Saturday, December 21, 2013

Another Indian Nun For an Atheist To Make Their Name By Kicking Around

I spent a good deal of time recently arguing with some of the great fans of the late Christopher Hitchens, most of whom knew absolutely nothing  about him except his anti-religious screeds.   I'd go into that but I'd really rather go into this wonderful woman who I just read about and her work.

If you sit in the slums on the outskirts of Pune in the evening, you will hear shouting and yelling from all sorts of places, Sister Lucy Kurien says of her home in South India. Much of the fighting is fueled by alcohol, and sometimes it explodes into bruises, scars, and broken bones. "The women don’t even retaliate."

It's a sound the Catholic nun from Kerala has been listening to since 1997, when she founded Maher, a shelter for survivors of domestic violence outside of Pune. In the nearly 17 years that she has been welcoming battered women and children—as well as women at risk for street violence and trafficking—Sr. Lucy has known thousands of women whose families were shattered by violence and poverty.

Moved by the destitution she first witnessed as a child in India's cities and inspired by Mother Teresa's side-by-side work with the poor in Kolkata, Sr. Lucy spent much of her youth wondering what she could do to end inequality and the violence she saw resulting from it.

Then one night, the young nun witnessed a gruesome murder that shifted the course of her life: She held a young, pregnant woman who had been doused with kerosene and lit on fire—by her husband. Just one day before, the same terrorized woman had begged Sr. Lucy for help, but there was nowhere for her to sleep in the convent.

The woman died, but Sr. Lucy's conviction that she was supposed to do something for the women of her country sprang to life that night.

The story is so horrible but so important that I'll let Sr. Lucy tell it.

While I was working at the convent, a woman came to me asking for shelter. She told me that her husband was in love with another woman, and this man, she told me that he was an alcoholic. She said, "If I stay with him he will beat me. I need to go out from the house."

But where to send her was a big problem, because there in the convent we would never take a layperson. I said to myself, "What should I do to help this woman?" I knew it was a genuine story because she was weeping her eyes out. I felt bad to send her away, but I had no choice.

It so happened that that very night she and her husband must have had some fight. He poured kerosene on her and set her on fire.

This woman was seven months pregnant.

I heard the shouting because our convent was very close to the slum. So I went there, like any other onlooker, to see what was happening.

She came running. She told me, "Save me! Save me!"

Hillstrom: She came running to you?

Sr. Lucy: Yeah... Yeah. She was standing there at the same spot where she was burned. That’s when I realized, "Oh my God it’s the same woman."

With the help of the people of the slum, I tried to shift her to the hospital. It was so difficult for us to find anything, because we had no car—nobody had anything.

When I shifted her to the hospital, the doctor told me that she was already 90 percent burned because her sari had caught fire immediately. She was fully burned. And... I asked the doctor if anything could be done to save the baby ...  But what he found was also a fully burned baby.

I was holding this… the fetus, they had given to me. I was wondering what I should do. I was completely devastated.

I was so angry with myself from that time onward because what I felt was that this woman who came to me—I did not help her in time. That was the guilt feeling that I was going through. So much so that as the days went by I became very angry person. All this frustration was leading into anger.

Hillstrom: What direction did your anger take?

"Then the women started telling me things: 'I had no food,' 'He was drunk.'"
Sr. Lucy: For no reason, I was getting angry with people who were living with me.  I was never like that—never. My friends advised me, "Lucy, you should go for some counseling because you are becoming something you’re not."

I went for help to one of the priests, and he told me, "Instead of sitting down here and getting frustrated, go out and do something."

I said, "Go out and do what? I have no education, I have no money—what will I do?"

Father was very clever. He said, "But you have love in your heart. Hold on—God will show you the way."

Hillstrom: How did that happen?

Sr. Lucy: I feel like the divine worked with me and walked with me.  This priest went to Germany to teach the Bhagavad Gita. An Austrian man met him and told him, "I would like to help a women’s project in India." Immediately Father thought of me because I had written several letters to him.

Hillstrom: What did your letters say?

Sr. Lucy: I had always written: "When I see a woman on the street, I am restless. When I stand next to a child who is begging, I am very unhappy." Things like that.  I used to write to him what my feeling was when I would see women being harassed.

These women used to tell me their stories. I had never heard such stories because I was coming from a very secure family where I had seen my father and mother living very happily. So I couldn’t imagine that some things can exist in a family where there is love.

Then the women started telling me things: "I had no food," "He was drunk." One of the women told me that he put her hand in the rice pot where she was cooking. I couldn’t imagine a man could do that. And she said, "My children and I starved last night."

These stories were disturbing me. I used to come to the back of the convent and share what the women had told me. I said, "How can human beings go through this?"

Hillstrom: So this is what you wrote to your friend, the priest.

Sr. Lucy: Yes, and he showed the letters to the man from Austria, who came to India and saw that I really wanted to do something for the women. He saw that if there was money, I would do a good job.

He told me, before leaving, "Lucy, go ahead and start the work—I'll help you."  It was my first experience with a European person.

I bought a small piece of land in Pune. Soon after buying the land, I noticed that whenever I spoke to people—wherever I was working—they had so much trust. They started giving me money—20 rupees or 50 rupees, whatever they could share.  That’s the time I realized, "Oh my God, they are trusting me with their money—which means they trust me."

That helped me.

Hillstrom: Just regular people?

Sr. Lucy: Yeah, just regular people. Ordinary people from the village. Even the women who were suffering.

Call me skeptical, but I don't know of any big names in atheism who have ever done anything this important.

Friday, December 20, 2013

More Healing Music Carla Bley Jesus Maria played by The Jimmy Giuffre trio

People don't remember this great musician nearly enough.

