Today marks the 34th Anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. A sad day indeed. Today nobody has ever been brought to justice. And while he has been often talked about as becoming a saint, he remains short of that title. Recently, however the Vatican has placed him on a track for sainthood.

What I loved about Romero is not that he was fearless, rather, that he was afraid and he overcame fear with faith.

“I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”

And that friends, is always more than enough. To believe that God will always make a way out of no way is a sign of true faith. St. Ignatius’ first principle and foundation essentially belies this fact:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

Or in short: No matter what; God will always have our back, even if the worst thing happens–even if we die, God will redeem our suffering and pain.

And that is a tough truth to accept, but it is comforting and freeing when we do so.

The final words of Romero were from a homily:

“One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.”

Sr. Peggy O’Neill, SC, who runs the Center for the Arts in Suchitoto in El Salvador has lived her life for the Salvadoran people. She has hid from the government and lived the danger of which Monseñor Romero spoke. She often chides students who visit her and tells them:

“If your dreams aren’t scary, then you’re not dreaming big enough.”

Amen. Romero dreamed of a world in which governments would not brutally oppress their people. In standing up for the dignity of his people, Romero found Christ within his heart for the poor.

Today let’s pray for the cause of Romero’s sainthood and for the people of El Salvador.

The Saint of Beer

Today is the feast day of St Brigid of Ireland, the second most popular saint in the Emerald Isle and I’d argue a much more Irish saint than St Patrick could ever hope to be.

St. Brigid is often known as the patron saint of hospitality, first and foremost for her love of the poor, lepers especially and she would welcome them when nobody else would and care for their suffering.

She is also known for this because one of her miracles is that she turned water into beer. Could any saint be better?

Probably the best known Irish saint after Patrick is Saint Brigid (b. 457, d. 525). Known as “the Mary of the Gael,” Brigid founded the monastery of Kildare and was known for spirituality, charity, and compassion. St. Brigid also was a generous, beer-loving woman. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without beer, “For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty.” Brigid is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. Obviously this trait would endear her to many a beer lover. She also is reputed to have supplied beer out of one barrel to eighteen churches, which sufficed from Maundy Thursday to the end of paschal time. A poem attributed to Brigid in the Brussel’s library begins with the lines “I should like a great lake of ale, for the King of the Kings. I should like the family of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.”

She’s one of my favorite saints and I keep a great picture of her in my home that the great Brother Mickey McGrath gave to me many years ago.


For All the Saints

“Saints are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.”

So said, Sr. Caroline as I grew up and attended CCD classes at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the late 70s. Far be it from me to disagree with this lovely woman, but I think Saints are much more than that. They are ordinary people who do some extraordinary things, but mostly they are ordinary people who do ORDINARY things, but do them with great love, perhaps extraordinary love.

images-3Take Pedro Arrupe,S.J., one of my favorite Jesuits, who I believe is a saint, even if he is not officially recognized as one. In the horror of the Hiroshima bombings, Fr. Arrupe cared for the dying, the dying who did not die right away, but who suffered horrible burns from the madness of the atomic bomb. When he had cared greatly for the needs of so many and nursed them back to health, many simply died from radiation poisoning without much warning. Seeing those atrocities up close and caring for the needs of so many and continuing to be a priest and leading the Jesuits through the unchartered waters of the Second Vatican Council is enough for me to say that he did what some would consider extraordinary, but Arrupe would say that he did what was needed to be done—ordinary things with great love.

Campus Ministers I believe are in the saint-making business. We try to enable people to see themselves as doing whatever they are called to be, but doing that with great love. It frees people from the anxiety of possibly “missing their calling” and instead invites them to see the world with great love and trying to bring love to the work they do, even if they don’t think their job highlights their “first gifts.” I’m sure Fr. Arrupe didn’t think his first gift was running a triage unit in Japan, but he did it with great love. Sometimes circumstances indeed place us in the crosshairs of doing 3-4 things that we really would rather not do. Fr. James Martin, S.J. often talks about caring for elderly men in Jamaica and having to clean them and clip their nails was not something he looked forward to, but he did it with great love regardless.

What we as Campus Ministers need to do is to show students that including God in their vocational decisions invites them to ask the questions:

How does what I’m doing right NOW, make me more loving?
How might I be willing to change just a smidge to try to love better than I do?
Where do I see myself doing ordinary things with great love?
Where is God calling me to see my life in light of what makes me feel more alive with God’s love pouring out to others and to myself?

