First Tuesday in Advent – El Salvador

dorothy3“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.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad … vent.

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.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

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

Voice of Conscience for Catholic Sisters Gathers Outside Vatican Embassy in D.C.

Today I’ll be joining the support vigil for U.S. Catholic sisters held in Washington, D.C. We’ll be delivering a letter to Pope Benedict via the Vatican nuncio.

These tensions between Catholic church hierarchy and prophetic witness and ministry are nothing new in the history of the church, but when they bubble up it’s important to show up and be visible on behalf of those who exemplify the gospel; in this case the Catholic sisters.

“You shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). When I look at the fruits of the bishops and the fruits of the sisters, my answer as to where to stand is clear. I’m posting below the letter we will deliver:

Most Holy Father:

On this Tuesday after Pentecost, we write to you in prayer and in fervent hope that you will create gracious space for the Spirit’s action by withdrawing the mandate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that was issued on April 18 to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

On May 18, you highlighted “the urgent need in our own time for credible and attractive witnesses to the redemptive and transformative power of the Gospel.” In the United States, no Gospel witnesses are more effective, credible, and attractive than Catholic Sisters. U.S. Sisters shine as beacons of God’s love in schools, hospitals, among immigrants, among the poor and powerless. With the leadership and support of LCWR, they forge paths of faith, hope, and charity, sacrificing their own comfort and even their lives. The witness of the Sisters’ daily work and prayer signifies far more than the CDF’s concerns with particular words or the absence of words in LCWR materials.

We gather today in solidarity with the LCWR as Catholics and others whose lives have been profoundly touched by Catholic Sisters. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide LCWR and CDF, and to give them courage, strength, and wisdom to discern their journey in Christ. To clear the path, we ask Your Holiness to cast aside the stumbling block of the CDF mandate. And we pray that all will find the humility required for radical openness to the Holy Spirit.

In content and process, the CDF mandate is not consistent with the respect, collegiality, and mutuality that characterize relationships among people of mature faith. St. Paul reminds us that to live in Christ’s Easter peace means to “live in a manner worthy of the call… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4).

The CDF has questions and concerns about the LCWR. If Jesus tells his disciples that they are his friends, not his servants (John 15:9-17), then surely that is the appropriate relationship between the CDF and the LCWR. A conversation among people of good will from both CDF and LCWR could bear rich fruit for the Church as a whole, if it occurs in love, respect, mutuality, even solidarity. In this dialogue, the CDF mandate is both unwarranted and out of place.

In celebrating Pentecost, we find hope and courage in the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, “the Advocate, whom I will send you from the Father” (John 15:26). Mindful of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council this fall, we take to heart the sacred responsibility recognized in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church to fulfill our obligation “to express [our] opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church” (Chapter 4, Sec. 37). The Church needs breathing room where all of us can pause in prayer and where the mighty breath of the Spirit can enable us to be receptive to the gifts of the Spirit so we may bear fruit in Christ’s name. For the good of the Church, we ask you to withdraw the CDF mandate.

Follow more of this story at Sisters Under Scrutiny.

Eric Holder And The Targeted Killing of Americans

11 June 1963: Vivian Malone entering Foster Auditorium to register for classes at the University of Alabama. Vivian Malone, one of the first African Americans to attend the university, walks through a crowd that includes photographers, National Guard members, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.

Recently, I listened to the 5 March 2012 speech by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in which he defend the targeted killing of U.S. citizens at the sole discretion of the president of the United States.

It sounded to me like the death knell of the great democratic experiment. If citizenship doesn’t convey the right to protection by the State balanced with just due legal process to address criminality, then citizenship really doesn’t mean much. And when one can be put on a “death squad list” without ever having a chance to be judged by a jury of one’s peers (not members of the NSA, CIA, etc), then The great Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the U.S. Bill of Rights–two cornerstones of modern, liberal, rights-based democracies–have been tossed in the shredder.

I believe Eric Holder is a “good man.” I think he understands the very real consequences of inhumane laws through the life story of his sister-in-law Vivian Malone Jones, who along with James Hood, stood a “the schoolhouse door” while Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocked their entrance to the University of Alabama. Wallace was defending “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” The courageous stand by Jones and Hood led to the integration of the University of Alabama.

In Holder’s speech before Northwestern University’s law school yesterday he said, “Some have called such operations “assassinations.”   They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced.   Assassinations are unlawful killings.   Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.”

As Thomas Merton reminded us in Raids On the Unspeakable,

“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will he suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot.”

Richard Rohr also explores this issue of the “good man’s” capacity for unspeakable evil in his book Things Hidden. Rohr writes:

“The ego is that part of the self that wants to be significant, central, and important. It is very self-protective by its very nature. It must eliminate the negative to succeed. (Jesus would call it the “actor” in Matthew 23, usually translated from the Greek as “hypocrite”.)

The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, that we’re afraid of and we don’t want others to see either. If our “actor” is well-defended and in denial, the shadow is always hated and projected elsewhere (we tend to hate our own faults in OTHER people!). One point here is crucial: The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without recognizing it as evil! That is why Jesus criticizes hypocrisy more than anything else. He does not hate sinners at all, but only people who pretend they are not sinners!

Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as the “splinter in your brother’s eye.” Jesus’ advice is absolutely perfect. “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).”

The American body politic has long denied the “plank in our own eye.” And so we inexorably become more and more like those we deplore. The rarefied air of the White House and Justice Department is a super-food for the ego and slowly strangles self-reflection, self-doubt, or anything that might lead to embracing one’s shadow side. And, truth be told, even if one did find space to embrace the shadow, the system is so deeply entrenched that it would brook no opposition.–Rose Marie Berger

Abbot Philip: ‘Believing without acting on the belief is not belief’

Chapel at Christ in the Desert monastery

The good monks at at Christ in the Desert monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico, emails Abbot Philip’s weekly sermon. I especially appreciated his thoughts from Sunday, Feb 27. If you ever have a chance to visit them, please do. And donate to their life and ministry.

“Moses told the people:  “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.” – from Deuteronomy 11:18,26-28,32

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” … – from Matthew 7:21-27

There is a contrast given to us today between the person who takes the word of God into his or her heart and soul and acts on it and the person who simply speaks the word of God but does not live it.  In our hearts there is the struggle to do God’s word faithfully. The first reading today, from the Book of Deuteronomy, puts so eloquently what God wants of us:  Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.

The author of this book goes on to give us some tips about how to remember these words so that we can take them into our heart and soul.  He tells us to bind them on our wrists and put them on our foreheads. In our present day secular culture, people often put notes on their computers or on their doors or on their mirrors.  This reading raises in us the question of how we try to remember the word of God and bring it fully into our hearts and our souls.

The Letter to the Romans, from which comes our second reading (Romans 3:21-25, 28), puts its focus on faith:  we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  We could ask a question very similar to one that Jesus poses elsewhere:  who has faith?  The one who does the works of faith or the one who only speaks about it?  The Gospel of Matthew today also poses this same question about belief.

The Gospel tells us that doing mighty works is not enough.  Even doing mighty works in the name of the Lord is not enough.  We must believe from our heart and soul.  So today we are invited to become followers of Christ in a totally committed way, both believing and doing.  Doing, by itself, is no good.

Believing without acting on the belief is not belief.  Let us believe and do! —Abbot Philip, OSB