Bessie Jones - Yonder Come Day

I'll know I'm in heaven if I hear Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers singing Yonder Come Day.  Healing music, heavenly music.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

J.S. Bach Gottes Zeit Ist Die Allerbeste Zeit

Soprano -- Ann Monoyios
Alto (Countertenor) -- Steven Rickards
Tenor -- Edmund Brownless
Bass -- Jan Opalach

Performed by Joshua Rifkin and The Bach Ensemble

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

St. Oscar Romero How Much More Obvious Does Martyrdom Get?

The murder of St. Oscar Romero as he said mass shocked people around the world, including our mother. An obvious martyrs death, as surely as any, as surely as the ancient martyrs who died serving The People who constitute The Church and The universal set, The People of God.  I don't know if it's still the teaching of the official church but we were always told that to die a martyr was a certain sign of sainthood.   A cause for canonization for St. Oscar Romero has been pending in Rome for a long time, the word is that for the last papacy, with its political intrigues and corruptions, it was on indefinite hold.  The rumors are that with the election of Pope Francis, it was moving forward again.

But The People haven't waited for Rome, many of them recognize him as a saint, official permission or not.   That's the same for many of these saints and the tens of thousands of others who died under the fascist regimes which had the backing of the United States government, which participated in killing them.  The extent to which American pressure has been felt to ignore the obvious martyrs isn't known but it would be naive to believe there was none.   American pressure on the Vatican to undermine Archbishop Romero was known and obvious.  His treatment by Pope John Paul II and his courtiers was a scandal and a public sin. The extent to which the party pushing his canonization in slowing that of the martyr Oscar Romero is worth wondering about.  I don't know that but when the priest was blessing our mother's coffin earlier this week, he didn't commend her to the popes but to the martyrs and she, during her life, was always most conscious of those her own country had a hand in killing.   She was patriotic but she was not someone who thought "my country right or wrong".  For her justice for the poor came far ahead of that kind of stuff.  Someday I might try to find out if she had an FBI file, she donated to a number of peace groups that were under investigation during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Here is an article by Brian J. Pierce.

Oscar Romero – the preacher

During the years that Oscar Romero was archbishop of San Salvador (23 February 1977 to 24 March 1980), Sundays were truly holy days for the country’s poor – holy because of the Word of God which echoed out from the cathedral in San Salvador, touching the hearts of simple people of faith throughout the country. The fact that in every village and barrio and cornfield of the nation people tuned their transistor radios to listen to Monseñor’s Sunday preaching certainly did nothing to help cool the waters of his tense relationship with the country’s conservative bishops. They resented that ‘their faithful’ preferred the ‘subversive’ radio preaching of the archbishop to their own ‘orthodox’ homilies given in their respective local cathedrals.

Blessing and source of strength

For Romero, though, it was a tremendous personal blessing and source of strength to know that his preaching was touching the lives of EI Salvador’s poor and forgotten masses. In April of 1978 he commented with great tenderness of heart, ‘Yesterday when I visited [the village of] Dulce Nombre de Maria, and the humble peasant people told me how they listen to my words, words which console them, giving them hope and support, it made me want to cry and say with Christ, “I thank you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the proud and have revealed them to the very poor.”’

Perhaps no other theme concerning the Word of God reached its way into more of his homilies than that of the Word’s ability to act as a light of truth illuminating the particular, concrete history of the people of El Salvador to whom Archbishop Romero preached: ‘A preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens, as when a light turned on awakens and annoys a sleeper that is the preaching of Christ…. Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict, must spoil what is miscalled prestige, must disturb, and must be persecuted. It cannot get along with the powers of darkness and sin’ (22 January 1978).

Romero never lost sight of the Word’s ancient rootedness in Judeo-Christian history, but he was a true artist in making that Word come to life in the here and now. ‘The Word of God…has to be a word which springs forth from the eternal ancient Word of God, but which touches today’s wound, today’s injustices, today’s victims, and this is what causes problems…’ (12 December 1977).

One must become poor

On more than one occasion Monseñor noted that for one to truly hear the Good News ‘one must become poor’. He humbly included himself in that category, as reflected in his Epiphany homily of 1979: ‘Each Sunday when I speak, I am only a poor adorer of the Lord, telling him, “Lord, I bring you what the people produce… rich and poor, rulers and ruled.’” He called Mary ‘a prophetic messenger of Christ (for) in her song of the Magnificat she remembered the poor and the hungry’ (15 July 1979).

But most of all it was Romero’s sharp, double-edged sword of prophetic preaching that made the largest impact on the social, political and religious reality of violence-torn El Salvador. For Romero, God’s Word was not something that floated on clouds or remained safely in pulpits wrapped in incense. The mission of the Word of God was to pierce into the flesh of real, human history, opening up wounds, which festered from lack of the truth: ‘To try to preach without referring to the history one preaches in is not to preach the gospel. Many would like a preaching so spiritualistic that it leaves sinners unbothered and does not term idolaters those who kneel before money and power. A preaching that says nothing of the sinful environment in which the gospel is reflected upon is not the gospel’ (18 February 1979).

So often was Romero accused of messing with politics, that it almost became for him a sign that his preaching was bearing fruit, but he always sought to clarify the reasons for his touching on concrete examples of social injustice in his homilies: ‘I wish to affirm that my preaching is not political. It naturally touches on the political and touches people’s real lives but in order to illuminate those realities’ (21 January 1979). He knew very well that to preach the light of Christ as it shone into the sinful situations of Salvadoran society would bring opposition and disgust, but he never softened the prophetic edge to his preaching just to protect the social status of the Church: ‘It is much easier,’ he said, ‘to preach lies, to accommodate oneself so as not to lose privileges. . . If it is necessary for the Church to lose its privileges, then it will lose them; but it will always speak the truth’ (22 April 1979).