All good questions. To be saints means that we ask these questions and more importantly we LIVE this questions. We become all that we are, nothing more, but most importantly, nothing less.

But often we are afraid to be saints. Fear, as you know, is the opposite of faith. We’re also afraid to try to make saints–to awaken people to their best possibilities. It’s too hard, or too demanding, or even too tiring. There are other things we’d rather do. The truth is that life IS hard and we need to get over it. Doing the right thing is often a pain in the neck. But saints are able to do so because they know that doing this with love not only brings them great joy—but it also enables them to find God lurking there, pushing them just a bit harder on the journey to become all that they are.

It is time to begin a journey to sainthood. We do that by taking one step towards that goal each day in so many different walks of life. We do that by becoming all that we are.

And saints are not perfect. Rather saints admit that they are not God, not perfect and it leads them to do what they can—but to do that well and with love.

St. Peter became all that he was, even though he denied Jesus three times. St. Joseph was a simple carpenter called to take an unwed mother into his home and care for her and raise her son as his own, protecting the Son of God in an age where infant mortality and poverty took the lives of many. Dorothy Day housed the poor despite the fact that they made it difficult for her to treat them as Jesus would.

And some days it’s just hard to get up in the morning and get to the office when we know it’s going to be a difficult day–a challenging day. But God calls us to think more of ourselves, to know that we are indeed gifted and talented and have some opportunities to make a difference.

In doing so we become saints in the making. And when we unite with the divine in the beatific vision beyond this life, we will find it was more than enough.

More than enough for the world, more than enough for God and more than enough for us in becoming all that we are called to be.

So today is our day, All Saints. Let us celebrate who we are and enjoy being ourselves, but most importantly, let us love, even when it is challenging.

Remembering Arrupe

Today is the Anniversary of Pedro Arrupe, S.J.’s death. He was “the General” of the Jesuits during the changes of the Second Vatican Council and is one of my heroes. Not merely because of his great leadership of the society, but because of his great witness.

During World War II Fr. Arrupe was serving in Japan, just outside of Hiroshima. When the atomic bomb was dropped although they were a distance it was still powerful enough to knock them to the ground and cause damage to the Jesuit residence. What happened in the days that followed was horrifying. They went into the city and found people trapped under houses, others brought people to the residence with burns and wounds that the Jesuits did their best to attend to. Many, many died from those wounds and many more died from radiation poisoning in the weeks ahead. It was a time that tested Arrupe’s faith and he writes of it hauntingly.

He loved the Japanese people. Here we see him shining the shoes of a boy who had just shined his.

If this guy is not a saint, then I’m not sure who is.

My favorite lines of Arrupe, which sit above my desk at work always touch me each day when I recite it to myself:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Rest in Peace, Fr. General. Your love truly decided everything for you.

A St Joseph Advent Prayer

I held him in my arms
While Mary rested
Overwhelmed we were
A long journey behind us
A longer one in front of us

I rested him
in the wood of the manger
with the itchy hay
and a donkey eating his pillow
now and again.

The wood called to me
Working with wood
Is my trade
But this wood
Supports a baby
A baby that is not mine
But that I was called to support anyway

I didn’t even get any lines in the Gospels
A silent saint, who dreams and runs
to and fro with precious cargo.
We were the tabernacle back then.

And when we lost him in the temple
Oy vey! That was frightening!

The carpenter’s son
That seems right

For the night I laid my baby in the wood
I knew that the wood
Would also save me
Not from responsibility
But from my own mistakes
My arrogance and fear
And help me trust that God
knows what he’s doing.

My son is still the savior
Who was nailed to the wood
To save us with his pierced and
splintered hands
And while I was not his father
By any biological means
I was called to be his DAD!
And that was more than enough
To help him save us all.

Not Dismissed So Easily

Cardinal Dolan is trying to champion the cause for Dorothy Day’s sainthood and score one more Catholic saint for the great city of New York, where Day founded the Catholic Worker, an organization that still exists today all over the world.

Day once said that people shouldn’t call her “a saint”. “I won’t be dismissed that easily” was her famous line, which always makes me think that it must have been a hoot to live in community with her. Her curmudgeonly line makes me smile every time I hear it. She often chided people who had boundless optimism about working with the poor, reminding them how difficult working with the poor can truly be. They can be difficult people and when you’re dedicating your life to their service, that comes with the territory.

