Thursday, November 26, 2009

The End Is Near (2009-11-29, Advent)

This is my homily for Nov. 29, 2009, First Sunday of Advent. Feel free to respond with comments. View the Mass readings at:

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In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples and us, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

“Be vigilant at all times … “

Vigilance means readiness and watchfulness, an attitude often demonstrated not only by FDU Public Safety (our neighbors next door) but also by FDU teachers who watch over you..and even our own mothers and fathers.

Vigilance is also our call everyday. This is a 911 call in the Gospel.

Vigilance is the message for this first Sunday of Advent. Why is vigilance important? Is it because life and death are on the horizon in final exams, papers, and grades?

That’s why they are called deadlines, right?

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November 29 is the first of 4 Sundays of Advent, our period of prayer and meditation before Christmas. And, this week and next week, we reflect on the fact that Christ – who has already come into the world – will come again at the end of time. It is a deadline, a spiritual deadline.

Later in Advent – on the 3rd and 4th Sundays – i.e., December 13 and 20 - it is traditional to focus more on the coming of the Christ child and how we are to welcome him, not only on Christmas but every day.

The Second Coming is our focus this week and next week.

We read passages this Sunday from the Bible about the end of time, passages with special visual effects – roaring of waves, of oceans, earthquake, famine and the dangers lurking in the moon … dangers that predict the end of time. The moon – the full moon – somehow always gets blamed for this more than anything else.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

We don’t know when the end of all time is.

We do know, however, when the end of academic time is – December 23, 2009. What we pray for – before and after finals – is that we will have intelligence, strength, wisdom… We pray for something that no GPA can measure.

What we pray for – before and after the end of time – is also our salvation with God, we pray for something not measurable, something infinite – eternal life.

Advent is our time for renewed vigilance.

In the deadlines of a psychology final or English-literature paper, we experience something both communal and individual.

That is, our learning – our academic pursuits – are shared endeavors. We are meant to learn from and help each other.

On the other hand, learning and study is also intensely personal. Only you can write your paper, review your notes, answer the questions.

This feeling of pressure can make the darkness outside – the darkness of winter – seem even more ominous. More like the end of time.

We are not on this academic or spiritual journey alone.

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As individuals, we are called to pray for strength and to pray for each other. And, Advent is a good time to renew our commitment to prayer. In the morning give thanks to God for the new day and ask for strength to turn off the alarm as soon as it goes off. This is a real sacrifice we can make to meet the new day.

In the evening, examine your day, ask God for patience, for rest, and strength to do it all over again.

Coming to pray also reminds us that our answers and sentences and equations are not purely a result of personal effort. Prayer – in meditation / contemplation – reminds us that our intellect is a gift of God.

Coming to pray is good for our humility. I don’t mean humiliation but just a sense of gratitude not for what we do but for who we are.

We came to FDU not to obtain intelligence and and wisdom but to nurture what God has already bestowed on us. Coming to pray brings us closer to the one who bestowed this gift.

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We believe that God is here with us … in this chapel …and also in our rooms, in the classroom, everywhere helping us.

Consider what we do before hearing the Gospel. It is customary to make the sign of Cross – on our head, on lips, and on our heart. May the words of the Gospel be on our mind, lips and heart.

May God who is all loving – and all knowing and all wisdom – be with us at this time in what we think about, in what we search for, and in what we feel.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

We pray because we are going to be tested. This is not only in Fall 2009 but in the future also .. in challenges we have at home, in our family, our community.

Jesus says to be vigilant at all times. This is not only for excellent grades. This is also vigilance so that we will survive heartbreak and sorrow.

In the ancient reading of this Gospel, people read and heard these words about vigilance as a message of consolation from the Lord.

He offered this message because the Jewish community and Jewish/Christian community suffered the loss of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. The Roman army invaded the city and their siege caused a fire which destroyed the Temple.

And, this was a horrific deadline.

The Temple symbolized the Promise Land and God’s help. Losing it meant losing the center of their lives. It was heartbreaking…

* * * * * * * * * * * *

We are also urged to be vigilant during times of heartbreak and sorrow … due to death, illness, the end of a relationship.

Vigilance is the message because the end is near. The end of the semester? Yes, but also the end of life for which we have no academic calendar from the President and Dean.