Catechist and evangeliser

Someone once remarked to the archbishop that his homilies were like receiving a university course, to which Romero responded, with the humility that so clearly characterised his preaching ministry, ‘I have never intended anything like that, but only to be an ordinary catechist, an evangeliser of the people, nothing else’ (15 October 1978). But one cannot deny that Archbishop Romero did have a very keen grasp of the day-to-day situation of the Salvadoran reality, along with a unique capacity to speak of God’s loving, transforming presence within that reality. His early years as an ardent student, a kind of theological ‘book worm,’ actually quite cut-off from the reality in which he lived, paid off in the end. His preaching was well rooted in an ongoing social analysis and a profound, and yet also very pastoral, study of the scriptures. ‘Let them not say we don’t read the Bible,’ he once said. ‘Not only do we read it, but we analyse it, celebrate it, incarnate it, and we want to make it our life’ (II November 1979). And again, ‘We cannot segregate God’s Word from the historical reality in which it is proclaimed. That would not be God’s Word. The Bible would be just a pious history book in our library’ (27 November 1977).

It was from a context of arduous study and contemplative pondering on the daily plight of his people, that Archbishop Romero’s prophetic word sounded forth with such clarity and conviction. His advice would do well to be repeated in all courses of homiletics today. ‘I study the Word of God to be read on Sunday. I look around me, at my people. I use this Word to shed light on my surroundings… Naturally, the idols and idolatries of the earth are irritated by this Word, and they would like very much to remove it, to silence it, to kill it. Let happen what God wills, but God’s Word, as St Paul said, is not tied down’ (20 August 1978).
Those words, read from our contemporary perspective, twenty years after the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, cannot but shake us up and force us to look honestly at our own preaching in the Church today. Are we willing to ‘let happen what God wills’ so as to not tie down the Word of God?

The Voiceless have a voice

In 1989, on the ninth anniversary of Romero’s martyrdom, I participated in the annual commemoration march through the streets of San Salvador. As my fiend and fellow Dominican, Jim Barnett, and I made our way through the city, along with thousands of demonstrators, I watched, at first a bit caught off guard, as young men and women occasionally dropped out of the crowd to paint graffiti on the walls of public buildings. Some of the more courageous ones painted their social protests (often just the name of a dead or disappeared companion, followed by the word Presente!) in open defiance, as heavily armed soldiers stood by watching their every move. At certain strategic points along the route, soldiers videotaped the protesters from atop military and government buildings.

Little by little it began to sink in that this type of graffiti (certainly not all types) was really the newspaper of the poor in a country where the right to free expression was heavily controlled by fourteen wealthy families, backed by the Army and the United States government. The people’s right to speak their mind was caged in a world held captive by lies. The poor are usually relegated to a place of social voicelesness, and in EI Salvador that meant that the country was more than 80% mute.

Microphone of the oppressed

Archbishop Romero was keenly aware that truth was a rare commodity in Salvadoran society, and so he allowed the pulpit of the cathedral to serve as the microphone of the voiceless, an outlet of prophetic expression for the oppressed: ‘These homilies try to be this people’s voice. They try to be the voice of those who have no voice. And so, without a doubt, they displease those who have too much voice. This poor voice will find echo in those who love the truth and who truly love our dear people’ (29 July 1979).
In the spirit of the Hebrew prophets of old, Romero responded to God’s call: ‘Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of glad tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O herald of Jerusalem, lift it up, fear not.’” (Isaiah 40:9). Monseñor Romero’s preaching was a kind of gospel graffiti, which provided a forum for the poor to speak their truth to the world.

Along with his weekly homilies in the archdiocesan cathedral, Monseñor Romero also took advantage of the other outlets of the mass media. He frequently wrote columns in the local newspapers (those that would print them). One of his prize treasures, and one which he knew how to use wisely, was the archdiocesan radio station, YSAX. He publicly lamented the distorted truths that flowed from so much of the media: ‘It is a shame, brothers and sisters… to have mass media that have sold themselves out to these situations. It is a shame to not be able to trust the news in the papers, the television or the radio because it has already been bought and tampered with; it is not the truth’ (2 April 1978).

And in an even more direct call to those involved in disseminating the news in a society suffocated by lies, Romero said, ‘A journalist either speaks the truth or he or she is no longer a journalist’ July 1979).

The work of telling the truth

In a newspaper column dated 20 August 1979 Archbishop Romero severely criticised the arsonists who had set fire to the offices of the newspaper La Cronica del Pueblo. ‘We can only repudiate this barbarism,’ he wrote, adding that, ‘The ashes continue to speak out. The voice of truth, the loving service of the people’s noble interests, the intelligence and heart of those who raise those banners, have not been burned.’ The work of truth-telling was not something to be taken lightly in Romero’s estimation. For thousands of Salvadorans the truth was literally a matter of life and death. ‘If we do not speak the truth,’ he said, ‘we are committing the worst sin.’

Each Sunday the archbishop’s homily was broadcast throughout the country by way of the archdiocesan radio. Romero knew how to speak not only to those who were gathered with him in the cathedral, but he had a way of reaching into the hearts of the peasant poor who crouched near their radios to catch his every word. ‘What an honor to think that all of you before me are Christ! Even the humblest peasant, maybe pondering there next to a radio, you are Christ!’ (13 January 1980). Two weeks later, in an exquisite theological reflection on the place of the homily in the liturgy, Romero said with simple, yet profoundly insightful words, ‘Christ is the homily that keeps explaining to us that God is love… Christ is God’s homily preaching to you’ (27 January 1980).

