Tag Archives: Vocational Discernment

To Tell of the Glory of God- Reflection for Mass of May 3, 2010- Feast of Sts. Philip and James

3 May

Monday, May 3, 2010
Feast of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles
Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Psalm 19:2-5; John 14:6-14

While I was in the novitiate in Windsor, it became a running joke that one Basilian confrere, when I would enter the house, would ask in jest, “What good can come out of Alberta?” In remembrance of Philip’s words to Nathaniel in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel, I would reply, “Come and see!”[1] Of course, Philip had just been chosen as an Apostle by Jesus of Nazareth; he had not been speaking with a mere novice.

Very early in his Gospel, John thus gives us a glimpse of the joy and exuberant zeal of Philip the Apostle. His exhortation to Nathaniel, though, was only the beginning of Philip’s arduous journey of discipleship. Philip, like most of us, met God in the ordinary events of life, and, like us, he struggled to understand that he was indeed encountering God in these instances.

Philip had gone to Nathaniel to tell him about Jesus before Jesus had performed any miracle, at least according to the Gospel of John.[2] For Philip, this was a great act of faith. Philip, though, would later fail to recognize Jesus’ power to feed the multitudes from five loaves and two fish.[3] Then again, Philip was the Apostle, John writes, who led the Greeks, who wanted “to see Jesus,”[4] to the Lord. Philip would have made an excellent vocation director!

In today’s Gospel reading, we again see Philip’s incomprehension, and this came after Jesus had performed many signs. Philip’s request: “Show us the Father,”[5] draws a sharp rebuke from Jesus, who tells Philip that He and the Father are co-existent.[6] He and the Father work together in everyday nondescript events to sustain us and indeed all creation. Jesus, through, with, and in the Father and the Spirit, is “the way, the truth, and the life.”[7]

However, Jesus does not simply leave Philip’s request to see the Father unfulfilled. I find the last statement by Jesus in this Gospel, a response to Philip’s prayer, and ours, to see God, to be especially comforting: “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”[8]

Jesus will answer our prayer, even if at times we must be patient and even be content with a lack of understanding of God’s ways. That is the example of James, of whom Paul writes to the Corinthians. In Paul’s time, James was the great pastor of the fledgling Church of Jerusalem. I envisage James, who would die as a martyr,[9] as the patient leader who built community- a Church- of Jews and Gentiles alike. James, “brother of the Lord,”[10] was the first of the Twelve, says Paul, to have seen the Risen Christ.[11] It was thus James’ special responsibility to proclaim that risen Christ to Jerusalem and to the world.

James’ mission of proclamation of the Gospel and as a “brother of the Lord” must continue. James’ mission is ours also, so that as the Psalmist says, God’s “handiwork”[12] will be made known. Let us, with the Apostles Philip and James, let our voice ring out “through all the earth” and “to the end of the world,”[13] and may our works of charity tell of “the glory of God.”[14] Sts. Philip and James, pray for us.

WRS


[1] John 1:46

[2] The Wedding at Cana, the first of Jesus’ seven ‘signs’ recorded in John, occurs from John 2:1-12.

[3] John 6:5-7

[4] John 12:21

[5] John 14:8

[6] John 14:9-11

[7] John 14:6

[8] John 14:14

[9] Acts 12:2

[10] Galatians 1:19

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:7

[12] Psalm 19:2

[13] Psalm 19:5

[14] Psalm 19:2

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Basilian Anniversary and Feast of the Presentation of Mary- Reflection for Mass of November 21, 2008

21 Nov

Vincent Duret, Joseph Lapierre, Augustin Payan, François Polly, Pierre Tourvieille, Julien Tracol, André Fayolle, Henri Martinesche, Jean-François Pagès, Jean-Antoine Vallon…

One hundred eighty-six years ago today, these ten men gathered in Annonay, France, to elect Jean Lapierre as the first Superior General of the Association of Priests of St. Basil. We celebrate the anniversary of our foundation as a religious community on this day, and we also commemorate the Presentation of Mary, Mother of God and Patroness of our Order.

No Biblical record exists of the Presentation of Mary, but the Book of Leviticus and the Gospel of Luke contain details about Jewish rituals surrounding the presentation of a newborn child to the religious leaders. This was an occasion of great joy, of peace, and of hope. When Jesus was presented by Mary and Joseph in the Jerusalem temple, the Divine Child gave lasting hope to the aged widow and prophetess Anna and to Simeon, whose beautiful Nunc Dimittis hymn has become a part of the Church’s tradition during Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours: “Lord, now you have let your servant go in peace.” (Lk.  2:29) One can imagine a similar sentiment expressed at the Presentation of Our Lady by her parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. Little did Anne and Joachim know that their daughter would be God’s ideal instrument to bring Jesus Christ, humankind’s saving hope, into the world.