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The end is near. Accepting Christ’s commands to love each other – and to sacrifice – reminds us to accept that he is our end and our beginning. That Christ is our Omega and our Alpha.

So, we accept the end. We accept that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We accept even that we will die.

But, more importantly, we accept the death of our selfishness, the death of our sinfulness, the death of agendas. And, when we die to ourselves in this way, we make room for the Holy Spirit and room for each other.

Remember – at this end of academic time – to pray for those who have helped you along. Also, pray for those who have hurt you. These are prayers that may not immediately bring someone back to us. But, they are prayers that will change us and make us more vigilant to what God is offering us. For example, God may be offering us a new relationship or friendship where a previous one has ended. Be vigilant.

It can be a great challenge to offer this prayer. We may not want to pray for something new especially if we were very happy with something we used to have. But when we do, we give our lives for the sake of the other.

This is death and new life.

Dying in this sense, we make room for Jesus Christ and his Second Coming. We become vigilant as we live and we may room for new life in Christ. [END]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Our Lady of Lourdes, October 24 (Thank you)

This was my homily on Saturday 24 October 2009 at Our Lady of Lourdes, West Orange. This homily includes my gratitude to Lourdes people and staff for three wonderful years.

(Mass for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Gospel, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Mark 10:46-52)

About three years ago – in June of 2006 – I arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes. And, in October of 2006, I fell off my mountain bike making what should have been a very routine stop at a traffic light. What you’re NOT supposed to do – while riding a bicycle – is get your feet stuck in the pedals. What you’re supposed to do is put your feet on the ground before you stop.

Do not try this at home.

This turned out to be a minor fracture – a not very serious break – in a bone of my left arm near the elbow, a bone called the coronoid process. And, while I received an encouraging diagnosis from the first doctor, he only told me a few words of instruction … “no heavy lifting, see me in 3 weeks.”

Many people would have been fine with this short statement. I was not. I wanted a second opinion

And, the second doctor gave me the “health care reform” on elbow that I wanted. That is, he did not just tell me …he showed me … showed me by:

 moving my arm around
 moving his arm around
 telling me about the bone in the elbow and even giving me a little homework.

This was not homework that involved exercise, but rather an article in an Orthopedics / Sports Medicine journal. I thought, "hey, Doc, who is supposed to be reading medical journals? You, right?"

Anyway, the article was about a baseball catcher who had recovered from a similar injury. This article – in which I could picture a real person who was now nailing runners stealing 2nd base – was another way of showing me rather than just telling me.

I wanted more detail; I wanted to be shown.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Bartimaeus is the beggar on the side of the road, the road to Jericho, he is the beggar on the side of the road who also wants a second opinion. He wants a second opinion from the Lord.

In the first opinion, Bartimaeus is censured and reprimanded. The crowd silences Bartimaeus. Jesus, on the other hand, offers Bartimaeus a second opinion and welcomes him with the words, “what do you want me to do for you?”

By the way, this interview between Bartimaeus & Jesus begins the same way in which the interview began between the brothers James and John in last week’s Gospel. (Mark 10:35-45)

In last week’s Gospel, the brothers James and John go in for an interview looking for seats at Jesus’s right and left in the new Kingdom. And, all they want is to be told – to be promised – that after Election Day they will have important cabinet positions, guaranteed seats in first class.

All they want is to be told.

However, Jesus turns the tables on them – with a second opinion – a second opinion that informs them of their discipleship and relationship to Christ.

Jesus’s second opinion paints a picture – shows them – the suffering they will endure – the suffering we all endure as part of our redemption. It is not that the Lord wants us to suffer but that we are invited to participate in the sacrifice of the Cross when we endure pain or rejection and when we try to forgive each other’s trespasses as God has forgiven us.

In the second opinion, Jesus asks James and John, can you drink the cup that I will drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I will be baptized? (Mark 10:38)

Bartimaeus, on the other hand, comes to Christ with humility with poverty, with faith and he is shown the way, he is not merely told the way . Bartimaeus – unlike James and John – is willing to accept what the Lord offers. After receiving his sight, he becomes a disciple.