As part of each Sunday homily, Archbishop Romero would include a section that he called Events of the Week, in which he would give news of the different happenings throughout the archdiocese and the country. It was a chance for the real news, the truth of the people to be shared nationwide. He would comment on the different events of the popular organizations, the meetings of basic Christian communities, gatherings of priests and religious, and the visits of foreign solidarity groups. Another part was dedicated to sharing the week’s tragedies: the disappearances, unjust imprisonments and attacks, and almost always, the news of one or more brutal deaths at the hands of the security forces. For many people it was only the voice of Monseñor that could fully be trusted to tell the truth of what was happening in the country. Romero knew that the YSAX radio played an important role in his own preaching mission, but he also knew that the day would probably come when that, too, would be taken away: ‘I said once and I repeat today that if, unhappily, some day they silence our radio and don’t let us write our newspaper, each of you who believe must become a microphone, a radio station, a loudspeaker, not to talk, but to call for faith’ (29 October 1978).

Persecuted but not forsaken

And, of course, that day did come in February 1980. In his Sunday homily, in the days following the bombing of the radio station, Monseñor Romero strongly denounced what he called ‘a grave violation against the freedom of expression.’ But, as if the spirit of St Paul were again speaking, Romero knew that, ‘We are persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed’ (II Cor 4:9). In his homily that Sunday the archbishop once again called his people to a stance of hope in God’s promise of justice, ‘With this latest attempt they pretend to silence the prophetic and pastoral voice of the archdiocese, precisely because we are trying to be the voice of the voiceless… (but) this absence of our radio transmission, contrary to those who wanted to silence us, gives greater moral strength to the word of the Church’ (24 February 1980).

What was so remarkable about Romero was that he was convinced that the prophetic preaching charism that God freely bestowed on certain people was not the property of the archbishop alone, but in fact, rested in the people themselves. ‘The people are my prophet,’ he was fond of saying, and he put that dogma of his personal faith into practice daily. ‘Each of you has to be a microphone of God, everyone of you a messenger, a prophet’ (8 July 1979). Romero had named the grace of preaching as belonging by right of baptism to the people of God themselves, and in so doing, he was preparing his beloved flock to continue the ministry of prophecy in the event that one day he would no longer be able to carry on.

And that day came, as well – one month after the bombing of the radio station. Aware that the bombing of the radio had only strengthened the prophetic stance of the Church, the enemies of the truth took the more drastic step: to silence once and for all the voice of the shepherd himself. On Sunday, 23 March 1980 Archbishop Romero preached what was perhaps the most radical, or at least, the most courageous homily of his life. It was, as so many of his homilies were, a call to conversion and to an authentic following of Christ.
His last homily

In the homily, his last Sunday homily, he directly addressed the soldiers of the Army and of the National Guard: ‘Brothers, you are part of our very own people, and you are killing your own peasant brothers and sisters. Before an order to kill given by a man, God’s law “You shall not kill” must prevail. No soldier is obligated to obey an order that goes against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time for you to recover your own conscience and to obey your conscience before obeying a sinful command. The Church ….cannot remain silent in the face of such an abomination… In the name of God, therefore, and in the name of these suffering people whose cries rise up to heaven, each day more tormented, I ask you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!’

Archbishop Romero was assassinated the very next day, at precisely the moment in which he concluded his homily at the small cancer hospital where he lived and often celebrated daily mass. He had lived as a preacher and he died as a preacher. He did not leave the people of El Salvador orphaned, for he had helped them find their own voice of prophecy. ‘My voice will disappear,’ he had foretold in December of 1978, ‘but my word, which is Christ, will remain in the hearts that have made it their own.’ That Word remains to this day.

St Dorothy Day and St. Therese of Lisieux "a saint we should dread"

During her life Dorothy Day was one of our mother's great heroines,  a woman whose religious practice was one she would have probably followed if she hadn't had ten children, lived on a farm in the country and been extremely shy.  She also was inspired by the mindfullness practice of St.Therese of Lisieux, a saint who tried to turn everyday life into a meditation on God and the experience of God's love.  I shared my mother's enormous admiration of Dorothy Day and even in my most areligious phase, when I was young, I gave her a couple of Day's books.  St. Therese was a harder sell with me, through no fault of her own.  Like other very great saints,  Francis,  Martin Luther King jr. John Woolman, St. Therese has been turned into a kind of nugatory piety, the better to ignore the substance of what they taught us to do.  TO DO, not merely to think, not only as a conventional reference point to act as decor in our interior lives.   And, even through her own writings, the 19th century language conventions, the seeming pettiness of her afflictions, it's easy to overlook the substance that those events and things serve as the subtlest of examples.  In that she shares something with another widely misunderstood writer of her time,  Emily Dickinson, the heretic-Calvinist nun of Amherst.

If my mother's things were not in a state of disorder, I might find the passage in which Dorothy Day describes her initial revulsion for St. Therese's writings, collected as "The Story of a Soul".   I remember having a similar reaction the first time I read John Woolman's Journal.  Only with years of experience in Catholic Worker,  doing the day to day caring for poor people, listening to them, living along with them - not as a helicopter, fly-in, do-gooder, but  someone who lived their life - did she really get the point of St. Therese's Little Way.  I've still got lots of catch up to do on that one.  I've been slowly reading her book and, when I find them, I'll read the books by St. Dorothy, too.

Here is an article by James Allaire from The Catholic Worker website.

Saint Therese of Lisieux inspired Dorothy Day

It would be hard to imagine two more unlikely soul mates than Dorothy Day and Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. 

Dorothy Day cofounded the Catholic Worker Movement with Peter Maurin in the midst of the Great Depression, devoted her life to serving the poor, and confronted the powers of the 20th century with her writing and speaking on behalf of social justice and peace. 

Therese of Lisieux grew up in a pious, middle-class, 19th century French family, entered a cloistered convent at the age of 15, and died at the age of 24 leaving behind an account of her life and a collection of letters. 

How did it happen that Dorothy Day found in Therese’s spirituality an essential expression for her own personal experience and spirituality? 

A year after her baptism as a Catholic, Dorothy was given Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography to read by her confessor, Father Zachary. 