Yet this is precisely what each of us is called to do as Christians, as religious, and as Basilians. Christ dwells in each one of us; it is up to us to bear witness to His presence within us and therefore to present Him to the world. We are the temple within which the Child is shown, much to the hope and wonderment of others.

I can think of many instances when I have derived hope from Basilians and from the people we encounter. One experience stands out, though: that of my first Sunday Mass after my arrival in Cali, Colombia, last January. I attended this Mass with Fr. Wally Platt, CSB. It was held outdoors on a hot day in a very poor part of Cali in the hills overlooking the city. That Mass included the final professions of a small group of Franciscans. Unfortunately, I knew very little Spanish, having just arrived in Colombia, but a children’s choir opened with a resounding hymn to faith and hope: “La fe y la esperanza.” This is the only part of the song that I understood, but it was all I needed. The  small children had little to give- they had come from such poverty- except for their voices and their smiles. But faith and hope are their own language.

Jesus impels us to speak and to act in that language. For most of us, that can be a great challenge. Similarly, the angel in Revelation tells John in his vision to eat a scroll that will be sweet as honey in his mouth but will be bitter in his stomach after he has swallowed it. (cf. Rv. 8:9) Prophets withstood persecution while they proclaimed the sweet message that God planned to send His people a Messiah. The message itself was often received with bitterness. Not long after Jesus had entered Jerusalem, He was in the temple angrily overturning the tables of those selling worldly objects there. This was not a message the people who were desecrating the temple wanted to hear, but those who sought to kill Jesus could not find a reason to do so. Jesus was acting as a messenger, as a prophet, and as a witness to hope, therefore St. Luke wrote that the people who listened to Jesus teach were “spellbound by what they heard.” (Lk. 19:48)

We must carry on as Christian messengers of faith and hope. Our testimony begins with fidelity to prayer: Are we making our interior temple, thus the whole Church as the Body of Christ, a house of prayer, or do we make of ourselves “a den of robbers?” The message of hope that our Basilian forerunners enkindled at our foundation starts in each of us and radiates outward into the world. As St. Anne and St. Joachim presented their daughter Mary to the world- so much bright but unknown promise to behold- so we as Christians, as religious, and as Basilians are to present ourselves as carriers of a prophecy: Faith and hope, la foi et l’espérance, la fe y la esperanza. Amen.

On the Feast of your Presentation, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. St. Basil, pray for us. All our deceased Basilian brothers who await us in Heaven, pray for us.

WRS

Un candidato Basiliano en Cali- Una reflexión

1 Jun

Esta reflexión esta dedicada al Padre Francisco Amico, CSB, bajo requisición suya.

 

 

Tras de un amoroso lance, 
y no de esperanza falto,
volé tan alto, tan alto,
que le di a la caza alcance.

 

Para que yo alcance diese
a acueste lance divino,
tanto volar me convino
que de vista me perdiese…

 

Cuanto más alto llegaba
de este lance tan subido,
tanto más bajo y rendido
y abatido me hallaba;
dije: ¡No habrá quien alcance!
y abatime tanto, tanto,
que fui tan alto, tan alto, 
que le di a la caza alcance.

 

-San Juan de la Cruz (1548-1591)

 

Cada vez que leo esta poesía, que fue escrita durante un tiempo de reforma, no solamente dentro de la orden Carmelita a la cual San Juan de la Cruz perteneció, sino de toda la Iglesia Católica, creo que resume apropiadamente mi tiempo de servicio en Cali, Colombia, como candidato de la Congregación de San Basilio.

 

Mientras comienzo a escribir esta reflexión sobre lo que acaeció durante mis seis meses en Cali para cuando vuelva a Canadá en junio; estoy regresando a Cali después de una visita a la Casa Annonay, la sede Basiliana de Bogotá. La altitud de la ciudad capital colombiana es destacada. A una altura de 2 600 metros, Bogotá esta más arriba del nivel del mar que todas las ciudades capitales del mundo a excepción de dos: La Paz, Bolivia y Quito, Ecuador. El eslogan de Bogotá, a causa de su altitud, es la ciudad “2 600 m más cerca de las estrellas.”

 

Tuve también la oportunidad de visitar la casa  Basiliana de Medellín, que tiene un balcón en su tercer piso con una vista hermosa del centro de la ciudad desde las alturas del barrio Olaya Herrera. Este balcón era uno de mis lugares favoritos para escribir, para orar, y para contemplar la naturaleza tan bonita que Dios nos ha regalado. Cali, que está en el valle del Río Cauca, tiene montañas también, pero es una ciudad generalmente más plana que Bogotá o Medellín. En Cali como en Bogotá o en Medellín, los Basilianos están siempre dispuestos a servir a los pobres. Esta es una gran diferencia, creo yo, entre el carisma principal de los religiosos de Suramérica y los del Norte.

