported by the United States government, a matter given virtually no coverage here in the U.S.   In the 1930s and 1940s there was brutal suppression of rural resistance in El Salvador.  The most notable event was the government retaliation to a1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising, commonly referred to as La Matanza (the ‘slaughter’), which followed after the days of protest. In this ‘Matanza’, approximately 40,000 indigenous people and political opponents were murdered, imprisoned or exiled. Until 1980, all but one Salvadoran temporary president was an army officer. Periodic presidential elections were seldom free or fair.  From the 1930s to the 1970s, authoritarian governments employed political repression and limited reform to maintain power, despite the trappings of democracy.

It is into this backdrop that Oscar Romero became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977.  Continue reading

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May the People Dwell as One

I spent this past weekend with the folks at First Presbyterian Church of Neenah.  My connection with this faith community stems from the time my daughter sang in their choir during her time at Lawrence University, and I always enjoy my time with them.

On Saturday I gave a Day of Reflection on the Lord’s Prayer.  Then on Sunday, in addition to leading adult faith formation, I was the guest preacher at the two services.

The title of my reflection, offered on the day the Presbyterian Church celebrated Communion Sunday, was May the People Dwell as One.  You can listen to it at this link, which includes the whole service.  My remarks start at 25:30.

The readings I selected for the service, which you may want to look at before listening, were: Isaiah 11:1-13, Psalm 133, Ephesians 4:1-6, John 17:1-7, 20-26.

My Friend Francis

Today is the feast day of a saint that is near and dear to my heart – St. Francis of Assisi.  Although my spirituality is Ignatian to the core, when I visualize the communion of saints surrounding Jesus in heaven, St. Francis is among those standing front and center, right near St. Ignatius.

As regular readers of this blog know, I spent twenty years of my adult life as a Buddhist before returning to Christianity. During those years, I had almost no connections to the Catholic faith in which I had been raised.  The sole exception was Francis.  As I often tell people, he was my one link to Catholicism during those years. There was something in Francis that resonated deeply with me, even as I rejected just about everything else that had to do with Catholicism.

During the difficult period of my conversion back to Catholicism, Francis was there for me when I needed him.  As the Holy Spirit worked within me and I was struggling mightily with what was surfacing, where could I turn? I certainly couldn’t, at the time, have any meaningful conversation with a God I had claimed for so long to have no belief in.  So I talked with Francis and sat with Francis.  And from Francis I received consolation and companionship as I worked things through.  He stayed with me until I could see God.

If Francis is not someone with whom you have great familiarity, I encourage you to read one of the many good books about him, some of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Try either House’s St. Francis: A Revolutionary Life or Bodo’s Francis: The Journey and the Dream.

Wishing a happy feast day to all of my Franciscan friends.

When You Know What You Have to Do

Someone recently shared Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, and it keeps coming back to me, so I thought I’d share it here for folks perhaps not familiar with it.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

(Mary Oliver, The Journey)

 

 

Feast of St. Vincent de Paul

Today I join with the worldwide Vincentian family in celebration of the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a saint who occupies a special place in my heart.

My shorthand description for people who know nothing of this wonderful saint is that Vincent really got what Jesus was saying in the judgment passage in Matthew 25. You know the passage – the one where Jesus explains how the sheep and goats will be separated. Vincent took to his heart the message of this passage better than anyone else I can think of (although some of my Vincentian brothers come close).

Vincent looked at the faces of the poor and the marginalized and what he saw was the face of Christ. He once observed, “We cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor, in the arms of providence, and with genuine renouncement of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ.”

Vincent’s heritage is a spirituality committed to uniting contemplation with action. The words of Robert Maloney, C.M., former Superior General of the Vincentians, on the relationship between prayer and action are a good reminder to all of us on this feast day of Vincent. He writes:

Divorced from action, prayer can turn escapist. It can lose itself in fantasy. It can create illusions of holiness. Conversely, service divorced from prayer can become shallow. It can have a “driven” quality to it. It can become an addiction, an intoxicating lure. It can so dominate a person’s psychology that his or her sense of worth depends on being busy.

An apostolic spirituality is at its best when it holds prayer and action in tension with one another. The person who loves God “with the sweat of his brow and the strength of his arms” knows how to distinguish between beautiful theoretical thoughts about an abstract God and real personal contact with the living Lord contemplated and served in his suffering people.

Wishing all of my friends in the worldwide Vincentian family a blessed feast day.

New Wineskins and New Melodies

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one” and “no one pours new wine into old wineskins.”

Whenever I hear this passage, I think a prayer by Ed Hays, titled A Psalm of New Wine Skins. I have sometimes offered it to retreatants for their prayer and I offer it to you this morning.

Perhaps,
Comfortable and well-worn are my daily paths
whose edges have grown gray with constant use.

My daily speech is a collection of old words
worn down at the heels by repeated use.
My language and deeds, addicted to habit,
prefer the taste of old wine, the feel of weathered skin.

Then,
Come and awaken me, Spirit of the new.
Come and refresh me, Creator of green life.
Come and inspire me, Risen Son,
you who make all things new:
I am too young to be dead, to be stagnant in spirit.

I fear,
High are the walls that guard the old,
the tried and secure ways of yesterday
that protect me from the dreaded plague,
the feared heresy of change.
For all change is a danger to the trusted order,
the threadbare traditions that are maintained
by the narrow ruts of rituals.

Yet how can an everlasting new covenant
retain its freshness and vitality
without injections of the new,
the daring and the untried?

My desire is,
Come, O you who are ever-new,
wrap my heart in new skin,
ever flexible to be reformed by your Spirit.
Set my feet to fresh paths this day:
inspire me to speak original and life-giving words and to
creatively give shape to the new.

Come and teach me how to dance with delight
whenever you send a new melody my way.

 

Co-Creator Day

Today the United States celebrates Labor Day, a day on which we celebrate the achievements of American workers. The Department of Labor calls this a day to “pay tribute… to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

In Catholic terms, recognizing God’s role as the primary creator of all we have, we more accurately pay tribute to workers as “co-creators” with God.

A central theme in Catholic thought is work as participation in the creative action of God – in the work of creation itself, and therefore as a means of sanctification. From a Catholic perspective, work serves to facilitate and encourage human person in becoming “fully human” and therefore receptive to the divine, playing a tremendously important part in bringing workers to the realization of the fullness of their existence and potential as a human person.

This sense of work as participation in the act of creation, as a means for realizing our full potential as humans comes from our creation in the image of God and the dignity of the human person. The purpose of work is to create, and the purpose of creation is to actualize our potential as beings created in the image of God. Our divine nature is displayed in work.

It is good to remind ourselves that work as participation in the act of creation is not dependent on how a particular type of work is regarded from a secular standpoint. Some work is more glamorous or seems more important than other work. Some work looks to us like mere drudgery. But it is not the nature of the particular job that gives work its dignity. Brother Lawrence, in the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God, observes that God is as present in the kitchen as in the cathedral.