“I dutifully read The Story of a Soul and am ashamed to confess that I found it colorless, monotonous, too small in fact for my notice. What kind of a saint was this who felt that she had to practice heroic charity in eating what was put in front of her, in taking medicine, enduring cold and heat, restraint, enduring the society of mediocre souls, in following the strict regime of the convent of Carmelite nuns which she had joined at the age of fifteen?” (Therese by Dorothy Day, p. viii) 

Dorothy dismissed the book as “pious pap” that insulted her intelligence. She told Father Zachary that her concept of a saint was more heroic and that Therese’s approach didn’t quite fit this era of world revolution (it was 1928). She wondered if the time of saints had passed. 

However, by the early 1950s, Dorothy had had a turnaround in her view of Therese, so much so that she began to write a full-length book about the saint. We get some idea of how important this book was to Dorothy, then in her 50s, when we consider her persistence in getting the book published. There were those around her who thought another book about Therese wasn’t needed; then her manuscript, which she had worked on for more than five years, was rejected by her publisher. When Therese was finally published in 1960, Dorothy wrote in the Preface: “In these days of fear and trembling of what man has wrought on earth in destructiveness and hate, Therese is the saint we need” (xii). Dorothy had undergone a complete reversal of attitude about Therese. 

The Little Way 

What was it in the life and teachings of Therese of Lisieux that Dorothy Day found so compelling? First and foremost, of course, was Therese’s Little Way, the way of absolute abandonment of ourselves to the love and mercy of God, trusting that God will sustain us in all that we are and do. Dorothy wrote of Therese: 

“She knew with a certainty that is heaven itself, or a foretaste of heaven, that she had been taught the secret, the ‘science of love.’ She died saying, ‘Love alone matters.’ She died saying that she did not regret having given herself up to love. Her secret is generally called the Little Way, and is so known by the Catholic World. She called it little because it partakes of the simplicity of a child, a very little child, in its attitude of abandonment, of acceptance. (Therese, p. 154) 

In Therese’s understanding, no act, however apparently insignificant, is without meaning when done within the awareness of God’s loving presence. Whatever our situation in life-—a mother with children at home or a mother working, a store clerk, a scholar, a nursing home assistant, a suburbanite, an assembly line worker-—all of us, in the ordinary and required activity of daily life, have available to us in the Little Way a means to holiness, to love as God loves us. The Little Way is the ordinary way we can all become saints. 

Dorothy herself was committed to becoming a saint and she expected that all who follow Christ should want to become saints as well. She wrote, “We are all called to be saints, St. Paul says, and we might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name. We might also get used to recognizing the fact that there is some of the saint in all of us” (Selected Writings, pp. 102-3). 

For Dorothy, becoming a saint wasn’t merely a matter of personal salvation. Her vision was that the work of social transformation requires saints. “Sanctity alone will meet the crisis of the day. Nothing else matters. One can feed the poor, shelter the homeless, comfort the afflicted, but if you have not charity, the Love of God, Sanctity, it is worthless” (Archives: Notebook, November 1951). 

Dorothy didn’t just read about the Little Way and then decide to adopt it as a spiritual practice or attitude from among other spiritual methods or outlooks. Rather she discovered the Little Way within her experience of Catholic Worker life. Year upon year of serving meals, making beds, cleaning, and conversing with destitute, outcast people provided Dorothy with “schooling” in the Little Way. Added to this daily routine were her writing and publishing the Catholic Worker newspaper, speaking around the country, praying, fasting, protesting, and enduring jail on behalf of peace and justice. 

Simply put, the Little Way was active love, the “harsh and dreadful love” that Dorothy often spoke about, quoting Dostoevsky’s character Fr. Zossima. And when Fr. Zossima spoke of active love becoming for some people “a whole science” it was Therese’s Little Way that was that science. As Dorothy expressed it, “We want to grow in love but do not know how. Love is a science, a knowledge, and we lack it.” (Therese, vii). 

The Little Way of Therese became Dorothy’s way as well, the way to make saints and to transform the world. 

Redemptive Suffering 

Earlier in her life, Dorothy dismissed the little privations of Therese’s life as insignificant; Therese called them “pinpricks.” But in her mature assessment of Therese Dorothy understood how even small sufferings accumulate and weigh one down: “One needs to have gone through these small martyrdoms to understand them.” She realized that, without confidence in an ever loving and merciful God, to keep going day after day, year after year, would be a life of folly difficult to endure. Dorothy grasped that Therese was a saint who could address all those people who felt “a sense of futility” in life, who were feeling hopeless, wasted, ineffectual and powerless (Therese, xii). 

The Little Way for Dorothy included a kind of martyrdom of everyday suffering. She called Therese “our modern Job,” one who knew well both mental and physical suffering. With great sensitivity Dorothy wrote of Therese’s pain in the loss of her mother at an early age, the periods of mental anguish and distress she suffered as a child, her extreme religious scruples in childhood, and then the austere life of Carmel with Therese having to enduring being constantly cold in winter.

But Therese’s greatest suffering came during her last years, when she experienced both spiritual darkness and extreme pain as she was dying from tuberculosis. Dorothy described Therese in that period: 

“To the community she gave every appearance of serenity and peace, and yet ‘in peace is my bitterness most bitter’ she quotes. On another occasion she says, ‘Let us suffer if needs be, with bitterness.’ She, the realist, well knew that suffering of body and soul is not lofty and exalted, but mean and cruel, a reflection of the blackness of hell. It was not suffering for itself that she embraced. It was a means to an end; the very means used by Jesus Himself.” (Therese, p. 161) 

Dorothy was keenly aware of the redemptive value of suffering and that our sufferings were meant to fill up the suffering of Christ, as St. Paul said and she often quoted. She had an appreciation of the “victim soul;” she understood that Therese’s way was to produce “a legion of little victims,” all bringing redemptive love to bear on the pain of this Earth through the acceptance of their own suffering. Dorothy could relate this aspect of the Little Way to herself and ordinary people, whose sufferings have meaning because Christ’s cross has meaning. This was the power that could defeat even the mighty atom and bring about the transformation of society. 

