December 2, 1980: Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean

“When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish and, some day, to bring forth life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in the heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the wellspring of Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of Abba in heaven.”Matthew 7:21

On December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—Catholic missionaries from the United States—were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador. Dorothy and Jean were driving to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maura and Ita.

On the way back from the airport, they were pulled over at a roadblock by National Guardsmen. The four women were taken to an isolated location, raped, tortured, and shot. Then they were buried in a shallow grave beside the road. The National Guardsmen were also “good Catholics.”

These four women died in the same manner as many of the poor Salvadoran people they served. They are martyrs because they laid down their lives in love for the poor—just as Jesus calls all Christians to be prepared to do. The witness of these four women teaches us about listening to the call of Christ, taking up the cross and following Jesus, and being born again.

A stone cross and small plaque mark the country road where the four women were buried. It reads: “Receive them Lord into your Kingdom.”

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Thursday in Advent

 "Fishers of Men" by Rex DeLoney, Little Rock, Arkansas
“Fishers of Men” by Rex DeLoney, Little Rock, Arkansas

“This Advent, our Advent, is a time of creation. God’s spirit abides in us—brooding over our waters—shaping and forming us, being formed and shaped by us. God alone knows what we shall become. God has visited us with grace and favor. Are we ready to become Light?”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers … And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately, they left their nets and followed him”.—Matthew 4: 18-20

There is a church near my house called “Fisherman of Men Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc.” The insistently masculine language always makes me laugh. It’s as if the church-namers knew that the narrow image of a patriarchal God was on its way out and so over- compensate. Or to paraphrase Shakespeare, “Me thinks they doth protest too much.”

Paradoxically, I find this invitation from Jesus to Peter and Andrew, then James and John, to be distinctly subversive of patriarchy. Jesus woos them like a lover. He seduces them into leaving their fathers’ houses, like young women leaving home to join the home of their husband’s family.

These men respond to Jesus as if they are in love. There is no cognitive decision making. They fall in love. They drop their nets—representing their known world. They follow, like a lover after her beloved. They have eyes only for him.

When were you last in love?

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Ad……vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Oscar Rodriguez: Romero and Pope Francis

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[Romero’s] prophetic message was that our duty as Christians is to bring the values of the Gospel to life. We have to put our principles into practice, he said. After 30 years from his death and after his recent beatification, Romero’s life and murder is a challenge to us, a challenge to all believers. And I would ask whether we are prepared to actually put that power, the one that comes from following the Lord’s way of life, at the service of others? And to fight for justice for the world’s poor and marginalised, whatever the cost is for our Church? In this particular time that we live in, it is so important to understand and follow what he once said.

Romero on 27th November 1977 said: ‘The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred, it is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to turn weapons into sickles for work.’ A couple of months before, on September 25th 1977, he said ‘Let us not tire of preaching love. It is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love, though we see waves of violence at sea drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out, it is the only thing that can.’

… Archbishop Romero and Pope Francis seem to follow parallel spiritual and pastoral tracks. Both men share an understanding of the practical implications of seeking God in all things. A sense of openness to
the presence of God in history and the world, including in struggle and discourse. For many of his biographers, Romero’s favourite subject coming from the Gospel was the incarnation of Our Lord. Christ is the Word that became flesh in history and continues doing that. And since that real faith leads to engagement, then some want to keep the gospel so disembodied that it doesn’t get involved at all in the world, it is safe. Christ is now in history, Christ is in the womb of the people, Christ is now bringing about the new heaven and the new earth, Romero wrote.

And if we believe truly in the incarnation of the Word of God, we have to make ours the real and true option for the poor.– Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga,SDB, of Honduras at the 2015 Oscar Romero lecture.

Read From Romero to Francis: The Joy & the Tensions of Becoming a Poor Church with the Poor by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (October 2015)

Read more about the 2015 Annual Archbishop Romero Lecture organised by the Archbishop Romero Trust.

