Friday, May 12, 2017

Steadfast Love

Our celebration of the memorial of St. Damian de Veuster (Damian the Leper) on May 10th is a reminder of what steadfast love looks like.  Fr. Damian, a Belgian priest, dedicated his life to those suffering from leprosy who were confined to the leprosarium on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.  He gave himself completely to the lepers, and after contracting leprosy (Hansen's disease), died among them and was buried with them.

I was reminded of the steadfast love of another generous and compassionate man, Dr. Janusz Korczak (Dr. Henryk Goldszmit), a Polish Jewish pediatrician, children's author and humanitarian.  He was a man of many gifts and talents.  A skilled and compassionate pediatrician,  he established just before the outbreak of World War I a Jewish children's orphanage, Dom Sierot in Warsaw.  As the director he implemented the principles of what was then called the New Education movement, which proposed a holistic pedagogy that took into account the moral, spiritual, physical and intellectual development of the child.

He wrote: "...children should be fully understood... must be respected and loved, treated as partners and friends... [and that] one ought to behave towards [each child as] a respected, thinking and feeling human being." Under the pen name Janusz Korczak, he wrote children's books that illustrated the challenges faced by the impoverished children who were in his care.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Dr. Korczak accompanied the children and staff of his orphanage into the Warsaw ghetto, rejecting generous offers by rescuers to bring him to safety.  He refused to be separated from the children of the orphanage and walked with them to the terrifying Umschlagplatz, where the Jews of Warsaw were assembled for deportation.  On August 7th, 1942, Dr. Korczak, with 190 orphan children in his care were killed at the Treblinka death camp.

A teacher who studied under his direction wrote:
"Everyone makes so much of Korczak's last decision to go with the children to the train.  But his whole life was made up of moral decisions.  The decision to become a children's doctor.  The decision to give up a full-time medical practice and writing career to take care of poor orphans, The decision to go with the Jewish orphans to the ghetto.  As for that last decision to go with the children to Treblinka, it was part of his nature.  It was who he was.  He wouldn't understand why we are making so much of it today."

Monday, May 8, 2017

My Privilege Is To Have No Privilege

My Privilege Is To Have No Privilege


The sign of how much I love God is how much I love those I love the least.

Dorothy Day

even in heaven
hers was a minority viewpoint

she knew her Aquinas --
that to contemplate
the just punishment of the wicked
adds to the joy of the blessed

not her idea of paradise.

so without fanfare
Dorothy Day
took up residence in the infernal regions
rented a rundown storefront
taped a sign in the broken window
'House of Hospitality'.

she walked a daily picket line
protesting stiffling heat  
insatiable thirst  bad working conditions  
eternal torment

passed out copies
of her penny-newspaper
to any of the demon-harried 
who would take one

worked the soup-line
poured endless cups of coffee
scrounged cookies and day-old donuts
from a sympathetic archangel
listened patiently
to the piteous complaints
of the damned

she was last seen
at suppertime
hunched over a table
showing a weeping dictator
photos of his grandchildren.

Monday, May 1, 2017

St. Joseph the Worker, Pray for Us

Today is May Day and in the Catholic calendar the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.
On this day, I remember with gratitude my former pastor, Fr. Donald McDonnell of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in San Francisco and the life and work of Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), who Fr. McDonnell helped inspire Chavez to found the United Farm Worker's union.

Fr. Donald McDonnell
It was Fr. McDonnell , while pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in San Jose, who introduced Chavez to Catholic social teaching and who encouraged him to get involved in labor organizing.  Fr. McDonnell, as one of the "Mission Band" of priests who ministered during the 1950's to the largely Hispanic and Filipino migrant workers in California's Central Valley, had been exposed to the low wages, back-breaking labor and dehumanizing working conditions that were the day-to-day experience of farm workers.

Cesar Chavez

Chavez went on (with fellow labor organizer Dolores Huerta) to found the United Farm Workers union, which eventually, after years of struggle with growers that involved non-violent civil disobedience, fasts and hunger strikes and national boycotts of agricultural products such as grapes and lettuce, was able to organize and represent agricultural workers.

The feast today of St. Joseph the Worker is a needed reminder of both the dignity of work and the human dignity and rights of workers.

As Pope St. John Paul II, stated forcefully in 1984 :
"The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion;
and production to meet social needs over production for military purposes."

Catholic social teaching, which Fr. McDonnell introduced a young Cesar Chavez to over sixty years ago, upholds the right of workers to organize, to be represented by trade unions, to safe and decent working conditions and to a fair and living wage.  The US Catholic bishops, in their 1983 pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All" articulated ten principles related to economic justice and the rights of workers.  They are as valid and imperative today as they were almost thirty-five years ago.