 

Nunca antes de llegar a Cali había visto tal nivel de pobreza que hay en una parte de nuestra parroquia que se llama La Playa. Mi primera excursión en este sector del barrio Puerto Mallarino fue emocionalmente difícil. En La Playa, mucha gente no vive en casas, sino vive en chozas básicas que sirven apenas como abrigos contra los elementos climatológicos. Las calles dañadas huelen feo y se llenan de agua durante las tormentas. Hay siempre riesgo de inundaciones provocadas por la lluvia, que a veces aumenta mucho el nivel del Río Cauca que fluye cerca. Lo que debe ser más triste es que hay otros barrios que están en la misma condición, ó sino peor que La Playa. Las personas que viven allá muchas veces no pueden pagar una educación para sus niños. Frecuentemente son personas desplazadas por la corrupción y la violencia que manchan este país que tiene un potencial social y económico tan grande.

 

Caminé otras veces en La Playa: una vez serví como intérprete entre dos sacerdotes Basilianos, el consejero general Padre Gordon Judd quien había estado visitándonos de Estados Unidos y el Padre Pedro Mora de Cali. Esta visita se dio durante un periodo de trabajo manual cuando en lugar de la labor físicamente más dura, el superior local, el Padre Francisco Amico, me encomendó ir con los Padres Gordon y Pedro a practicar mi español. Otra caminata en La Playa fue con los otros candidatos Basilianos de Cali para cortar los ramos del Domingo de Ramos en el mes de marzo. En las Escrituras Sagradas, los ramos tienen doble sentido. Primero, ellos significan el mártir y el sufrimiento, como viven cada día los habitantes de los barrios populares, que comprenden mejor que los ricos que la muerte de Jesús es intrínsicamente una glorificación del Señor (cf. Juan 12, 16), aún más que en relación con su Resurrección que es obviamente gloriosa. Segundo, los ramos denotan la alegría y la celebración. Cuando Jesús llegó a Jerusalén, las multitudes lo aclamarán con ramos, un símbolo judío de la Fiesta de los Tabernáculos (cf. 1 Macabeos 13, 51; 2 Macabeos 10, 7). Estas multitudes recordaran también la resurrección de Lázaro, amigo de Jesús, de entre los muertos (Juan 12,17). Para nosotros, discípulos de Jesús como Lázaro, la muerte entonces no es un hecho separado de la resurrección; para compartir la gloria de la Resurrección de Jesús, debemos también estar listos a compartir el sufrimiento y la vergüenza del Cristo crucificado- a cargar nuestra cruz diaria para seguir al Señor. (cf. Marcos 8,34; La Imitación de Cristo II.11) Esta es una lección importante que nos enseñan los pobres cuando estamos preparados para caminar con ellos.

 

Concurrentemente con la humillación de la pobreza, los que viven en los barrios populares comparten también una alegría que viene sin duda del Espíritu Santo. La alta taza de fertilidad en Colombia en comparación con la de Canadá se nota; hay bastantes jóvenes colombianos. Muchos de estos niños sufren de las mismas aflicciones de la generación de sus papás, por ejemplo la pobreza y la violencia ya mencionadas, el fracaso familiar, el abuso y el tráfico de la droga, y el robo que es con frecuencia una señal de personas desaventajadas tratando solamente de sobrevivir. Sin embargo, en medio de todos estos malos sociales, los niños tienen la fe y la esperanza que confunden a los que tienen una abundancia de bienes materiales pero carecen en demasía de lo que es más importante: la confianza en Dios omnibenevolente.

 

La primera Misa a la cual asistí en Cali fue pocos días después de llegar en enero. Fui con el Padre Basiliano Felipe (Wallace) Platt a una Misa de profesión de Franciscanos. El coro, enteramente conformado por niños, canto hermosamente. Me acuerdo de dos ó tres palabras del canto de entrada cuyo bello marco eran las sonrisas de los jóvenes, que cantaban con todo su ser de “la fe y la esperanza”. Desafortunadamente en aquellos días mi nivel de español no era suficientemente rico para deleitarme con el contenido idiomático del resto de la Misa, pero la canción inicial y la mirada en los rostros de los niños están siempre gravadas en mi mente.

 

La sonrisa es su idioma particular, trascendente de toda incapacidad de comunicar con palabras. San Francisco de Asis es famoso por haber dicho: “Predicar el Evangelio; usar palabras si es necesario.” También la primera carta de San Pablo a los Corintios nos impulso a orar por el don de interpretar lenguajes más que de sentirse orgullosos de poder hablarlos, porque dice, “Si oro en un lenguaje, mi espíritu está orando pero mi mente está improductiva.” (1 Corintios 14, 13-14) Los niños y los necesitados ilustran cómo interpretar de mejor manera el lenguaje de amor y de bondad que Dios enseña con preferencia a los sencillos. (cf. Lucas 10,21; Proverbios 9,4)

 

La Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción sirve a tres barrios del este de Cali: Andrés Sanín, Siete de Agosto, y Puerto Mallarino. El templo principal, así como la casa Basiliana y un colegio, el Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA), donde estoy terminando mis cinco meses a enseñar Francés e Inglés, se sitúan en Andrés Sanín. En la parroquia, hay también capillas en los otros dos barrios. El barrio más pobre de esos tres es Puerto Mallarino. Me alegra ir a Misa y acolitar en todas los sectores de la parroquia, pero los encuentros con la gente de Puerto Mallarino, especialmente los más pequeños, me proporcionen una enorme jovialidad que se resiste a la descripción escrita.

