The Road Home

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.” (St. John Chrysostom)

I was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2010, just before my eighteenth birthday. Ironically, it was at the same parish church where I had been baptized, so although I wasn’t raised in the Faith, I had technically always been a Catholic. But this was the commitment, this was Confession, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion. 

0 wall.JPG

What else was I doing ten years ago? Going to the river. Bumming around the one coffee shop in Fredericksburg. Drinking in basements with the school choir. Going to house shows. Toiling away on a paper about Joyce’s Dubliners for Mr. Andrew’s English class. Worrying about not getting into art school. Driving too fast down Brooke Road at night. Listening to Los Campesinos, Springsteen, and the Shins. Making terrible short films. Memorizing speeches from Julius Caesar and King Lear. Fawning over Criterion Collection movies with friends. Reading C.S. Lewis when I was supposed to be shelving books at the Central Library. Watching Bishop Sheen on YouTube.

Obviously being a legal adult doesn’t mean you’re an adult Christian. Unlike other religions, Catholic Christianity isn’t a one and done sort of thing. A profession of faith, even the Sacrament of Confirmation, isn’t a get out of jail free card. Eternal life is ongoing, on both sides of eternity. “With fear and trembling work out your salvation,” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians. Or as one of my acting professors in undergrad would always say, “It’s the process, not the product.”  

4 Group.JPG

It’s been a year and eight months since I arrived in Honduras in August 2018. The Lord’s process has taken me places I would’ve never imagined, least of all when I was a new-minted convert at St. Mary’s Church in Fredericksburg. I never thought I’d be able to speak Spanish with any skill or confidence. I never thought I’d actually enjoy praying the Divine Office or the Rosary. I never thought I could be at home in a foreign part of the world, with a completely different language and culture, and find people I could honestly call brothers and sisters.

5 St Joseph.JPG

The Lord blessed us in 2020. There were more guys living in the men’s house and we were able to build up a solid Christian fraternity. We had new students and familiar faces at our tutoring program. English classes with the Franciscian postulants started up again. Our young men’s group got off to a good start. This culminated with an incredible mountain mission in the first week of March. 

Then, like the rest of the world, things began to change. The epidemic came to Honduras and the country began to shut down. First the schools, then the churches, then public transportation stopped and most commerce closed up. The Mission went into quarantine. No visitors. No movement beyond the two blocks shared with the Franciscian convent. All produce from the market, and packaged food from the store, washed in water and bleach. If one of the Missioners were to become seriously ill, COVID-19 or not, everyone would be quarantined in their rooms.

6 sunset.JPGSmoke from forest fires blocking out the sky.

April came, and the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa started emailing, then calling. Things were getting worse in the capital. Crowded hospitals were turning people away to free up resources for COVID-19 patients. The army guarded the few open stores during the day and enforced the curfew at night. Promised government aid was not coming. Protests, rioting, and wrecked cars blocked the road to the airport. Desperate people were acting out the national consternation.

On April 6 the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Department of Comayagua, in the town of Taulabé. I had been there many times before, and had just visited in February to help prepare for a mission that would later be cancelled. The parish priest was a friend of the Missioners. The people were excited that we were coming.

8 Taulabé.JPG
A rural chapel in San Gaspar Parish. Taulabé, Comayagua.

During Holy Week I took all this to prayer. I now realize how much of a grace it was. This was my first Holy Week where I wasn’t in class, working, teaching, or leading a mission. I had time to sit in the chapel and honestly discern this thing. Still, I was afraid of making a decision. Would I be choosing to stay out of pride? Would leaving be a choice based on fear of an unknown future, be it in Honduras or in Virginia? Would it be foolish to stay and risk my future vocation? Would leaving mean abandoning the field?

Of course this is how the Enemy gets under your skin. Even after talking to some trusted friends and meeting with my spiritual director, I was still stuck within myself. I was only able to move forward after some advice from one of the Friars. I will always be thankful for his directness.

“Don’t talk to yourself, talk to God.”

It ended up being that simple. After a Holy Saturday spent in prayer, I made my decision. I would return to the United States on the last flight out of Tegucigalpa that coming week. Three other foreign Missioners had made the same decision, so thankfully I had traveling companions. Easter Week was spent settling accounts, cleaning, packing, spending time with the Mission family, and giving thanks.

a806417e-551d-45a6-b36e-c1eaaf070868.JPG
The Houston crew. Patrick (Virginia), Josh (Australia), Alejandra (Texas), Leigh (Arizona).

At dawn on Friday, April 17, the four of us had a long goodbye, then drove to the airport. The road into Tegucigalpia was full of smoke from wildfires up in the mountains, but there were no protests or roadblocks in the city, and we arrived early for our afternoon flight. By God’s grace, the next 24 hours passed without any problems. A smooth flight from Tegucigalpa to Houston, a long layover in an empty airport, then to Dulles International early in the morning. A few hours later I was home in the Shenandoah Valley.

IMG_8181.JPG

Right before His Passion, Jesus spoke to His disciples about hope in adversity. I can’t think of any better meditation for right now than this.

“Behold, the hour cometh, and it is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.” (St. John 16:32-33)

This is the end of my Honduras Chronicle, but not the end of the Mission. The work of the Missioners of Christ will be even more important after this epidemic has passed. I know the Lord is guiding the Missioners, both in Honduras and the community in the United States, and the spirit of the Mission will grow stronger through our prayers and sacrafices in these times.