On this day on which we commemorate workers and St. Joseph the Worker, may we find inspiration and hope in the United Farmworker's Prayer which Chavez wrote:

Show me the sufferings of the most miserable, so I may know my people's plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Feeding the Fire of Anger and Animosity

On Monday two thirteen year old boys inadvertently set a playground constructed out of wood on fire here in Juneau, Alaska.  The fire took hours to contain and suppress and in the end the playground was burned to the ground and was completely destroyed.

As might be expected, feelings have been running high.  My wife Paula wrote a thoughtful and compassionate blogpost about the fire and the children who accidently set it.

I looked at the photos of the fire in the newspaper and on-line and remembered how St.Dorotheos of Gaza compared anger and animosity to a fire which begins with a small spark and then, if unchecked, quickly gets out of hand and becomes a blazing conflagration.

We live in a time of so much unchecked and bitter anger.  It's all around us.  The wrathful, far from being embarrassed by their angry words and actions, appear, convinced of their own rectitude, to exult in their righteous indignation.

But St. Dorotheos, quoting the desert father Abba Zosimos, writes:
"If at the beginning of a dissention, when there is first smoke and sparks begin to fly, if a man forestalls it by blaming himself and humbling himself before he gets drawn into a quarrel and gets into a temper, until, not remaining tranquil but wrangling and becoming reckless, he acts like a man who is piling wood on a fire which gets hotter and hotter until he has made a great blaze ."

Contributing to that great blaze, feeding the fire of rancor and animosity, whether in our personal and family relationships or in our political and social life that we must avoid, even, or especially, when the stakes are as high as they are.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trampling Down Death-by-Death

In the Western Church today is Thursday of the Octave of Easter, the eight days during which the Church celebrates and ponders the mystery of the Lord's death and resurrection.  In the Christian East, this week is celebrated as Bright Week.

The icon has its origin in the image known as the Harrowing of Hell.

In the Christian East, the imagery of  what came to be the Resurrection icon embodies the Easter Troparian, (the musical 'icon' of the Resurrection sung in a variety of languages and melodies throughout the Byzantine Churches  during the Easter Season.)

Christ is risen from the dead!  Trampling down death-by-death! 
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life! (3x)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three Triduum Icons by a Contemporary Ukrainian Iconographer

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Truly Risen!
During Holy Week I came across the striking work of the Ukrainian iconographer Lyuba Yatskiv, originally from the town of Lviv.  I didn't have time to do much more than look at a few of her remarkable icons, which, despite their highly personal style follow the iconographic canons quite closely.
Their sheer intensity, for lack of a better word, is well suited to the seriousness of the mysteries which they depict.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What She Has Done Will Be Told in Remembrance of Her

On this Tuesday of Holy Week, I've reflecting on how in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, the passion narrative begins with the reading of the account of a woman anointing the Lord's head or feet.  The anointing, with costly perfumed oil, scandalizes the onlookers (including the apostles), because of the expense of the oil and the uninvited intrusion of the woman into the gathering.

I think too of how on the other end of the narrative, other women go to the tomb with perfumed oil to anoint the body of Jesus in the tomb (and these 'myrrhbearing women' discover that Jesus has risen and the tomb is empty.)

Jesus, in Matthew's gospel responds to the angry criticism by saying, "Why do you trouble the woman?  She has done me a good service for me. ...By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial."

But then he goes on to tell them: "Truly I tell, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."  Which leaves me pondering this: perhaps the woman who anoints Jesus' head with oil is proclaiming in an unmistakable way that he is truly the Messiah, the Christos, the Anointed One of God.

Those whose responsibility it would have been to have proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, that is to say, the religious authorities, not only fail to make such a proclamation, but in all of the passion narratives, condemn him as a false Messiah.  By way of contrast, this anonymous woman, not from a position of knowledge or authority, perceives Jesus rightly and like the prophet Samuel, sees beyond appearances and anoints the Son of David with the oil of gladness.

During this week Christians remember how this Messiah would die a shameful and wretched death at the hands of the Romans (which would have confirmed for allies and opponents alike that he was definitely not the Anointed.   One of God!) Yet even in this, her anointing of him in anticipation of his death and burial, is itself a paradoxical proclamation that he is the Messiah who will suffer and empty himself completely out of love.

Perhaps, it is that this woman, because her love for him, was able to see clearly the One who is Love Incarnate and boldly act to anoint him in this way.  I wonder too, if we are only able to recognize the Anointed One who is present among us in so many distressing disguises, when we are able to see them with the eyes of love?

Will the ways in which we anoint Christ in need and in distress with the extravagant and costly oil of compassion, mercy and kindness, be told in remembrance of us, "wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world"?

May it be so.