 

Había ya contado la historia del día Domingo de Ramos. Mientras que los candidatos Basilianos, incluso yo, cargábamos los ramos en las calles de Puerto Mallarino, los niños salieron de sus casas para saludarnos. Los habitantes de nuestra parroquia reconocen el servicio de los Basilianos para ellos, y responden con inmensa gratitud. Muchos no tienen una educación ni buena catequesis, y siempre confunden los Basilianos en formación con los sacerdotes. Estaba también confuso la primera vez que un hombre me saludó en la calle frente del templo principal, “¡Buenos días, Padre!”, lo cual fue un gran honor, sin embargo, inmerecido para mí. Este saludo erróneo me hace no obstante recordar que debo buscar y orar por la santidad para vivir mis votos de pobreza, de castidad, y de obediencia ya no oficiales, y seguir la vida a la cual Dios nos llama comúnmente: a  ser según el bautismo Cristiano sacerdotes, profetas, y reyes. (cf. 1 Pedro 2,9)

 

Otra situación que me conmueve de sobre manera son mis encuentros con un niño particular de Puerto Mallarino después de cada Misa que yo acolito allá. A la salida de la Misa, cantamos siempre, “Dios te Salve, Maria…” En los tres templos de la parroquia, hay una imagen de la Madre de Dios cargando tiernamente el Divino Niño. Luego del himno a la Virgen, un niño cuyo nombre me escapa me sonríe y me pide que lo levante. Una vez en mis brazos, me dice, “¡Abre la boca!” No sé  porque él me solicita siempre abrir mi boca, pero cuando yo hago su voluntad, su sonrisa crece. Es una vista sin precio- la imagen, creo, del rostro de Dios mismo. Jesús nos da dos enseñanzas importantes, una concerniente con los niños y Su Reino, y la otra a propósito del ministerio de la boca. Primero, el Señor dijo a Sus apóstoles, quienes se encontraban impidiendo a los niños que estaban viniendo para que Jesús pudiese tocarlos: “El Reino de Dios es de quienes son como ellos. Les aseguro que él que no acepta el Reino de Dios como un niño no entrará en él.” (Marcos 10, 14-15) Segundo, Jesús castigó a los fariseos: “De lo que abunda en el corazón, habla la boca.” (Mateo 12, 34) Como ya lo dije, la sonrisa, particularmente de un niño, es su lenguaje propia, revelando la plenitud del amor Divino en el corazón más humilde y seduciendo al mío. (cf. Santa Teresa de Lisieux, Ms. C, 36vo)

 

Ha sido mi privilegio y mi placer de enseñar a los estudiantes del INSA durante este tiempo en Cali. Mientras que todos los Basilianos de cualquier etapa de la formación religiosa tienen la oportunidad de compartir mucho con los jóvenes, es raro de que un candidato pueda dar clases diarias en el colegio. Esto implica inmediatamente una diferencia en la relación del candidato con el estudiante. Admito que es fácil sentirse muy encariñado con los alumnos, también que dejarse perturbar por los muchachos que no muestran esfuerzo en sus estudios ó que tienen problemas de disciplina, pero eso no debe obscurecer los principales objetivos del educador: de informar a los alumnos con un poco de sus conocimientos en un área especifica, y de permitirse a veces aprender valores importantes de los estudiantes.

 

En el INSA, la mayoría de los alumnos vienen de los dos estratos económicos humildes de la sociedad colombiana. Hay seis de tales estratos en Colombia, donde los más pobres están en el primer estrato y los más ricos están en el sexto. Entonces, algunos jóvenes que estudian en el INSA llegan sin haber comido ó de toda manera mostrando la tristeza de su situación de hogar. Todavía la mayor parte de los alumnos quieren aprender y respetan y honran los profesores. Era muy interesante sobre todo de responder a las preguntas frecuentes de los estudiantes sobre algunas detallas de la vida Basiliana ó de la cultura canadiense.