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When I fell off my bicycle, I had no idea whether this was a small fracture, sprain, or what. I was only uncomfortable and wanted to get checked out.

On my way, I stopped at one of the firehouses of the West Orange Fire Department where I had just become a chaplain. I stopped at the firehouse – Engine 2 near Washington and Main, across from Washington School.

Recognizing that I had not been here in West Orange for very long, I wondered about the future consequences of asking for this type of help now…

Is my injury really worth of attention?

That was the first question.

And, once everyone found about this, would this become – shall we say – a source of humor?

That was second question.

Of course, the answer was YES to both questions. I was treated with compassion by the on-duty tour; and I was often reminded about this incident if I should mention any form of transportation that involved balance or coordination.

I’m grateful to the Fire Department for getting me to St. Barnabas Hospital that day and to Monsignor Petrillo for getting me home.

I will always be grateful to so many of you who welcomed here to West Orange … not only by getting me back out of the E.R. -- but also – in a way – getting me out the seminary safely -- and continuing my education here about what it means to be a parish priest. By your dedication and love, you have helped prepare me for service and ministry for the rest of my life.

I’m grateful to many people here who prepare our church and chapel for Mass, who prepare our music and liturgy. This would include – but not be limited to - Deacon Ernesto Abad for his leadership of our prayer group, CFM, and other ministries… to Mary Beth Bawarshi and Linda Chapman for our music and choir, to our beloved and late Sister Ann Sweeney who taught me a few things – and also gave me a few articles to read – about religious education …and to Eileen Morgan who has continued her wonderful work.

I’m grateful to our pastor, Monsignor Petrillo for his generous leadership and consistent example to me. He has shared his priesthood and insights with me and helped me to realize that you – the people of Our Lady of Lourdes – matter most in all we do.

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Our Lord gives a second opinion the blind man in the Gospel – a second opinion to the man who is rejected, spurned by the crowd, the crowd who tries to silence him

Who – or what – is the crowd or crowdedness sin our lives which keep us from Christ…

 our faults ? – do we expect never to fall … (to fall off a bicycle) or to fall into temptation …. Is not our life a calling to get up with God’s grace when we do fall…and to seek the help which is reasonably offered to us?

 our sadness, fear? Do we endeavor to smile, to be cheerful ...even when we might be anxious inside?

 our need for appreciation. It is good to be affirmed, appreciated ..but we are also called to do our best even when this does not happen.

All of these things – our faults/sins ..our sadness / our need for appreciation – can be the crowd which keeps us from the Lord.

Rather we are called to see what has been see the love which the Father has bestowed on us in Christ and to share that love with each as you have with me.


Haiti Journey (Inch by Inch to Hinche)

This was a trip made with a group from Seton Hall University June 2nd - 9th, 2009. I travelled with the group as chaplain. Here are some reflections on our very moving experience:

GROUP: Alyssa, Annie, Craig, Jamie, Katie, Lizzy, Mark, Nick, Tyler (Seton Hall students), Michael/ “Miguel” (S.H.U. alumnus, Weill-Cornell Medical student), Michelle (group director), Dave and Tom (campus ministry), Father Jim (chaplain).

2 – 9 June 2009 / Seton Hall University
Division of Volunteer Efforts - D.O.V.E. trip to Haiti (Hinche, Central Haiti)

1. Military 0dark30

(Seton Hall Univ., South Orange, NJ) Tue. 2 June 2009 Meeting at 3:30 a.m. we got parking spaces rarely available during the regular semester or any sensible hour.

Emerging from the shadows was Father John Dennehy, university chaplain, who came to encourage us, pray with us before our departure and caffeinate us. We had the first pot of priests’ coffee of the day. Thank you, Father John.

We made our way to the airport with our stuff. This included each student’s personal bag plus one assigned bag of donated medicine, clothes, shoes, etc. and a surprising quantity of smoothies and juice in one carry-on (Love, Nick’s Mom XX OO). We chugged them at 4:00 a.m. to get through security: our first team activity. We were off to Port-au-Prince via Newark and Miami.

2. This is a spinal tap-tap dance

(Toussaint Louverture Intl Airport, Port-au-Prince) Tue. 2 June Our flight from Miami landed around 12:00 Noon. We exited the airport (PAP) and were met by the tap-tap drivers sent by Lefort Jean Louis (known to us as Jean-Louis) from Maison Fortuné in Hinche.

