Friday, July 25, 2014

Visitando a un Santo


 

Temprano una mañana abordé el Euskotren en San Sebastián.  Deteniéndose a menudo, el tren lentamente bordeaba la hermosa costa norte del País Vasco de España. El mar azul profundo hacia contraste con la costa escabrosa. Siendo para mi imposible comprender el misterioso idioma vasco, viajé sentado en silencio admirando la vista.

Bajé del tren en el puerto de Zumaia y parado esperé el autobús. Mi abrigo, bufanda y guantes no proporcionaron defensa suficiente para evitar que la brisa helada me haga temblar. Después de una hora de camino a bordo del autobús llegué a la calmada ciudad de Azpeitia. Presioné el botón naranja cerca de mi asiento señalizándole al conductor que estaba listo para bajarme en la siguiente parada. No podía contener mi emoción, pronto visitaría la ciudad natal de uno de mis santos favoritos.

El bus se detuvo cerca de unas bancas y bajé con mi bolsa. Mientras se alejaba el autobús, vi por primera vez la austera pero hermosa cúpula señalando el lugar de nacimiento de Iñigo López de Loiola, mejor conocido en castellano como San Ignacio de Loyola.


Nacido en una familia noble menor del País Vasco en el pueblo de Loiola en 1491, Iñigo fue entrenado como soldado y resultó gravemente herido en 1521 durante una batalla en Pamplona. Mientras yacía en cama durante su recuperación en el castillo familiar en Loiola, Iñigo leyó algunos libros incluyendo uno sobre la vida de los santos y uno sobre la vida de Cristo.


Estatua de cuando San Ignacio fue traido al castillo de Loiola despues de la Batalla de Pamplona


Al sanar su pierna, Iñigo experimentó una profunda conversión. Decidió abandonar su carrera militar y viajar a Tierra Santa donde podría ser un soldado de Cristo.  No cumpliéndose este deseo inicial, regresó a Europa y asistió al seminario en París. Allí reunió en su entorno a seis amigos, entre ellos los futuros santos Francisco Javier y Francisco Borja, y fundó en 1534 la Compañía de Jesús.

Iñigo se hizo conocido por sus Ejercicios Espirituales, una colección de oraciones, sugerencias para la oración y reflexiones espirituales que es hoy un clásico espiritual. Viajó enseñando estos ejercicios, a veces teniendo problemas con las autoridades eclesiásticas que cuestionaban la legitimidad de su trabajo.


El Papa Pio III aprobó la Compañía de Jesús en 1540. Sus miembros, los jesuitas, comenzaron rápidamente a enseñar en universidades europeas, a llevar a cabo expediciones misioneras hasta los confines de la tierra y a predicar retiros espirituales.

Pasé la tarde explorando el castillo de Loiola, la basílica y sus hermosos jardines antes de tomar el autobús para Bilbao. Recé  en la sala donde Ignacio tuvo su conversión; la misma sala donde murió el 31 de julio, 1556. Una inscripción en una viga declaraba: "Aquí se entregó a Dios Iñigo de Loyola."


La compañía de Jesús ha crecido y prosperado a pesar de ser suprimida por Roma de 1773 a 1814, principalmente debido a presión política.  Hoy en día hay aproximadamente 20.000 jesuitas (uno de ellos nuestro querido Santo Padre Francisco) haciéndola la orden religiosa masculina más grande de la iglesia católica. Todo esto porque un hombre oyó la llamada de Dios, tuvo una conversión de corazón y se entregó al servicio de Dios.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visiting a Saint


Early in the morning I boarded the commuter Euskotren at San Sebastian.  Stopping often, the train slowly wound down the beautiful northern coast of Spain’s Basque Country.  The deep blue sea contrasted with the rugged coast.  Unable to begin grasping the Basque’s mysterious language, I sat quietly admiring the view.  

I got off the train at the industrial port city of Zumaia and waited for a bus.  My heavy coat, scarf and gloves did not provide a strong enough defense to keep the cold breeze from making me shiver.  After one hour of windy roads on board the bus, I reached the sleepy town of Azpeitia.  I pushed the orange button near my seat signaling to the driver I was ready to get off at the next stop.  My excitement soared, I was about to visit the hometown of one of my favorite saints.

The bus stopped by some benches and I got off with my bag.  As it pulled away I saw for the first time the stark yet beautiful dome signaling the birth place of Iñigo Lopez de Loiola, better known in English as Saint Ignatius of Loyola.