These teachings are not easy to assimilate. No wonder Dorothy once spoke of Therese as a saint we should dread! 

Nonviolent Love 

At the heart of Dorothy’s spirituality and her legacy to the Catholic Worker Movement was her commitment to nonviolence as an essential means of transforming society. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy has written that “any attempt to understand or live Christian nonviolence, as Dorothy understood and lived it, independent of Gospel nonviolence as revealed in the life of St. Therese, is not realistic” (Catholic Worker, Oct-Nov 1991, p. 7).

The Little Way is the way of Gospel nonviolence because it invites us to love one another as Jesus loved us (Jn 13:34), an unrestricted love that brings mercy and compassion to all people. Jesus’ nonviolent love extended even to giving his life in redemptive suffering on the cross. 

Family Life 

In this era that yearns for healthy “family values,” it is noteworthy that Therese’s family life struck Dorothy as very significant. She wrote in a letter to one of Therese’s sisters, who was still alive in 1956 when Dorothy was working on the manuscript for Therese: 

“I have laid great emphasis on the homelife of St. Therese, because of its great importance today. The need to foster the family, the good life of the community of the family, as a beginning in restoring all things in Christ, is a theme of the book I am writing.” (Archives: Letter, April 16, 1956) 

Dorothy deeply appreciated the loving parents and extended family of Therese, who helped each other in times of sickness and grief. She admired the parents who prayed with their children. This was a family that valued hard work, that cared for the poor in their home and in direct works of mercy each week, that rejoiced when their children chose to enter religious life (all five daughters eventually became religious), that enjoyed holidays and pilgrimages together.

 This family’s “natural happiness” was the milieu for raising saints. These parents created the kind of home “where it would be easier to be good.” “When I pray to St. Therese,” Dorothy wrote, “I like to remind her of her own natural happiness as a child. It helped to make her what she was and so I do not hesitate to call upon her to ask for temporal favors, a happy home, so that families may thrive and produce saints” (Archives: Notebook, November 1951). 

In Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, Dorothy saw an example of a profound vocation: 

“The love they both had for the children they were bringing into the world, the feeling they had of being co-creators with God, their sense of fulfillment, their joy at adding to the sum total of praise of God in the world, all this is expressed in the story of their lives. Louis and Zelie were whole man and woman, with a proper balance of soul and body, and to them the marriage act was as truly a sacrament as Holy Orders” (Therese, p. 103-104). 

Conclusion There are more ways that Dorothy resonated with Therese of Lisieux that can only be mentioned here: Therese’s love and prayer for priests and for seemingly lost souls, her devotion to the Gospels, her love of natural beauty, and her conviction of the primacy of individual conscience. 

Dorothy Day’s mature assimilation of Therese of Lisieux’s spirituality is a vital legacy for the Catholic Worker Movement and for anyone whose life is dedicated to working for peace and justice. The spirituality of the Little Way is necessary for our era and it remains the surest way, to borrow one of Therese’s phrases, “to make Love loved.” 

Sources: Archives: Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University. Dorothy Day. Therese. Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1960. Robert Ellsberg, ed. Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1992 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

St. Jean Donovan: For the next few years she served a poor parish in La Libertad, El Salvador

Jean Donovan was a modern-day martyr, losing her life while caring for the poor in the midst of El Salvador's bloody civil war. Thirty years later, her memory continues to inspire.

When I heard the news that four U.S. church women, including Jean Donovan, were raped and killed in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980, I was a senior at Duke University with plans to enter the Jesuits. But I was having second thoughts. What difference could I make? How can one witness to Christ in such a harsh world? Why bother?

Their deaths changed my life; I reconfirmed my decision to become a Jesuit. Within a few years, I befriended Donovan’s parents, Pat and Ray, and organized speaking events for them around the country. In 1985, while working in El Salvador, I prayed at the lonely place where they were killed. A stone cross marks the spot, and a plaque there reads: "Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan gave their lives on Dec. 2, 1980. Receive them, Lord, into your Kingdom."

Jean Donovan, along with the heroic sisters, offers a rare gospel witness in these brutal times. Donovan was born on April 10, 1953 and grew up in upper-middle-class Westport, Connecticut. During college she spent a life-changing year in Ireland, where a charismatic priest committed to the Latin American poor challenged her to serve God’s poor. In 1977 Donovan quit her executive consulting job at Arthur Andersen, a national accounting firm, said goodbye to friends, and joined the Maryknoll lay mission program.

For the next few years she served a poor parish in La Libertad, El Salvador. She managed its budget, played with children, and helped other church workers. But the brutal government’s war against the poor intensified. The streets were filled with soldiers, and dead bodies were left along the roads. Donovan and the sisters buried the bodies and supported the distraught relatives who searched for their loved ones.

Donovan and the rest of El Salvador found hope in the fearless homilies of Archbishop Oscar Romero. She wrote to a friend that his message was convincing her that prayer does make a difference. In gratitude, she baked and delivered chocolate chip cookies to Archbishop Romero every Sunday.

On March 24, 1980, Romero was shot while presiding at an evening Mass. During the funeral Mass, the army threw bombs into the crowd of 30,000 mourners, killing 30. Although Donovan was terrified at the funeral, she told herself that if she were killed, she would go straight to God.

"There are lots of times I feel like coming home," Donovan wrote a friend afterwards. "But I really do feel strongly that God has sent me here."

"Everything is really hitting so close now," she wrote her Irish priest friend in May 1980. That summer Donovan was devastated when her two closest friends were assassinated after walking her home from a movie.