She took on Bishops who called her a communist and didn’t want the word Catholic associated with her organization, but in the end she stuck to her mission and won out. The Catholic Worker, like Dorothy, have been far from perfect. While they open their doors to anyone who comes seeking their aid and they treat them as if they were Jesus himself, many find themselves linked more with anarchy than with the Catholic Church. I suppose at times, they’ve been treated not as Jesus would have been treated by members of the hierarchy or others within the institutional church and their rejection of “all things organized” can sometimes grab my sympathy.

But I do wonder what Dorothy and her followers today would think of the church considering her sainthood. My best guess is that they don’t need some kind of imprimatur to make it so. They know that Dorothy was and is a saint already.

And perhaps that is what Dorothy was driving at when she asked people not to call her a saint. After all, Dorothy believed that this was work that we are all called to do. We are all called to take care of the vulnerable from the moment of conception to natural death. Dorothy agonized and repented over the times she did not do this in her life and that inward experience changed her deeply. She wanted to emphasize that this work of hers was not a choice, but rather was the demand of the gospel and if we all cared for just one person in the way she cared for so many–we wouldn’t have a need for an organization like hers.

Calling her a saint, indeed does dismiss not her, but us, far too easily. However, her sainthood gives us all something to emulate, not simply adore and that may just be worth the journey of canonization. Maybe we need to take some time this advent to ask ourselves not how we can admire someone like Dorothy, but rather, how can we challenge ourselves to be more like her?

Dorothy Day would demand nothing less. She wouldn’t dismiss us as saints when we do all the things we do. Instead she’d honor us by living with us, giving of her own heart to those in need and to those nearest to us without measure nor need for rewards or fancy titles.

No. Dorothy would say that being a saint is simply doing all the things that you’re supposed to do anyway. It is the way to avoid sin, the absence of God in the world, that makes one a saint. And the fact that many go hungry and thirsty and that babies die of malnutrition and that the need for safe drinking water places too many in harm’s way, is more than enough evidence that we are a sinful people. Dorothy wouldn’t stand by and watch that happen to her brothers and sisters and she held the government and the church to a higher standard as well.

If that’s not being a saint, well…I’m not sure what is. But Dorothy wouldn’t stand for that. Instead she’d probably call each one of us St. Mike or St. Fran, or St. Marion and challenge us to live up to that title and thus dispense the arrogant need we might have for reward and simply appeal to the fact that we’re supposed to live the kingdom of God and that this is reward enough. What more would we want? Each time she sought more she’d immediately catch herself and bring herself back to that more contemplative space…that long loneliness that she knew so well.

When she met with her heart’s deepest desires she knew how often even she fell short of her own ideals, not lofty ones, although we consider them that. Dorothy Day knew better. She knew we all want more, but are often too frightened to live in pursuit of such radical happiness. We seek comfort and domesticity far more than we seek true peace in our hearts. We claim order when we have our own affairs in order and fail to see the disorder in the world where too many inequities exist. We move easily between the haves and the have nots and all-too-often don’t notice the difference.

Dorothy wouldn’t be having all this talk of sainthood. She’d probably tell the good Cardinal and each of us that if we want to make anyone a saint we should start with ourselves.

And in doing so, we’ll have no need for titles or possessions. Instead God’s love and God’s grace will become all that we’ll ever need.

For All the Saints: St. Alphonsus Rodriquez

My spiritual director, Bro. Chris Derby, S.J. informed me that October 31 is not merely Halloween, it is also the feast day of St. Alphonsus Rodriquez, S.J. the patron saint of Jesuit brothers. We don’t often hear much about Jesuits who are Brothers, but there are many around the world who are. I’ve known Bro. Chris for a long time. He was in formation when I went to college at Fordham and in that springtime of both of our lives we originally met and have now reacquainted. I can remember in those early years, asking Chris why he was choosing to be a Brother, rather than becoming a priest. His response was memorable:

“Well, I don’t see myself at the head of the line leading everyone. I see myself walking alongside people helping journey WITH them.”

I often hear those who choose nursing school over medical school say similar things. They hope to spend more time with patients, they want to be more available to people. There’s a great heart of service that lies at the feet of both of these vocations.