Tap-tap is any form of public taxi; in our case, these were two Toyota trucks with benches in the pickup bed. Each tap-tap had about 15 suitcases, six people inside (a 4-door cab), 2 people on top of the cab and five of us in back . Preferring the open-air and view after two American Airlines flights, I put on sunscreen and climbed on back.

Later in the week, we were told how spoiled we were with all our “legroom” and “seats”. Any self-respecting Haitian group of 14 plus baggage would have done the whole trip in one tap-tap. After all, it was merely a four-hour-journey. Fortunately, we had no misgivings about having only 2 people seated on top of the cab.

The trip to Hinche in the central plateau took about 4 hours on Route National 3 (or, Highway 3) to go 128 km (80 miles). The first 15 miles or so was paved and smooth all the way to Mirabelais which saved us lots of time. In our pre-trip meetings, we were told the travel time was uncertain and heard – at various times – 4 hours, 5 hours, 6 hours …then 6 hours with a one-hour thunderstorm, just for kicks. Fortunately, the first estimate was right and the sky was clear the entire way. 4 hours even included flat-tire repairs on both trucks, one when we were halfway, one when we were nearly there.

The ride took us past many uniformed schoolchildren walking home on the side of steep mountain roads (1,000-feet-plus vertical). These would not the be last time we heard shouts of “blan-blan !!” And, blan, we are, white.

The bar on the side of the pick up truck really digs into your back after a few hours …

3. International Peacekeeper Jean Louis

(Maison Fortuné Orphanage, Hinche) Tue. 2 June, 4:00 p.m. Dave (Seton Hall campus ministry) had spent 2002-2003 living near and working at this orphanage and other sites.

The steel gate of Maison Fortuné opened for us and we entered a compound surrounded by (10-foot) cinderblock walls. This is a residence for about 140 boys and girls aged preschool to twentysomething. Maison Fortuné is a relatively new – and expanding -- venture, funded by the Catholic diocese of Richmond (Virginia), and parishes in Richmond and elsewhere.

Actual birth records (even names, at times) are nonexistent with the orphanage having to supply one or both. It was not clear to me exactly what the process (or deadline) is for releasing a young man or young woman from the orphanage.

A child’s arrival at the orphanage is, often (if not nearly always) voluntary. That is, families or parents bring the children there because they cannot take care of them. In at least one case, a child has been brought (rescued) by the United Nations to Jean Louis.

Jean Louis, who runs Maison Fortuné, also has a business relationship with the U.N. The U.N. rent for space on Jean Louis’ property – rent which subsidizes Maison Fortuné – and houses U.N. staff. The U.N. Haiti mission is known as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) started in 2004.

Jean Louis himself was also rescued from poverty as a child. He walked two hours each day to school from an impoverished home and could not overcome the poverty on his own. And, one day Jean Louis’ father said he could no longer afford the tuition or uniforms. His education appeared to be over. However, a couple of Catholic religious brothers (Xaverian) gave him some money. Eventually – somehow – Jean Louis went to Virginia Tech to study agriculture in the hope of cultivating and improving the land of his home. Needless to say, a can of Deep Woods Off and a shovel would have been more useful than the pesticide management and tractors taught in the States. Jean Louis, however, learned English and made contacts that still serve him and his work today.

Several of the buildings are brand new. The building may have had low water-pressure, but it was a modern, clean, comfortable home for us. Also, a consistent feature of all new concrete construction (at the orphanage, at private homes) was exposed re-bar, steel rods pointing out of the flat roof in the hope that one day another floor can be put on the building.

One day while we were there, medic-Miguel was busy assisting with the gathering of medical records after vaccinations for the children.

What accompanied the vaccinations were both manual record-keeping and semi-automatic weapons. The complete medical-security equation was M.D. + U.N.; i.e., four Nepali peacekeepers -- booted and camouflaged and armed with machine guns -- came with the doctor. Wait your turn.