Joan Chittister: ‘A Lust for Joy’

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“Sitting out in the middle of the channel in a little nineteen-foot fishing boat with ocean freighters and large sailboats passing us on both sides, I remember the wild and crazy joy of it: no desk, no phone, no speeches, no airplanes. Just four of us, a hot sun, an empty fish bucket, a parade of boats, and the rocking of the waves. I cast with all my might, caught the top of the channel light, and, laughing my heart out, cut free just in time to avoid wrapping the next sail in fishing line. Life, bare and simple, is a wonderful thing. How do we learn that? And what does it mean for the spiritual life itself?

We learn it by seeing it, I think. When I was a young sister, in the days before the church had negotiated a kind of truce with the world and the monastery reflected the emotional sterility that the standoff implied, Sister Marie Claire, steadfastly opposed to the suppression of joy in the name of holiness, went to her music room every Sunday afternoon to listen to records of symphonies, scores of operas, collections of piano performances. We didn’t go to concerts in those days, and only music teachers were allowed to have record players. She would sit in her rocking chair all afternoon and simply listen. I remember being very moved by the model of such bold and wanton delight in the face of such institutionalized negation of it. The lesson served me well. There are times in life when the only proper response to the dreary and the difficult is to ignore them. The person of hope, the person who knows that God is in the daily, knows joy.

Embodied love, with all the joy and pleasure and beauty it brings, has been made the great enemy of the spiritual life, as if learning to be dour were a dimension of sanctity. We were trained to beware the beautiful and the pleasurable, as if beauty and pleasure distracted us from the God who made the world beautiful and gave us all a capacity for pleasure. “There is no such thing as a sad saint,” the poster says. Having come out of a Jansenist spirituality, it took me a little while to get beyond the sourness of sin to the delight of fishing boats and party times and wedding feasts at Cana. But I finally came to understand that there is no such thing as “loving God alone.” If we love God, we love everything God made because all of them are reflections of the Love that made them.

To lust for joy is to lust for the God of life. To make joy where at first it seems there is none is to become co-creator with the God of life. When we make joy, we make a holier, happier life.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpted from Called To Question by Joan Chittister

Abbot Philip: ‘Love is always a surprise and a choice’

monk-newmexico-240348-oAbbot Philip is a Benedictine monk who lives in the New Mexico desert at Christ in the Desert monastery. I find his reflections honest and clear. Here’s an excerpt from The Abbot’s Notebook (24 April 2013):

“For the past 50 years, there has been a movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the Church, bringing new ways of thinking, new ways of relating, new ways of dreaming.

This happens at times in the history of the Church and we should not be afraid of it. Not everything that happens in such movements is of lasting value. Not every road that is chosen leads directly to the Lord. Always there is enthusiasm and always there is resistance. The early monastic movement was in the midst of this kind of movement as well. What is important in our spiritual lives is seeking to choose the Lord Jesus and His ways. It is a personal encounter with the Lord that draws us to Him. I can sit here in my cell and spend time being still and listening. I can read Holy Scripture and understand what has been written.

Continue reading “Abbot Philip: ‘Love is always a surprise and a choice’”

Merton: ‘Genuine Love Is A Personal Revolution’

“Love affects more than our thinking and our behavior toward those we love. It transforms our entire life. Genuine love is a personal revolution. Love takes your ideas, your desires, and your actions and welds them together in one experience and one living reality which is a new you.”–Thomas Merton

Love and Living by Thomas Merton (Harcourt)

Merton: Made in the Image of Love

“To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.” –Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Dimensions Press, 1961)

St. John of God: ‘Becoming Servants of Love’

St. John of the Cross, Ojai, California

“If we look forward to receiving God’s mercy, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength. For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness. What a fine profit, what a blessed reward! With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbors. Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin.” —St. John of God

Brothers K on Love

“At some thoughts one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love.

Always decide ‘I will combat it by humble love.’ If you resolve on that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world.  Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Thomas Merton: Love, Not Duty

“It is not dutiful observance that keeps us from sin, but something far greater: it is love. And this love is not something which we develop by our own powers alone. It is a sublime gift of the divine mercy, and the fact that we live in the realization of this mercy and this gift is the greatest source of growth for our love and for our holiness.”–Thomas Merton