Born into a minor noble Basque family from Loiola in 1491, Iñigo trained as a soldier and was seriously injured in 1521 at a battle in Pamplona.  As he lay in bed during his recovery at the family castle in Loiola, he read books which included a book on the lives of the saints and one on the life of Christ.


Ignatius being brought to his family castle after his injury in Pamplona


As his leg healed, Iñigo experienced a deep conversion.  He decided to abandon his military career and travel to the Holy Land where he could be a soldier for Christ.  Failing in this initial desire, he returned to Europe and attended seminary in Paris.  There he gathered around himself six followers, among them future saints Francis Xavier and Francis Borgia, and founded the Society of Jesus in 1534.

Iñigo became known for his Spiritual Exercises, a collection of prayers, suggestions for prayer and spiritual insights that is spiritual classic today.  He traveled teaching the Exercises, sometimes getting in trouble with Church authorities who questioned the legitimacy of his work.


Pope Pius III approved the Society of Jesus in 1540.  Its members, the Jesuits, quickly began to staff universities throughout Europe, to lead missionary expeditions to the ends of the earth and to preach moving spiritual retreats.

I spent my afternoon exploring the Loiola castle, the basilica and their beautiful grounds before catching a bus for Bilbao.  I prayed in the room where Ignatius had his conversion; the very same room where on July 31st, 1556 he died.  An inscription written on a wooden beam of the room stated: “Here Iñigo of Loyola surrendered himself to God.”


The Society of Jesus has grown and flourished despite being suppressed by Rome from 1773 to 1814, mostly due to political pressure placed on the Papacy.  Today there are approximately 20,000 Jesuits (one of them our well-loved Holy Father Francis) making it the largest male religious order of the Catholic Church.  All of this because one man heard God’s call, had a conversion of heart and surrendered himself to His will.


Same editions of the books Saint Ignatius read while recovering from his injury

Monday, July 21, 2014

Darien and the Spanish Missions


Last Saturday I celebrated Mass at Nativity of Our Lady Catholic Church in Darien, Georgia, the second oldest city of the state and site of the first British fort in present-day Georgia.

Founded in 1736, Darien was built where British colonists from South Carolina had in 1721 built Fort King George to guard the mouth of the Altamaha River, encroaching into territory claimed by Spain.  The fort was abandoned in 1727 and only six years later James Oglethorpe founded Savannah, creating the buffer colony of Georgia.


Though the British built Fort King George in 1721, they were not the first Europeans to settle this bluff on the shores of the Altamaha.  A historical marker by the fort's cemetery marks the location of Santo Domingo de Talaje Mission, one of the Spanish missions built by Franciscan missionaries along Georgia’s coast between 1568 and 1684 to evangelize the Guale nation.


Due to depopulation, mostly caused by the death of natives from European diseases, pirate raids and attacks by other tribes allied with the British, the Spanish mission system in Georgia lay in ruins by 1684.  The remaining missionaries along the Florida border retreated to Saint Augustine in 1706.

The best remembered Spanish mission along Georgia’s coast is the Santa Catalina de Guale Mission on Saint Catherine’s Island due to the martyrdom of five Franciscan friars in 1597.  Fray Pedro de Corpa insisted that those baptized should be faithful to their spouses by living in a monogamous relationship.  The heir to the local chief, Juanillo, openly took a second wife.  When confronted, Juanillo gathered a group of men and murdered Fray Pedro and four other friars who lived in nearby missions.


In 1984 Bishop Lessard of Savannah formally opened the beatification process for the Georgia Martyrs and the results of the investigation were presented to Rome in 2007.  How exciting would it be for these men to be officially declared martyrs and blessed when the Spanish-speaking Catholic population of Georgia is increasing rapidly and while a Franciscan, Bishop Hartmayer, is bishop of Savannah.

While celebrating Mass at the beautiful parish in Darien, I kept thinking of the brave men who left everything behind to preach the Gospel in a distant land, a land where I was celebrating Mass and preaching just as they did.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dolan on the Dignity of the Human Person

The brief note below and its title are taken from Cardinal Dolan's blog


A week or so ago, I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!”

It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane.  It worked, as the scared drivers turned the buses around and sought sanctuary elsewhere.

The incendiary scene reminded me of Nativist mobs in the 1840’s, Know-Nothing gangs in the 1850’s, and KKK  thugs in the 1920’s, who hounded and harassed scared immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.

I think of this sad incident today, the feast of New York’s own Kateri Tekakwitha, a native-American (a Mohawk) canonized a saint just three years ago.  Unless we are Native Americans, like Saint Kateri, our ancestors all came here as homesick, hungry, hopeful immigrants.  I don’t think there were any Mohawks among that mob attacking the buses of refugee women and children.