Which brings me to the aforementioned St. Alphonsus. Despite being a widow and seeing all of his three children die before him, St. Alphonsus longed to be a Jesuit. Despite little university education, Alphonsus was admitted to the Jesuit order as a lay brother and he took up the position of porter for 46 years. It was there that he became a great confidant of many a Jesuit and many others from the city and from the government who would come seeing direction from him. He often reminds me of a person who despite every disadvantage that they might have, finds a way to succeed in life anyway.

He was a major confidant for St Peter Claver and convinced him to go off and ask for the missions to South America. A simple man, without a college degree did much to change the world around him.

It reminds me that we need not think too much of our learnedness, but rather, we should pay attention to the times we love or fail to love. St Alphonsus knew what he was doing by meeting people where they are and advising them with God’s help on their spiritual life and even more. Alphonsus who knew great hardship didn’t let those hardships defeat him, rather he embraced his pain more closely and it helped him be empathetic to all those whom he met “at the door” and it helped them grow more deeply together in finding where God was calling them.

He should be the patron of spiritual directors in my view.

And so on this feast of All Saints we pray to all our Saints…all the holy men and women of God who have been our earthly guides in this life…may God continue to use your lives not only as an example for how we are to live, but also as great pray-ers for all of us. May the prayers you offer for us be offered to God as a testament to your lives as people for others and may it bring us closer to you and to God through the power of prayer in our lives.

And to my Jesuit brothers…happy belated feast day of St. Alphonsus and Happy Feast Day of all your saints.

Happy Feast Day of the North American Martyrs

Today is the feast day of St. Isaac Jogues and his companions. Fr Jim Martin, SJ has a great post on these brave Jesuits who lived among the Huron Native Americans near Quebec in what was then known as New France.

St. Isaac Jogues’ story is told more or less accurately in the movie Black Robe which is what the Hurons named him. Here’s a great clip:

In Fr. Martin’s piece today he reminds us that these men including St. Jean de Brébeuf were tortured in a most gruesome way:

On March 16, the Iroquois attacked the village and took the Hurons, who were mainly Christians, along with Jean and another Jesuit, Gabriel Lalement, prisoner. He knew that the possibility of martyrdom was imminent.

Jean de Brébeuf’s torture was among the cruelest any Jesuit has had to endure. (You might want to avoid this next paragraph if you’re squeamish.)

The Iroquois heated hatchets until they were glowing red and, tying them together, strung them across his shoulders, searing his flesh. They wrapped his torso with bark and set it afire. They cut off his nose, lips and forced a hot iron down his throat, and poured boiling water over his head in a gruesome imitation of baptism. They scalped him, and cut off his flesh while he was alive. Finally someone buried a hatchet in his jaw.

After 14 years as a missionary, Jean de Brébeuf died on March 16, 1639. He was 56. At his death his heart was eaten as a way for the Iroquois, who were stunned by his courage, to share in his bravery. Eight other Jesuits were martyred around this same time, and are now referred to as the North American Martyrs.

Today let us pray for all those who have lost their life for the faith they believe in (still today we have martyrs). May God give them rest and redeem their suffering and may their inspiration continue to bring us all closer to God.

Happy Birthday Julia Child and Happy Feast of the Assumption

It’s appropriate that Ms. Julia Child was born on a feast day! After all, the woman knew how to feast.

But Ms. Child was not unlike Mary, the Mother of God. She really understood that cooking or more importantly “mealing” was a centerpiece of hospitality. Undoubtedly, Mary also passed that trait onto Jesus, who made “healing” and “mealing” the center of his ministry. Jesus is always feeding people, but he doesn’t feed people to just offer them material sustenance. Jesus makes a point with every meal. He violates all kinds of laws by having the rich and the poor eat together. He eats at the house of sinners which means that his family must reciprocate. And he offers himself as food for our spiritual sustenance, a meal that offers us permanent sustenance–eternal life.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Julia Child and one of my prized possessions is a cookbook that she signed for me along with her longtime TV partner, Jacques Pepin. She asked me if I could cook and when I told her that I merely “dabble” she was ready to whisk me away to learn how to cook with “Jack” as she called her dear friend.

So rest in peace Dear Julia, I’m sure that Mother Mary and you are cooking up something fine in your kitchen.