4. The Orphanage

(Maison Fortuné Orphanage, Hinche) Tue. 2 June, 7:00 p.m. Our first night, we met two Catholic-religious Xaverian brothers, Brother Michael and Brother Harry who serve at Maison Fortuné. On the veranda, seated on the floor, Brother Michael shared what he has come to learn and how we might approach our days in Haiti, letting the country change us rather than the other way around

Brother Michael asked us to remember the boys and girls here are the lucky ones. They go to school, have clean clothes, regular meals. They can run and play. It is safe. And, when they are sent home to the mountains or villages, they realize how good they have it. Here, they do work hard and study. Tomorrow morning - outside our window – by 4:30 a.m. – we would hear them, because they have exams coming up. They are not just talking. They are reading – reciting from their notebooks – what they have learned by rote. The sound we would hear were the voices of memorization.

Brother Michael encouraged us just to be present to the boys and girls:

“You might be a little nervous about communicating; that’s OK. Just sit on the porch; they will come to you and seek you out. Pick up a basketball, kick the soccer ball, play checkers, talk to them. Let them teach you some Creole. And, remember you may come back many times … don’t worry about what you will change, because Haiti will not change [at least not quickly or overnight] but rather Haiti will change you.”

Our group leader, Michelle, added later that, while Haiti may not change imminently, this should not lead to a complacent been-there-done-that tourist attitude. Rather, consider the changes wrought upon Haiti – over many years – by malice aforethought and malignance accidental. Our role is not just to learn the history or gaze at the noble simplicity of the peasant. Rather, we are to consider what we can do to serve the poor. And, all of us are called to lives of service in whatever field we may work.

Michelle observed that Jean Louis gives considerable order to these young lives. Yet, they remain, at risk, in many ways. These boys and girls have no parents to pick them up – either in body or spirit. And, when the storms come, even the high concrete walls cannot hold back the water.

The September 2008 tropical storms (Fay, Gustav, Hannah) were particularly bad. The river behind Maison Fortuné rose 30-plus foot to flood the orphanage. Michelle and Dave were in Hinche at the time, themselves evacuated, and observed Mack trucks improvised into hearses for hundreds of corpses identified or not. The boys and girls of the orphanage lived at a local high school until things dried out sufficiently.

5. World Cup Qualifiers

(Hinche) Tue. 2 - Sat. 6 June Almost every day in Hinche, we spent the morning at the Azeal (below) and the afternoon at Maison Fortuné. In the evenings, we gathered to have Mass, eat, pray, and have a discussion (“reflection”) led by one of the groups.

Outdoor Soccer Outdoors The boys at the orphanage are great athletes, always moving at soccer and basketball. In one rainy Haiti-USA match we lost 5-2 though we had the advantage in size, experience and even an NCAA Division-One player and captain (Katie). We observed the boys, while lacking aggressive defense, had an excellent attack. They would complete 10 to 20 yard passes in the air, trapping and kicking flawlessly in bare feet on a grassless dirt (or mud) field.

Indoor Soccer Outdoors Later in the week, we played 4-on-4 indoor style soccer on the basketball court (Katie, Dave, Craig, Fr. Jim) during which we also were consistently smoked. But, we kept it a little closer on a smaller pitch. After this game, I also understood their approach to basketball which is modeled on indoor soccer – i.e., lots of passing and waiting for the right shot. We visiting Americans competed better in basketball than soccer because our knowledge of the game. Certainly it was not our athletic skill which was far surpassed by the boys. Perhaps, on a future visit, we should run a combination Fast Break/English-As-A-2nd-Language Clinic.

In our visit, not only did we see their prowess with feet on the ground but also off the ground, airborne and inverted. In the middle of a soccer game, boys would do backflips during a break in the action. They leaned a lot recently – and quickly – when a group from Penn State visited, one of whom is an NCAA gymnast.

6. The Azeal

(The Azeal, Missionaries of Charity, Hinche) Wed, Fri, Sat. Azeal, means refuge (similar to Spanish asilo or English asylum). Behind ten-foot concrete wall and steel gate, four sisters plus their workers feed, clothe, and comfort these children. In the nursery, there are 4 rooms, each with 12-18 children ranging in age from a few months to 6 years old.

The Missionaries of Charity (M.C., Mother Teresa’s group) operate a clinic for sick children and about forty terminally-ill adults nearer to the marketplace center of town. We walked through the market each day that we went there, sticking out as the blan we are.