 

En la Semana Santa, presenté una exposición sobre cuatro santos de interés personal: San José, San Basilio Grande, Santa Juana de Arco, y Santa Teresa del Niño Jesús. La Semana Santa fue un gran éxito en general, en la casa, en la escuela, y en la parroquia. Mucha de la gente que viene a Misa tiene carencias graves, por ejemplo el desempleo, las enfermedades, y tal vez más significativamente, las faltas en el nivel de educación y de instrucción sobre la religión católica, pero también estas personas son testigos de la devoción y de una fe que es casi de ensueño en Canadá. Nos preparamos para la Semana Santa en grupos de habitantes de los barrios llamados Pequeñas Comunidades. El Jueves Santo, participamos de la celebración de la institución de la Eucaristía y del sacerdocio por Jesús con doce estudiantes del grado undécimo del INSA sirviendo como apóstoles para el lavatorio de los pies. (cf. Juan 13, 1-20)

 

El Viernes Santo se celebró con la intensidad más grande que nunca había visto en mi país natal. Cargamos en las calles durante el Vía Crucis la Cruz y una estatua grande de la Dolorosa. Después del Vía Crucis, hubo una dramatización por los jóvenes del descenso de Jesús de la Cruz frente de la capilla de Puerto Mallarino, y luego una vigilia en el templo en Andrés Sanín, que fue oscurecido para recordar el vacío que acompaña la muerte del Cristo, quien venció el pecado del mundo. En la noche del Sábado Santo pasó la Vigilia de la Pascua, la Misa más grande del año, para celebrar la Resurrección del Señor, pero también para dar cuenta a nuestra esperanza común como Iglesia del retorno de Jesucristo en el día final. (cf. Apocalipsis 22,20)

 

No sabemos cuando el Señor llegará a la tierra de la misma forma que mientras fue al Cielo en Su Ascensión. (cf. Hechos 1,7; 1,11) Por eso debemos estar siempre listos, como siervos esperando el regreso de su maestro de un matrimonio (cf. Lucas 12, 35-40), practicando la Bondad, la Disciplina, y la Ciencia en la vida religiosa. En la casa Basiliana de Cali fue mi primera experiencia de esta forma de vida en común. Tengo mucha gratitud y alegría profunda por haber vivido en Colombia una mayor parte de mi candidatura. El Superior y Rector, el Padre Francisco Amico, además el Padre Pedro Mora y todos los habitantes de nuestra casa son ejemplos de virtud, de cariño, de enseñanza, de paciencia, y de amor fraternal.

 

Estoy preparándome para el noviciado Basiliano, que empezará el 15 de agosto en Windsor, Ontario, Canadá y que durará un año. “Noviciado” y “novicio” vienen de la palabra Latina “novus”, significando “nuevo”. Estoy siempre creciendo y descubriendo nuevas realidades en esta peregrinación Basiliana. Oro a Dios Padre, Hijo, y Espíritu Santo de continuar su trabajo en mí y de ayudarme a seguir su camino. También doy gracias a nuestro Dios por todos mis hermanos Basilianos que me dan la fuerza del Todopoderoso para ser cada día un mejor discípulo del Señor.

 

La vida religiosa es, de una manera, un microcosmo de la Iglesia entera. Finalmente, somos llamados no solamente a ser buenos religiosos, hermanos, ó sacerdotes, sino somos llamados a la vida eterna- a permanecer con Dios en la Comunión de los Santos, que es la comunidad más especial de todas. Experimentamos en esta valle de lágrimas el destierro, la pobreza, y la tristeza, pero debemos esperar únicamente en el Cielo. Este mundo, especialmente la vida en común, implica toda la topografía espiritual que explicó San Juan de la Cruz y las varias características físicas que Colombia me recuerda. Si deseáramos ser santos, como enseñó también Santa Teresa del Niño Jesús y de la Santa Faz, hermana de la misma comunidad Carmelita que incluyó San Juan de la Cruz, debemos primero ser humildes y no tener miedo de abatirnos, de estar tan bajos que Dios pueda llevarnos “tan alto, tan alto” para que podamos alcanzar la plegaria que es el Amor…

 

Oremos al Señor de la cosecha para que Él envíe más buenos cultivadores fieles a Su Palabra (cf. Mateo 9, 37-38), y para que podamos practicar la pobreza del espíritu y seguir a Jesús según Sus mandamientos de amar a Dios, a nuestro prójimo, y a nosotros mismos con todo nuestro ser. Somos siempre candidatos y novicios, tratando de nuevo de aprender la forma de vida para la que el Creador nos ha formado. O Cristo, sea nuestro instrumento de reformación de todas nuestras imperfecciones para llevarnos a la vida eterna. Amen.

 

  

 

Tras de un amoroso lance, 
y no de esperanza falto,
volé tan alto, tan alto,
que le di a la caza alcance.

 

1. Para que yo alcance diese
a acueste lance divino,
tanto volar me convino
que de vista me perdiese;
y, con todo, en este trance
en el vuelo quedé falto;
mas el amor fue tan alto, 
que le di a la caza alcance.

 

2. Cuanto más alto subía
deslumbróseme la vista,
y la más fuerte conquista
en oscuro se hacía;
mas, por ser de amor el lance
di un ciego y oscuro salto,
y fui tan alto, tan alto, 
que le di a la caza alcance.