In September Donovan took a six-week vacation, visiting her parents in Miami and her boyfriend in London. She also attended a wedding in Ireland and stopped at Maryknoll in New York, where, a friend later told Donovan’s parents, she spent several hours in the chapel. She confessed her fear that she might be killed. "When she came out [of the chapel]," Pat Donovan recalled, "the sister said that she was an entirely different woman. She was ready to go back. She had made her peace with whatever frightening thoughts she had."

After visiting Cleveland and Miami again, she returned to El Salvador to pick up the bodies, console the grieving, and lead the poor in prayer. "Life continues with many interruptions," she wrote. "I don’t know how the poor survive. People in our positions really have to die to ourselves and our wealth to gain the spirituality of the poor and oppressed."

In November, while riding her motor bike, Donovan noticed a U.S. military helicopter following her. The U.S. ambassador denied that U.S. helicopters were in El Salvador, but much to his chagrin, Donovan knew the name and model because her father spent his life helping to build them.

On December 2, Donovan and Kazel drove to the airport to meet Ford and Clarke, who were returning from Managua. Two days later their bodies were discovered in a makeshift grave about 15 miles away from the airport. They had been raped and shot at close range. Donovan’s face was completely destroyed. She was 27 years old.

Jean Donovan and the sisters invite us to enter the world of the poor, share their powerlessness and pain, and risk the consequences of this Christian solidarity. In the face of the poor, broken, and battered people of El Salvador; in the face of the refugees, the homeless, the hungry, and the displaced; even in the face of the enemy, Donovan saw the face of Christ. After such a spiritual encounter, there was no turning back. Christ gave Donovan his spirit of nonviolent love, empowering her to stand with the powerless even unto death. In the end, she knew a peace not of this world. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

St. Dorothy Kazel: A Life of Service Led To Her Martyrdom

Sister Dorothy Kazel, modern-day martyr

Dorothy L. Kazel, baptized Dorthea Lu Kazel, was born to Lithuanian American parents, Joseph and Malvina Kazel, in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 30, 1939. Shortly after entering the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland in 1960, she was given the religious name of Sister Laurentine, in remembrance of an Ursuline nun martyred in the French Revolution.

One of Dorothy's life themes was reaching out to those marginalized within our schools, our city and our nation; and ministering to those at risk of violence and war in El Salvador.

Dorothy joins mission team in El Salvador

As a member of the Cleveland Latin American mission team from 1974 to 1980, Dorothy came to know and love the Salvadoran people. Especially in the parishes of Chirilagua, La Union and La Libertad, and in outlying villages and cantons, including Zaragoza. She loved the exquisite, mountainous country with its faith-filled people who lived in extreme poverty.

She traveled by motorbike and jeep preparing for liturgical celebrations, serving as a vital communication link between the parishioners and the parish, and striving to develop lay leaders within the Church, with the hope they, in turn, would teach others in their village.

While serving in the CARITAS program, Dorothy taught women how to properly care for and nourish their children. "There was a constant working with the people, empowering them, trying to get them to do the teaching and the coordinating," says Sister Martha Owen, who served with Dorothy. She and other Sisters and laywomen on the team taught native men and women to read and write.

In 1977, a civil war emerged. Professional death squads murdered professionals, campesinos, catechists, and priests, and often destroyed villages and crops. Dorothy worked with victims and refugees of the war, widows and mothers who had lost their sons. "I could not leave Salvador, especially now ... I am committed to the persecuted Church here," she said.
Dorothy among four women missionaries killed

On the night of December 2, 1980, Sister Dorothy Kazel, lay missioner Jean Donovan and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were abducted from the La Libertad airport, interrogated, physically and sexually abused and shot by five national guardsmen. The next morning they were found buried in a common, shallow grave, marked with a cross of two branches.

On December 4, the women's bodies were drawn from the burial site into Cleveland's, the nation's, and international consciousness. Dorothy's body was returned to Cleveland, Ohio, where Bishop Anthony M. Pilla celebrated the Mass of Christian burial at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist December 10, 1980.

The casket was flanked by an honor guard of priests, as bishops led the procession out of the Cathedral. One thousand, five hundred people attended the funeral. Her grave site in All Soul's Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio, is a place of pilgrimage. Sister Dorothy is celebrated annually at liturgies, at interfaith gatherings and in academic settings.

Her so-called ordinary life as a woman with the title of Sister was revealed to have been extraordinary. Her death has been a catalyst for many groups of diverse people to unite and advocate for social justice at local, national and international levels.

A critical awareness of the United States' role in Central America, its failure to protect human rights, and its participation in the training of the military arm of oppressive regimes became evident as the circumstances surrounding Dorothy's death became public. Her murder, torture and rape mirrored the fate of more than 40,000 Salvadorans, and thousands of Hondurans, and Guatemalan people.
Dorothy's death brings outcry and action

The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland and all religious communities of women were inspired to action on behalf of women as victims of violence, and to see the connection between rape and war. After the murder of another Ursuline in 1995, the Ursulines of Cleveland initiated Women Watch, an annual event in April to commemorate women and children who were victims of violence in Cuyahoga County within the past year.

Dorothy's life continues to provide valuable information about women who enter religious communities of Sisters, about their motives, their struggles and their spirituality.

Her story provides insight into the complex human dynamic of choices women religious have made, and their efforts to enflesh the message of Jesus Christ through lives of contemplation,justice, and compassion at the end of this 20th Century. The four churchwomen's biographies document lives lived with Gospel's values in El Salvador, as well as the faith, culture, and experience of Salvadoran people. A movie, Roses in December (mid-1980s), focused on the lives of Dorothy and Jean Donovan. Dorothy's biography, "In the Fullness of Life," written by Sister Cynthia Glavac, was published in 1996.

In March of 1993, the United Nations Truth Commission Report for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: the 12-Year War in El Salvador, concluded evidence was sufficient to support that "the arrest and the execution of the four women had been planned and carried out based on orders from a higher superior."

The Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America in Cleveland and Washington, D.C., has been actively engaged with many other groups to stop federal funding of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA). Efforts to stop training in torture and de-stabilization of Latin American governments follows evidence that three of five officers cited in the rapes and murders of Dorothy, Jean, Ita, and Maura; that two of the three officers cited for the assassination of Bishop Oscar Romero; that 19 of the 26 officers cited for killing the six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughters were graduates of SOA.

Amnesty International condemned SOA training manuals containing interrogation techniques of torture, execution, blackmail, and arresting the relatives of those being questioned. Nationally, thousands of people have mobilized to close the SOA, challenging the concept of foreign aid as military training in terror and violence. Because of these efforts, one can say that Dorothy's death had national significance with international implications.  

Ursuline Sisters continue to serve the people of El Salvador through the Cleveland Diocese's mission team.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Comment Moderation is In Effect

Sorry to have to do it again, but comment moderation will be in effect for the time being.

to minister to the poor and oppressed, the imprisoned, St. Maura Clarke

From the Maryknoll archives:

Born: January 13, 1931 
Entered: September 6, 1950 
Died: December 2, 1980

Dear Sisters, Family, and Friends:

At our prayer service as the Panama/Nicaragua/El Salvador Regional Assembly ended on Monday evening, December 1st, Maura prayed aloud her thanksgiving for having been sent to El Salvador. She said, "Even though I am somewhat fearful of the difficult days ahead for our people of El Salvador, I feel convinced, Lord, that you want me there; that you will give me the light and strength I need." In his great and faithful love, the Lord had indeed prepared Maura during the days of our Assembly for the final test.

As we said our goodbyes at 06:00 a.m., Tuesday, December 2nd, and left for home after our Thanksgiving weekend meeting at Diriamba, near Managua (Nicaragua), Maura was her usual gracious, buoyant self. Well before midnight of that same day she had been murdered - martyred — because of her commitment and loving service to the poor of El Salvador.

Sister Maura John Clarke was born Mary Elizabeth Clarke on January 13, 1931, the eldest of three children. Her parents, both born in Ireland, settled in Belle Harbour, Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York in the late 1920’s. It was in Manhattan that Maura, as we affectionately called her, was born. She entered Maryknoll in 1950, and made her first vows in 1953. Initially, as she stated in a letter of January 25, 1950, she had been attracted to Maryknoll by a deep desire "to become closer to God and to serve Him."

After graduation from Maryknoll Teachers College in 1954, Maura was assigned to teach at St. Anthony’s Parish School in the Bronx. In 1959 her growing desire "to serve Him" was further strengthened with her assignment to Siuna, Nicaragua, as a teacher and then superior of the little community. Then, from 1970 to 1976 she was in Managua where she ministered to the people, sharing with them in the cataclysmic earthquake of 1972. With them she worked tirelessly, helping them to rebuild their homes and to establish basic Christian communities.

In 1977 Maura returned to the Center to serve on a Maryknoll Sisters World Awareness Team, working primarily along the East Coast of the United States. Everywhere she served, Maura was the same, — friendly, loving, generous, gentle, ‘used her gifts and abilities tirelessly, and trusted that with God’s help she could do what was needed. How many people we Maryknollers meet who mention Maura’s inspiring impact on their lives during her World Awareness work! According to Sister Margarita Jamias, her co—worker, Maura once said, "I see in this work a channel for awakening real concern for the victims of injustice in todays’s world; a means to work for change, and to share her deep concern for the sufferings of the poor and marginated, the nonpersons of our’ human family."

During her three years in the States, Maura was especially grateful for the  opportunities she had to be close to her wonderful parents and family with whom she spent time whenever possible. When her term with the World Awareness Team ended early in 1980, Maura made a period of spiritual renewal and mission updating. It was not easy for her to make up her mind to return to Central America, but Nicaragua needed her, so she went freely, gladly. She wrote, "My dream is that, with each of you, in Jesus our source of hope and joy, we may continue to give ourselves to bring about the new Kingdom of love, justice, and peace."

In August of this year emergency needs in El Salvador called Maura once again to go beyond what she felt adequate to do, and she spent her first weeks there in Santa Ana. However, after Sister Carol Piette’s death, Maura volunteered immediately to accompany Sister Ita Ford in Chalatenango to minister to the poor and oppressed, the imprisoned. Willing, but still uncertain, she struggled to adjust to the further isolation from family, friends, and her beloved Nicaragua.

When she came to the Regional Assembly the day before Thanksgiving, November 26, 1980, Maura felt not only willing to return to El Salvador, but convinced that Chalatenango was the place where she could and would serve Christ’s poor. With Ita she would search out the missing, pray with the families of prisoners, bury the dead, and work with the people in their struggle to break out of the bonds of oppression, poverty, and violence. Their days would be filled with difficulty and fearful danger at times, but Maura assured us of her certain confidence in God’s loving care of her, Ita, and all the people.

In this spirit she returned with Ita to El Salvador late in the afternoon of December 2nd. Two of their good friends and collaborators in mission met them at the airport to take them back to Chalatenango. A few hours later, probably about ten o’clock, shots were heard by the ever-vigilant peasant folk. The bullets brutally put an end to the lives of the four valiant women: Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, lay missioner Jean Donovan, and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford.

As we rejoice in their new life in heaven, we pray for the people of El Salvador, and for oppressed people everywhere, in the hope that the death of these four missioners will not have been in vain. We pray in a spirit of thanksgiving for the Clarke family who so generously and lovingly shared Maura’s beautiful life with us in the mission of Jesus. And we ask that the full dawn of the Sun of Justice may come soon to a world darkened by its own passion for power and control over life and freedom. "Come, Lord Jesus, come!"