On our visits, we spent 2-3 hours with children who virtually jumped into our arms. One could not tell by sight what might ail them. An exception was one who was being treated intravenously and who could not even by held. Tyler stroked her back for hours.

Another 12-year old girl (AIDS) was in great pain due to her damaged – and deteriorating - skin. The case was so advanced and severe she had appeared – to us – to be a burn victim.

The sisters were kind and strong. Sensing what we were feeling, Sister Theola said, don’t be sad, God looks out for them, and pray for them. “It’s not their fault, the whole country is like this.” While this might signal despair, Sister T. said this with the same poise as she had when pointing out the enraged man threatening vandalism because he had not obtained his food ration from the Azeal.

The sisters certainly pray. However, for many hours a day, they ensure that their faith also is in action. We were impressed by their compassion and honored to be with them.

7. Dance Party USA

(Hinche) Sat. 6 June, 7:00 p.m. Jean Louis told us earlier in the week that there would be a dance party on our final night. This was held near one of the classrooms. In few other ways were these very young men more touching than seeing them being asked to dance by our group. Some danced quite readily, some held back, some were singing.

The girls at the orphanage (a smaller and newer group than the boys and few older than 12) were not at Dance Party USA.

8. Mango

(Hinche) Sun. 7 June, 10:00 a.m. We attended a local regular Sunday Mass at the orphanage with a visiting Catholic priest from the seminary in Pandiassou.

We tried to keep with the songs and prayers in Creole but also enjoyed observing The only instrument was one drum played by hand which kept perfect time.

Mass was outside under the mango tree. At one point, a mango fell and almost clocked one young boy in a Panama Jack t-shirt. Young Panama Jack was a bit embarrassed at this act of God, quickly turning to the ground to see what had fallen. The mangoes were delicious; the good-byes were tearful.

9. Zanmi Lasante

(Hinche to Port-au-Prince) Sun. 7 June On our way back to Port-au-Prince, we passed through Cange seeing the Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health, P-I-H) Sociomedical Complex. In 2004, Tracy Kidder won the Pulitzer for writing about this project (and others) in Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer….

Kidder interviews and follows Dr. Farmer around seeing what he does for TB, HIV/AIDS, other infectious disease, basic health, and advocacy for the people. Our original hospital tour guide was a doctor who had been called to another hospital. Fortunately, both a Haitian doctor and a Harvard/Brigham & Women’s resident (Neil) took us around and told us about Zanmi Lasante.

This hospital – and six other P-I-H – facilities in Haiti do what other hospitals either cannot or will not do. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder describes how Farmer gets around the Haitian custom of charging the patient for every pill, latex gloves, etc.

At Zanmi Lasante, patients were supposed to pay user fees, the equivalent of eighty American cents for a visit. Haitian colleagues of Farmer had insisted on this. Farmer was the medical director but he hadn’t argued. Instead – this was often his way, I would learn – he had simply subverted the policy. Every patient had to pay the eighty cents except for women and children, the destitute, and anyone who was seriously ill. Everyone had to pay, that is, except for almost everyone. And no one – Farmer’s rule – could be turned away. (Mountains Beyond Mountains, p. 21)

At Zanmi Lasante, in fact, the P-I-H foundation in the U.S. provides not only provides money for medicine but also for compliance. Every every infectious disease and HIV patient has someone in the community who follows up (accompanies) him or her throughout the course of treatment. This person – who might be a family member of the patient -- is paid a stipend. These payments, as Dr. Neil told us, ensures compliance to TB-medication in Cange which exceeds that in Boston.

On the other hand, Dr. Neil said the government – as you might guess – is just not that cooperative with the basic infrastructure needs that would help Zanmi Lasante to do even more. In contrast, the P-I-H sites in Rwanda enjoy much better governmental cooperation than those of Haiti.

Nonetheless, after a week in the central plateau, we were encouraged to see the modern facility here which has air conditioning, neonatal I.C.U. and an urgent-care/E.R. Other little amenities: hand sanitizer dispensers on the wall, shiny chrome, white sheets, bulletin boards, pens, medical records.

