Wednesday, August 18, 2010


My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

(Luke 1: 46-55 from RSV)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mystery and Music

On Trinity Sunday, Fr. Paul’s homily was a meditation on the Trinity as a mystery. On a recent Sunday, our reading from Colossians (1:26) spoke of “the mystery hidden from ages and generations past” and of “the mystery of Christ in you, your hope of glory.” I would like to explore the idea of mystery for a moment, since mystery is ultimately what we bring to church and what we celebrate in church. Mysteries are often connected to rituals, which are what we do not only in church, but as part of our lives. I suspect that some of our traditional rituals have become less transparent in our 21st-century culture, even though we still have a deep longing for ritual in our lives. All of this impacts why we do what we do in church, and even whether we decide to bring the realities of our lives to church at all.
We are all familiar with mystery novels, movies and TV shows like “CSI.” (Actually, every story is a mystery, including the author’s purpose in telling it.) The word comes from the Greek mysterion, one meaning of which was a battle plan which became evident as the battle unfolded. And that is the way mysteries unfold: we have to piece the clues together and even follow some false leads until everything finally falls into place and hidden motives are revealed. In the Old Testament, mysterion refers to God’s plan of creation and its purpose, and God’s process of revelation. St. Paul and his followers apply mysterion to the life and person of Christ. In Lumen Gentium, the major document of Vatican II, the Church is described as the mystery and sacrament of the union with God and unity with all of humanity.
How does mystery touch our own lives? There is a saying: “Yesterday is history and tomorrow’s a mystery; today is a gift, and that’s why we call it the present.” Actually, our entire life story is a mystery. The longer we live, the more we can begin to discern God’s purpose in our lives. Why did I take this road and not another? What if . . .? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? How did the challenges of life early on prepare me for even greater challenges later? All of these questions lead ultimately to the meaning of life. Growth is a mystery. Love is a mystery, particularly between “incompatible” persons, or between parents and their teenage children! Birth is a mystery. Death is a mystery, particularly the death of a relative, a close friend, or someone who dies unexpectedly or prematurely. All of these experiences are encounters with something or someone bigger than we are. We connect these experiences to the cosmos with rituals, which are actions and signs of a spiritual reality. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and funerals all have their rituals. So do the events in our spiritual journeys: conversion, initiation, baptism, Eucharist, marriage, ordination.
The early Church Fathers translated mysterion into Latin as sacramentum. Sacramentum was the oath of loyalty that soldiers took; the oath was their initiation, an outward sign of inner loyalty. St. Augustine defined a sacrament as the visible sign of invisible grace. We can see the mysterious nature of these signs: flowing water washing away sin, bread and wine becoming Body and Blood; hands and oils bringing the power of the Holy Spirit. But the sacraments are also mysteries in the way they play themselves out in our lives. How has the grace of baptism (or eucharist, or confirmation, or marriage) unfolded in your life? How is grace at work in the life of a baby who is baptized, and then not catechized? Of someone who is confirmed, and then claims to be an atheist? Of someone who leaves the priesthood? Of someone who is divorced? Each person’s encounter with Christ in a sacrament is certainly an unfolding mystery, and there is no map or GPS for that journey except prayer.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sri Lanka 13 - From the Frontlines

Every 50 yards or so there was some young man aiming his gun at me during my visit to northwestern Sri Lanka.

I do not have a personal photo to share of these men and their guns.  I sensed that they would not take kindly to a foreigner pointing his camera at them or their outposts. So here's a stock photo of the Sri Lankan Army. It gives you an idea of the faces and guns I saw constantly up north.

They stopped us at many checkpoints.  They even took our passports for over an hour when we tried to enter a certain war-torn village. My American passport (I was travelling with Sinhalese, Tamil, Australian, Mexican, Maltese and Indian Brothers) seemed to raise particular suspicion. 

"Must be a journalist!" 

The international press has been covering the slow pace of reconstruction in Tamil areas.  The Sri Lankan Government does not want any more stories or photos coming out of these locations. 

We were denied entry.  However, we eventually entered the village via another route, less well guarded.

The heightened security remains because of suspicions that there still exist elements of the "Tamil Tigers" (LTTE), especially in the northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka.  The United States, by the way, also recognizes the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization. So peace here is tenuous indeed. There are soldiers and frequent checkpoints throughout Colombo as well.

While the omnipresent guns certainly unsettle me, land mines frighten me more.  The signs are in abundance in the village we stayed in. There are so many types to watch for.

LAND MINE caution tape bordered our roads. 
Clearing fields is a slow meticulous process. 

The USA has given 12 million dollars 
for demining operations in northern Sri Lanka.

Families cannot return until the property is cleared.
It will be a long road back to normalcy.

Although the war is over, many people remain in IDP (Internally Displaced Person) Camps.  These camps stretch for miles along the road. UN vehicles, with their huge antennae and baby-blue coloring, drive back and forth in front of them. The camps are guarded by the Sri Lankan Army, and edged about with barbed wire and concertina wire. Barbed and concertina wire are everywhere in fact!  After the war, people do not seem to know what to do with it. It is rolled up and placed in corners now, almost decoratively. Kept just in case, I guess.

Destruction, war's only souvenir, is everywhere.  
Take a look.

 Remnants of homes.

Houses riddled with bullet holes.

The Brothers' School - bombed.

I cannot share all I have seen.  
I cannot show the man maimed by a land mine,
or the young widow's raw grief, 
or missing girls and stolen boys,
or the dead, buried in forgotten places, stumbled upon now.

The parish priest making rounds on his motorcycle

I can share with you that 
the Church is here:
 feeding the hungry;
    giving drink to the thirsty;
       clothing the naked;
          sheltering the homeless;
            visiting the sick;
              ransoming the captive, 
                and burying the dead.

Residents of the Christian Brothers' Home for teenage Tamil Orphans

The Church is here: 
   instructing the ignorant; 
   counseling the doubtful; 
   admonishing sinners;
   bearing wrongs patiently; 
   forgiving offenses willingly;
   comforting the afflicted;
   praying for living & dead.

The Church is here gently showing a wounded world Christ's peace.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
deacon bill+

I have never had so many guns pointed at me in my life!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sri Lanka 12 - Ut Pictura Poesis

Giving Form to Matter
Do you ever look back and wonder "does life matter?"

Life matters dearly
  to the orphaned girls I met today
  whose giggles reminded me
  that they too
  want to live, and move,
  and have their being.

Life matters dearly
   to those manly builders -
   dreaming of restful lives
   in earth's sleepy corners.

Life matters dearly
   to the quiet people, barely seen,
   hemmed by fear, hatred, violence.
   Robbed of all, but life itself.

Life matters dearly
   to the boy who swings the censer
   - honored to perfume the world! -
    to let the living breathe anew.

Life matters dearly
   to old women whose gift is rice,
   who toil stirring, stoking, serving
   every day of their lives.
   (This day for me.)

Life matters dearly
   to children 
   who cannot get enough of it.
   They wonder: who? and why? 
   and will you stay to play?

Life matters dearly
   to this villager at rest.
   "Thanks for noticing me."
   Few photos in my life.   
   "To whom would I show them?"

Life matters dearly
   to this gentle old Brother
   and aged guest,
   one in wisdom, in grace,
   and in Christ, 
   the Bread of Life.

Life matters dearly 
to me too.

And I am reminded...
...what we have heard,
what we have seen with our own eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life.
for this life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it.   1 John 1-2

blessing and peace from the village mission church of St. John Baptist de La Salle,
Jakaduwa, Sri Lanka.

your deacon+