 

3. Cuanto más alto llegaba
de este lance tan subido,
tanto más bajo y rendido
y abatido me hallaba;
dije: ¡No habrá quien alcance!
y abatime tanto, tanto,
que fui tan alto, tan alto, 
que le di a la caza alcance.

4. Por una extraña manera
mil vuelos pasé de un vuelo,
porque esperanza del cielo
tanto alcanza cuanto espera;
esperé solo este lance,
y en esperar no fui falto,
pues fui tan alto, tan alto, 
que le di a la caza alcance.

 

 

 

 

Quisiera incluir una dedicatoria especial a Andrés Felipe Zúñiga, mi maestro de Español y gran amigo durante éstos seis meses en Cali, quien me ayudó a lograr este primer articulo enteramente escrito en Español y quien es, creo, un ejemplo excelente del amor de Dios.

 

Warren Roger Schmidt,

Candidato, Congregación de San Basilio

22 mayo, 2008

Santa Rita de Casia

 

 

 

 

A Basilian Candidate in Cali- Reflection Essay

1 Jun

This reflection is dedicated to Fr. Francisco Amico, CSB, and was written upon his request.

 

 

I went out seeking love

and with unfaltering hope

I flew so high, so high

that I overtook the prey.

 

That I might take the prey

of this adventuring to God

I had to fly so high

That I was lost from sight…

 

The higher I ascended

in this seeking so lofty

the lower and more subdued I became.

I said: No one can overtake it!

And sank so low, oh, so low,

That I was so high, so high,

that I took the prey.

 

-St. John of the Cross (1548-1591)

 

Each time I read this poem, which was written in a time of reform, not only of the Carmelite Order to which St. John of the Cross belonged, but of the whole Catholic Church, I believe it more to be an appropriate summary of my time spent serving in Cali, Colombia, as an associate of the Congregation of St. Basil.

 

As I begin to write this reflection on what will have been nearly six months in Cali by the time I arrive back in Canada in June, I am returning to Cali from a visit to Casa Annonay, the Basilian house in Bogotá. The altitude of the Colombian capital city is noteworthy. At approximately 2 600 metres, Bogotá is higher above sea level than all but two other national capitals in the world: La Paz, Bolivia, and Quito, Ecuador. Owing to its altitude, Bogotá’s slogan is the city “2 600 metres closer to the heavens.”

 

I also had the opportunity to visit the Basilian house in Medellín, which includes a balcony on its third floor with a beautiful view of the city center from the heights of the barrio Olaya Herrera. This balcony was one of my favourite places to write, to pray, and to contemplate God’s wonderful gift of nature. Cali, which is in the valley of the Río Cauca, also has mountains, though it is generally flatter in topography than Bogotá or Medellín. In Cali as in Bogotá or Medellín, the Basilians are continually prepared to serve the poor. I believe this to be one important difference between the principal charism of religious in South America and those in the North.

 

Prior to arriving in Cali, I had never encountered such a level of poverty as there exists in a part of our parish named La Playa. My first visit to this section of Puerto Mallarino was emotionally difficult. In La Playa, many do not live in houses, but instead these people live in basic shacks that barely serve as shelters against the elements. The damaged streets have a foul smell and they fill with water during storms. The risk of flooding exists continually due to rainwater that often greatly increases the level of the Río Cauca, the river that flows nearby. It is perhaps even sadder that other barrios exist that are in the same or worse condition as La Playa. Those that live in these neighborhoods frequently cannot afford an education for their children. Often these are persons displaced by the corruption and violence that stain this country with such great social and economic potential.

 

I walked through La Playa on other occasions: Once I served as a translator between two Basilan priests, the General Councilor Father Gordon Judd, who had been visiting from the United States, and Father Pedro Mora of Cali. This visit to La Playa happened during a manual labor period when instead of heavier physical work, the local superior, Father Francisco Amico, requested that I accompany Fathers Gordon and Pedro to practice my Spanish. Yet another walk through La Playa was with the other Basilian candidates living in Cali. In March, we went to cut palm branches for Palm Sunday. In the Sacred Scriptures, palm branches have a double meaning. Firstly, they signify martyrdom and suffering, such as that lived out every day by those in the lower-class barrios, who understand better than the rich that Jesus’ death is intrinsically a glorification of the Lord (cf. John 12:16), even more than in relation to His Resurrection that is more obviously glorious. Secondly, the palm branches represent joy and celebration. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the crowds acclaimed Him with palm branches, the Jewish symbol of the Feast of the Tabernacles. (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51, 2 Maccabees 10:7) Those multitudes also remembered the raising of Lazarus, friend of Jesus, from the dead. Thus for us, disciples of Jesus like Lazarus, death is not an event separate from resurrection; in order to share in the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection, we must also be ready to share in the suffering and in the shame of the crucified Christ- to carry our cross daily and to follow Him. (cf. Mark 8:34; The Imitation of Christ II, 11) This is an important lesson that the poor teach us when we are prepared to journey with them.