Kidder describes well this place so necessary – and yet alien – for the setting:

“I may as well say that from the moment I saw Zanmi Lasante, out there in the little village in Cange, in what seemed to me like the end of the earth, in what was in fact one of the poorest parts of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, I felt I’d encountered a miracle. In Haiti, I knew, per capita incomes came to a little more than one American dollar a day, less than in the central plateau. The country had lost most of its forests and a great deal of its soil. It had the worst health statistics in the Western world. And here, in one of the most impoverished, diseased, eroded, and famished regions of Haiti, there was this lovely walled citadel, Zanmi Lasante. I wouldn’t have thought it much less improbable if I’d been told it had been brought there by spaceship.” (Mountains Beyond Mountains, p. 20-21)

In this “walled citadel” are hundreds of trees for shade and benches for sitting; it is a thick slice of the First World behind these walls. In Mountains Beyond Mountains (2004), Kidder says the hospital has 104 beds. I don’t know if this is still the number. In an case, much of the Zanmi Lasante mission calls for outpatient treatment and actual house calls.

10. Cape - Hatien

(Port-au-Prince, Matthew 25 Guest House) Sun. 7 June, 4:00 p.m. A couple from Massachusetts, one of whom was back home in Massachusetts at the time, run the place. Vivian – who was there – was extremely helpful and hospitable, having been the owner-operator of a Cape Cod Inn.

The name of the guest house is for the book of Matthew, chapter 25, including this verse:
“whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.” It is a very nice and safe place to stay.

It is New England charm in an impoverished city: a sanctuary with wood-stained kitchen cabinets and the locked-down feel of the Kennedy family compound. Two armed guards are on patrol outside all night.

11. Theme of Titanic Attack

(Port-au-Prince) Mon. 8 June For our one day in the capital, we had reserved a tap-tap for the day to take us around. I only hoped we would actually get two tap-taps, i.e., two Toyota pick-ups. Earlier in the week, we were told we were the spoiled blan, having two tap-taps for only 14 people + baggage.

We were, then, surprised pleasantly at the sight of a new, Toyota, white, air-conditioned 15- passenger van as an upgrade from the pick-ups and the first air-conditioning of the week. This also meant a break from the Celine Dion soundtrack (“My heart will go on”) playing on countless delivery trucks.

Our first air-conditioned journey was to visit the Apostolic Nuncio (Vatican spokesperson) at his residence. Monsignor Robert Sheeran, president of Seton Hall, had arranged this for us. We expected that the Nuncio (Archbishop Auza) might see us for a half-hour at the most. However, he gave us a 45 minute overview of his experience as nuncio, his impression of the country, and his lunch the previous day with the president.

All of our questions were answered in meticulous detail and were offered refreshments of beer, wine, and soft drinks outside. We spent two hours at his residence.

We are grateful to all who supported us, who helped with their thoughts and prayers, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (we had plenty) that we took for the travels. Merci.

14 June 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pilate v. Jesus, The Evidence (2009-11-22, Christ the King)

This is my homily for Nov. 22, 2009, Feast of Christ the King. Feel free to respond with comments. View readings of Mass at:

This reading from the Gospel of John (John 18:33-37) is a courtroom scene. Courtrooms are usually part of a larger mystery. This is no exception, a trial –Pilate v. Jesus –a legal and spiritual thriller.

In mysteries and courtrooms, evidence is very important. What is the evidence here?

First, we see adversarial conflict manifest in the defendant (Jesus), the accusers (the chief priests), and judge (Pontius Pilate).

Conflict has arisen because Jesus has done miracles on the Sabbath and deviated from accepted ritual practices of his day in other ways. Jesus has suggested that tax collectors, prostitutes, and other publicly known sinners have a chance at salvation. And, he is the Son of God. Case closed, apparently.

The Lord’s statements and actions seem threatening. And, his connections to people outside the usual Temple-religious circles make him more suspicious.

Jesus has powerful enemies with a case against him. Is the evidence, however, enough for a real case? We might call it circumstantial.

At this point in the mystery and investigation, the chief priests hardly have enough for a search warrant or a real indictment.

The district attorneys on Law & Order or CSI would want something more specific. They want DNA, blood, hair samples. I’m just saying; this is what they go for.