Then on Saturday I watched another scene on the TV news.  Again there were busloads of shy, scared, immigrant women and children; again, there were crowds; this time – – in McAndrews, Texas – – the crowd was applauding the arriving refugees, and helping them into Sacred Heart Parish Hall, where parishioners and Catholic Charities workers welcomed them with a meal, a cold drink, a shower and fresh clothes, toys for the kids, and a cot as they helped government officials try to process them and figure out the next step.

This time I was not ashamed, but relieved and grateful, proud to be an American and a Catholic.

We might argue and yell about policies, processes, and politics; we can never argue about the dignity of the human person or the sacredness of life, or yell at people who need our help.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Good Seed Planted


As I looked over today’s readings, more specifically as I read the first reading, a drop of water fell on my hand.

I would’ve thought nothing of it had I been sitting on a park bench in the city, or had I been sitting by a pool somewhere where I could’ve been splashed.  But I was sitting indoors, at a table.  I immediately looked up and saw there was water dripping from the air conditioning vent on top of me.

Here I was, reading about rain from the heavens coming down, and suddenly a drop of water fell on me.  Perhaps God is making a point?  I thought.  What is the point?

In God’s mind, nothing is ever a coincidence.    There is always purpose, a reason, behind his actions.  From the never-ending master work of creation to the gentle nudging each one of us feels in daily life, God is at work.

God is not sitting on a cloud in a galaxy far, far away, with nothing to do, where out of boredom he decides to do something in his creation.  It’s quite the opposite.  God is engaged, actively seeking us and guiding us.

Like rain and snow that come down from heaven and fall on all of creation equally, transforming what is parched and dead into life, so does God’s Word come down from heaven, falling on all creation, transforming our parched hearts into hearts that are alive.

God, through the prophet Isaiah, states that His Word will not return to Him void, but will achieve the end for which it was sent.  Rain and snow return to the heavens after having moistened the earth and given it life, they return through the process of evaporation and condensation that we all learned when we were in third grade.  They return to the clouds after always having fulfilled their mission.  If rain and snow always fulfill their purpose, how much more will God’s Word fulfill its purpose when it descends into our hearts!

Consider the sower of the parable: he sows freely, sowing quality seed without any cost and without discriminating according to the type of soil.  The seed is spread far and wide, on good soil and bad soil, on the path and among thorns.

The seed the sower sows is excellent seed, ready to grow.  The success of the seed does not depend on the sower, it depends entirely on preparedness of the ground.  The rocky ground cannot blame the sower for planting bad seed, the rocky ground can only blame itself for not being well prepared.

God gives us only good things, just like the sower only sows good seed.  Our infinitely good God cannot sow defective or evil seed in our lives.  God freely showers us with his grace, which is a love freely given, a love offered without the expectation of something in return.

He sows his Word in those who receive it well, and in those who don’t.

He offers salvation to those who will respond, and to those who will turn away.

It is up to each one of us to take care of the good seed God has planted in our souls.   This seed is present in every single human being, it is present in you.  What do you do to keep the soil of your soul rich?  What do you do daily, so that the seed God has planted may bear fruit and yield a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold?  Remember, the seed is good; it all depends on how we take care of the soil where it’s planted.

So returning to my initial story: the drop of water that fell right on my hand.  What did that mean?
It was a tangible reminder for me of the daily grace that God freely showers upon us.  It was a reminder of the mercy and salvation he so desperately offers us.

He offers them in the most unexpected ways (as unexpected as a drop of water coming down on me while sitting indoors) and He does it for a reason (the drop of water inspired my homily today).

We pray to Our Merciful Father today that as His spirit comes down upon us, showering us all with his mercy and grace, his action in our souls during this Mass may not return to him void.  May His Word and the Flesh of His Son, transform us, refresh us and give us new life.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Missionary Priest in Brunswick


When I was newly ordained, a priest gave me books and videos by an Italian missionary priest who had spent most of his life in Mexico.  Fresh from the seminary where I had to read heavy philosophy and theology books for seven years, I must confess that I found Father Flaviano Amatulli’s books too simple.  I didn’t pay too much attention to them.

After being at a parish for a few months, I was teaching a sacrament preparation course for Catholic adults who had not been confirmed.  While in the middle of a beautiful, lofty talk on the origins of the Bible, a young man raised his hand and asked, “Father, you keep talking about the Old Testament and the New Testament, what is the difference between the two?”  At that point I realized the beauty of Father Amatulli’s books.  They did not assume any previous knowledge of the faith.