 

Along with the humiliation of poverty, those that live in the underdeveloped barrios also share a joy that without doubt comes from the Holy Spirit. Colombia’s fertility rate is remarkably high compared to that of Canada, and therefore there are numerous young Colombians. Many of these children suffer the same afflictions as do people of their parents’ generation, for example the aforementioned poverty and violence, family breakdown, drug abuse and trafficking, and theft that is frequently a sign of disadvantaged persons trying just to survive. However, amongst all these social ills, the children possess faith and hope that confound those that have an abundance of material goods but dearly lack that which is most important: confidence in the omnibenevolent God.

 

The first Mass I attended in Cali was only a few days after arriving in Colombia in January. I went with the Basilian Father Wally Platt to a Mass with the profession of vows of some Franciscans. The choir, entirely composed of children, sang beautifully. I remember only two or three words of the entrance hymn, along with the magnificent smiles of the young singers, who sang with all their being of “faith and hope.” Unfortunately at that time my level of Spanish was not sufficient for me to understand the rest of the Mass, but the initial hymn along with the image of the children’s faces are forever fixed upon my memory.

 

The smile is its own language, transcending all incapacity to communicate with words. St. Francis of Assisi is famous for having said, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary use words.” Furthermore, the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians impels us to pray for the gift of interpreting languages rather than feeling proud of being able to speak in them. St. Paul says, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit is at prayer but my mind is unproductive.” (1 Corinthians 14: 13-14) Children and the poor illustrate how best to interpret the language of love and of goodness that God preferentially teaches to the simple. (cf. Luke 10:21, Proverbs 9:4)

 

The Parish of Our Lady of the Assumption (Nuestra Señora de la Asunción) serves three barrios in the eastern part of Cali: Andrés Sanin, Siete de Agosto, and Puerto Mallarino. The main church building, as well as the Basilian house and a school, Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA), where I am finishing my five months of teaching French and English, are in Andrés Sanin. The area served by the parish also includes chapels in the other two barrios. The poorest neighborhood of the three is Puerto Mallarino. I enjoy going to Mass and serving as Acolyte in all the sectors of the parish, but the encounters with the people of Puerto Mallarino, especially the smallest ones, give me a great sense of delight that resists written description.

 

I have told most of the story of Palm Sunday. While the Basilian candidates, including myself, were carrying the palm branches through the streets of Puerto Mallarino, the children eagerly came out from their houses to greet us. Thos living in our parish recognize the service provided for them by the Basilians, and they respond with immense gratitude. Many have little education and are poorly catechized, and they regularly confuse Basilians in formation with our priests. I was equally confused the first time a man greeted me in the street in front of the main church, “Hello, Father!” This was a great honor for me, however unmerited on my part. This mistaken greeting nevertheless helped me to remember that I should search and pray for holiness in order to live by my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience that are as of yet unofficial, and to live the life to which God calls us all together: to be, according to our Christian Baptism, priests, prophets, and kings. (cf. 1 Peter 2:9)

 

I am also deeply moved by my encounters with one particular child from Puerto Mallarino after every Mass that I serve there. The Hail Mary is always sung as the recessional hymn. In each of the three churches of the parish, there is an image of the Mother of God tenderly carrying the Divine Child. Following the hymn to the Virgin, a child whose name escapes me smiles at me and asks me to lift him up. As soon as he is in my arms, he says, “Open your mouth!” I do not know why he always asks me to open my mouth, but when I do as he wills, his smile grows. The sight is priceless- the image, I believe, of the face of God Himself. Jesus gives us two important teachings, one concerning children and His Kingdom, and the other about the proper role of the mouth. Firstly, the Lord said to His apostles, who were attempting to prevent the children from coming to Jesus so that He could touch them: “Let the children come to me, do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Mark 10: 14-15) Secondly, Jesus scolded the Pharisees: “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) As I have said, the smile, especially that of a child is its own language, revealing the fullness of Divine Love in the humblest heart and seducing my own. (cf. Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux, Autobiographical Manuscript C, 36vo)

 

To teach the students at INSA during this time in Cali was a great privilege and pleasure. While all Basilians in whatever step of religious formation have the opportunity to connect with youth, it is rare that a candidate is able to teach daily classes in the school. This immediately implies a difference in the relationship between the candidate and the student. I admit that it is easy to feel attached to the children, as well as to allow one’s self to become frustrated with those that show little effort in their studies or with those who have discipline problems, but that ought never to obscure the main objectives of the educator: to use a portion of one’s own knowledge in a specific subject area, and also to permit one’s self at times to be taught important values by the students.

 

At INSA, the majority of the students come from the most humble economic strata of Colombian society. There are six such economic levels in Colombia, where the poorest are in Stratum One and the richest persons are in Stratum Six. Thus, some students at INSA come to class not having eaten, or in any case showing signs of the sadness of their situation at home. Nonetheless most of the students want to learn, and they respect and honor the teachers. It was interesting above all for me to be able to respond to frequent questions from the pupils about some of the details of Basilian life or of Canadian culture.