Ultimately, the crowd and priests push this legal case along quite quickly, persuading Pilate that Jesus is a threat. So, Pilate’s vulnerability and pride are also entered into evidence.

* * * * * * * *

This case – Pilate v. Jesus – does provide some more detailed evidence. We have a case. And we can look at the same place the detectives look: the hand.
Detectives are always looking at the arrested suspect’s hands, aren’t they? For the DNA.

What evidence do we have in this case?

First, we have the hands of Jesus tied behind his back, evidence that he has done something wrong, or has he?

Secondly, we have the hands of Pilate, powerful hands. But, ultimately, Pilate’s hands turn out to be incriminating. They show us his pride and selfishness.

Pilate ends up handcuffed by the Temple officials and the mob. Feeling his own hands tied by the crowd, Pilate backs down. He could have - but does not - wave the accused out of the courtroom and on to the street.

Rather, Pilate listens to the accusers and their trumped up case. A select group of priests wants Jesus arrested and crucified. Pilate, meanwhile, wants a compromise. Just give the Nazarene a scourging, a few lashes and release him on his own recognizance. No true judge could find Jesus guilty. Pilate knows this.

Sensing that the case is not going their way, the crowd steps up the pressure, shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him.”

Feeling trapped, Pilate does not speak up but throws in the towel. Or, rather, Pilate dries his hands with that towel. Pilate cannot prevail over the crowd and Temple officials. So, he takes water and washes his hands before the people, and washes his hands of the whole affair… saying: "I am innocent of the blood of this just man." (cf., Matthew 27:24)

The hands of Pilate show us one who will not take responsibility against injustice. We are called to do more with our hands than he does.

* * * * * * * *

In courtrooms, ceremony and protocol are important. And, these rules govern communication and identification. If you want to be known in a courtroom, use both your voice and your hand.

For example, place one hand on the Bible, swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

In the courtroom of life, all of us are called to work out our salvation, sometimes as a confrontation, sometimes as a trial. And, trials mean we are going to be sworn in and involved. Raise your right hand. Swear an oath. Make a promise.

This Sunday is the Feast of Jesus Christ the King, a feast when we recall the trial of Jesus, our king in heaven, who saves us by his own effort, taking up the cross with both hands.

* * * * * * * *

We do not need DNA and detectives to remind us that our hands tell a story. They reveal something. From the time we are small, we are told about politeness and etiquette with our hands.

Children who are fighting are told, “keep your hands to yourselves.” And, we are aware that our hands can give away nervousness such as in a job interview. This is evidence of both hidden character and emotion.

And, in the age of H1N1, we receive the help of countless hand sanitizers. This is evidence of good health.

Every day, we are tested in the use of our hands. Will we raise them? Or keep them to ourselves when we might speak up? The Lord is calling on you and me to respond. Yet, this is not a classroom or courtroom where we literally raise our hands. This is a relationship where we place our hand in his.

This is real life where we are called to take up our cross with our hands to follow Jesus Christ the King.

As a government official, Pilate has power in his hands. You and I also do, we use the power in hands, for example…

IN ACADEMIC STUDY -- This means writing, editing, rewriting, typing and putting ourselves into the academic process. It also mans using hands and minds honestly. The availability of so much information presents many temptations to dishonesty at our fingertips. Remember our hands can keep -- or break -- promises also on the mouse and keyboard.

AT HOME -- This means, for example, using our hands to help at home, to help someone at the table, to clear the table, to help someone who needs it. Our hands keep promises when we reach out in generosity.

Our hands can give us away. In actual criminal cases, the suspect is well aware of this. Jesus is the arrested suspect who has nothing to hide. Nor do we when we follow him.

Our fingerprints need not be the sign of crime but rather of service.

Our hands give us away. They tell the truth. And, Pilate’s hands also reveal a truth. Washing his hands of the affair, Pilate demonstrates his guilt. But this is guilt which cannot be washed away with water, but only with repentance for sin.

The same is true for us that we come to Christ to be washed with his blood.

What about your hands, your unique fingerprint, your unique gift to God? We are invited to open our hands – even to difficulties – to what God may be offering us. We are invited to se the power of free will at our fingertips for good. And, this means listening to the Lord, handsfree. It means presenting the truth our lives to him in prayer so that we might follow him more closely.