Last week I had the opportunity to meet Father Amatulli at the parish in Brunswick and tell him this story.  I thanked him for his work and the valuable resource he has been to me as a young priest, especially when ministering to the Spanish-speaking population of our diocese.  I was unable to remain for the whole weekend retreat he was giving, but greatly enjoyed listening to him for a few hours and having lunch with him.

Father Amatulli encouraged those attending the retreat to live their faith with conviction.  “A faith for tradition’s sake is no good.  We need a faith with conviction.  Every Catholic must know his faith and let it be known by others.  Every Catholic must know the Scriptures.”  He recalled Saint John Paul II’s invitation to “put out into the deep” and jokingly stated that if one does not know how to swim, one will simply drown in the deep waters.  First, one must learn how to swim.  This means that every Catholic must first know his or her faith well, and then go out into the deep to share it.


Amatulli spoke of a longing for a Church where every Catholic’s pastoral needs are met in a more personal and intimate manner.  A Church where every priest knows his flock and is truly able to be pastor and father to his people.  He also spoke of the essential role of permanent deacons and the laity in the fulfillment of the Church’s mission.

Born in Bari, Italy in 1938, Father Amatulli arrived to Mexico soon after his ordination in 1965 to work as a missionary among indigenous peoples in Oaxaca.  Alarmed by the high number of people abandoning the Catholic faith, he founded in 1978 the lay movement “Apostoles de la Palabra” to educate the laity in the faith, in particular those living in the poorest and most abandoned sectors of society.  His work and dedication has benefited thousands as he travels throughout Latin America and the United States giving conferences, teaching and encouraging Catholics to know and to practice their faith.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Padre Amatulli en Brunswick


Cuando estaba recién ordenado, un sacerdote me dio libros y videos de un sacerdote misionero italiano que había pasado casi toda su vida en México.  Recién graduado del seminario donde por siete años tuve que leer libros de teología y filosofía, debo confesar que encontré los libros del Padre Flaviano Amatulli demasiado simples. No les presté mucha atención.

Después de estar en una parroquia por unos meses, estaba enseñando un curso de preparación sacramental para adultos.  Mientras en medio de una profunda platica sobre el origen de la Biblia, un joven alzó la mano y preguntó: "Padre, ha mencionado bastante el Antiguo Testamento y el Nuevo Testamento, ¿cuál es la diferencia entre los dos?" En ese momento me di cuenta de la grandeza de los libros del Padre Amatulli.   Sus libros no asumen ningún conocimiento previo de la fe.

Ayer tuve la oportunidad de conocer al Padre Amatulli en la parroquia de Brunswick y pude contarle esta historia. Le agradecí por su trabajo y por ser un recurso valioso para mí como un sacerdote joven, especialmente al ministrar a la población hispanohablante de nuestra diócesis. No pude permanecer para todo el retiro que estaba dando el Padre, pero disfruté las horas que pude escucharlo y la oportunidad de almorzar con él.

El Padre Amatulli animó a los asistentes del retiro a vivir su fe con convicción. "Una fe de tradición no sirve; necesitamos una fe de convicción.  Todo católico debe conocer su fe y debe darla a conocer.  Todo católico debe conocer la Biblia.”  Mencionó la invitación de San Juan Pablo II a “remar mar adentro,” y en broma dijo que si uno no sabe nadar, uno simplemente se ahoga en aguas profundas.   Uno primero debe aprender a nadar. Esto quiere decir que todo católico debe primero conocer su fe para luego remar mar adentro y darla a conocer.  

El Padre habló de su anhelo de ver una iglesia donde las necesidades pastorales de cada católico se cumplan de una manera más personal e íntima. Habló de una iglesia donde cada sacerdote conoce a su rebaño y es verdadero pastor y padre de su pueblo. También habló del papel esencial de los diáconos permanentes y los laicos en el cumplimiento de la misión de la iglesia.

Nacido en Bari, Italia en 1938, el Padre Amatulli llegó a México poco después de su ordenación en 1965 para trabajar como misionero entre indígenas en Oaxaca. Alarmado por el elevado número de personas que abandonaban la fe católica, fundó en 1978 el movimiento laical Apóstoles de la Palabra para educar a los laicos en la fe, en particular aquellos que viven en los sectores más pobres y abandonados de la sociedad. Su trabajo y dedicación han beneficiado a miles ya que él viaja a lo largo de América Latina y los Estados Unidos dando conferencias, enseñando y animando a los católicos a conocer y practicar su fe.