 

During Holy Week, I presented on the lives of four saints of personal interest: St. Joseph, St. Basil the Great, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. Holy Week was a great success in general, in the house, in the school, and in the parish. Many in the community who attend Mass regularly contend with serious hardships, for example unemployment, sickness, and possibly of greater consequence, low levels of education and of instruction in the Catholic religion, although most of the people are true witnesses of Christ, possessing a level of devotion and of faith that is but a dream in Canada. We prepared ourselves for Holy Week in groups of residents- the “Little Communities- of each of the barrios. On Holy Thursday, we participated in the celebration of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and of the priesthood with twelve Grade eleven students from INSA serving as apostles during the washing of feet. (cf. John 13:1-20)

 

Good Friday was celebrated with an intensity that I had never seen in my native country. During the Way of the Cross, we carried the Cross along with a large statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. Following the Way of the Cross, the youth presented an enactment of the descent of Jesus from the Cross in front of the chapel in Puerto Mallarino, and then later a vigil took place in the church in Andrés Sanin, which was darkened to recall the emptiness that accompanies the death of Christ, who conquered the sin of the world. The Easter Vigil, the most important Mass of the year, was observed on the night of Holy Saturday to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, but also to evoke our common hope as Church in the return of Jesus Christ on the last day. (cf. Revelation 22:20)

 

We do not know when the Lord will come again to the earth in the same way as He ascended into Heaven. (cf. Acts 1: 7, 11) Therefore we ought always to be ready, as servants awaiting the arrival of their Master from a wedding ceremony (cf. Luke 12: 35-40), practicing Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge in our religious life. My first experience of this form of community living was in the Basilian house in Cali, and I am filled with much gratitude and with a profound joy for having lived in Colombia for a significant part of my candidacy. The Superior and Rector, Father Francisco Amico, as well as Father Pedro Mora and all those living in our house are examples of virtue, of friendliness, of sound teaching, of patience, and of fraternal love.

 

I am currently preparing myself for the Basilian Novitiate, which will begin on 15 August in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and which will last one year. “Novitiate” and “Novice” come from the Latin word “novus” meaning “new”. I am continually discovering new realities in this pilgrimage with the Basilians. I pray to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to continue His work in me and to help me to follow His path. I also give thanks to our God for all my Basilian brothers who give me the strength of the All-Powerful, that each day I might be a better disciple of the Lord.

 

Religious life is, in a way, a microcosm of the entire Church. Finally, we are called not only to be good religious, brothers, or priests, but we are called to eternal life- to abide with God in the Communion of Saints, which is the most special community of all. In this valley of tears, we are acquainted with exile, poverty, and sadness, but we must place our hope fully in Heaven. This world, especially life in common, entails the experience of the whole spiritual topography that St. John of the Cross explained and of which the varied physical characteristics of Colombia remind me. If we desire to be saints, as St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, sister of the same Carmelite community that included St. John of the Cross, taught, we must firstly be humble and not be afraid to abase ourselves, to sink “so low” that God will raise us up “so high, so high” and that we might then take “the prey” that is Love…

 

Let us pray to the Lord of the harvest, so that He might send more good laborers who are faithful to His Word (cf. Matthew 9: 37-38), and that we might practice poverty in spirit and follow Jesus according to His commandments to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves with our whole being. We are always candidates and novices, attempting anew to learn the way of life for which the Creator has formed us. O Christ, be the instrument of reformation of all our imperfections and lift us to life everlasting. Amen.

 

 

I went out seeking love,
and with unfaltering hope
I flew so high, so high,
that I overtook the prey.

 

 

1. That I might take the prey
of this adventuring in God
I had to fly so high
that I was lost from sight;
and though in this adventure
I faltered in my flight,
yet love had already flown so high
that I took the prey.

 

2. When I ascended higher
my vision was dazzled,
and the most difficult conquest
came about in darkness;
but since I was seeking love
the leap I made was blind and dark,
and I rose so high, so high,
that I took the prey.

 

3. The higher I ascended
in this seeking so lofty
the lower and more subdued
and abased I became.
I said: No one can overtake it!
And sank, ah, so low,
that I was so high, so high,
that I took the prey.

 

4. In a wonderful way
my one flight surpassed a
thousand,
for the hope of heaven
attains as much as it hopes for;
this seeking is my only hope,
and in hoping, I made no mistake,
because I flew so high, so high,
that I took the prey.

 

 

I would like to include a special dedication to Andrés Felipe Zuñiga, my Spanish tutor and great friend during these six months in Cali, who assisted me in realizing my first article entirely written in Spanish (of which this is my translation to English) and is, I believe, an excellent example of the love of God.

 

Warren Roger Schmidt,

Associate, Congregation of St. Basil

22 May, 2008

St. Rita of Casia