I am incredibly thankful to all my family, friends, and benefactors who have supported the Mission spiritually and financially. The past twenty months would not have been possible without them. If it is God’s will that I return to Honduras, then I will return. If His will is elsewhere, I will pray for the grace to understand it in His good time.

Will you pray for the Mission?

IMG_7340.JPGFirst week with a Honduran mission team. El Matasano, Comayagaua. December 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

The Long March

The Mission is sort of out of the way. It’s located in a neighborhood most people avoid, in an unpretentious city, in a stagnant Latin American republic. 

When we’re busy with teaching and catechesis, there isn’t any public fanfare. Children, youth, and adults come to programs, classes, and retreats. We have our Missions in the mountains. Missionaries and neighbors gather to pray the Divine Office and the Mass. International visitors come and go, but there isn’t much to grab your attention from the street.

Although we have 25 people living at the house, and we see hundred people in formation and mission programs each week, we come across as small in the eyes of the world.

69720770_2506733569408889_4923162217873932288_n

The local and foreign Missioners all returned in mid-January. Our house now has missionaries from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, Australia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia. Every bunk was soon filled, and we started the new year at full steam.

So, full steam ahead.

89716160_232762274787061_3015691130604879872_n.jpgStudents and families come to orientation at the San Juan Bosco scholarship program. All the kids received new uniforms, shoes, and backpacks full of supplies for the new year.

89820468_714977632656503_8880781651206995968_n.jpgA side altar at the old shrine of Our Lady of Suyapa in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. The 19th century church survives with most of its traditional elements intact, while the giant national Basilica stands a few blocks away.

89840440_292604258387059_4018532884317995008_n.jpgErin, Leydi, and Elias set up an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe for a youth retreat in February. Our first retreat of 2020 was a big success, with over a hundred teenagers and youth participating in Holy Mass, Confession, and Eucharistic Adoration.

IMG_6499.JPGTwilight down on the farm. The La Paz Department, near the Salvadoran border, is also part of the Diocese of Comayagua and the Mission hopes to expand its presence there soon.

89822682_213797466372004_1685960335116206080_n.jpg
A makeshift shrine in a rural chapel, somewhere outside the town of Taulabé, Comayagua. Like many mountain communities, local Catholics usually worship on Sunday without a priest to celebrate Mass, and may have access to the Sacraments only a few times a year.

90061994_2533406453541009_3867737235390464000_n.jpg
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament with our Spring Break Mission teams from Texas A&M University and Christendom College, along with visiting priests and seminarians from Arizona, Louisiana, and Virginia.

IMG_6873.JPG
Ranger, our assistant director of security, at his usual post.

After returning from our first Spring Break Mission in the mountains, and getting an update on the international situation, we realized our plans would be changing. Honduras may out of the way, but even a banana republic isn’t completely cut off from the rest of the world, or the COVID-19 coronavirus. Thankfully all our visiting missionaries from the United States were able to return home on their normal flights without travel delays or medical issues.

It was the Ides of March, a Sunday, when the news started coming down the pipe. The Honduran government closed the international borders, restricted access in and out of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, along with closing the airports for 30 days. The schools, colleges, and universities had already been closed for two weeks.

IMG_6881.JPG
“Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time.” (Julius Caesar: Act I, Scene 3)

Monday, March 16, was the last day of public Masses. Possibly for the first time in history, the Honduran government ordered the churches to be closed in the name of health and security. Even in cities and departments without confirmed cases of COVID-19, there haven’t been public Sacraments for weeks. This is a country that has endured colonial wars, military coups, floods, and hurricanes, but never been deprived of the Sacraments by order of the national government. Thankfully, there are heroic priests who are willing to visit the sick and hear the confessions of the dying, despite the risks.

The banks, stores, and offices in Comayagua are all shuttered, the buses and taxis are no longer running, and the streets are empty in the middle of the day. The three supermarkets in town remain open, along with the gas stations, but with severe restrictions on visits and purchases.

The government has taken control of all fuel distribution, ostensibly to transport emergency food and medicine, but the rioters in Tegucigalpa would say differently. The President has called out the army to enforce the curfew in the capital and other big cities. We thank God daily that the virus, and the heavy hand of the military, hasn’t come to Comayagua yet.

IMG_6404.JPG

Obviously, our two remaining Spring Break Missions, Holy Week Mission, and Easter Mission were scrapped. Our local ministries are also suspended, and we  were originally quarantined at the Mission for two weeks. I can say we used the time well. We cleaned the house, did our laundry, shared good food, read books, said the Office, made our Holy Hours, and prayed along with the Pope for an end to the epidemic.

Those two weeks passed, and we’re still holed up in the house. There are still no cases of coronavirus in Comayagua, but there’s no sign that the quarantine will end any time soon. Like the rest of the world, all we can do is pray, do penance, and say, “Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time.”

Will you pray for the Mission?

Retrospective and Restart

Tomorrow is the return to Honduras, and I’m itching to get back. But before the great adventure continues, a short photo retrospective on 2019, along with some thoughts on the Mission in the year to come!

Recommended montage music.

IMG_6056.JPG
Hard at work during spring English classes in Cabañas, La Paz. The Mission provided extra school supplies for this middle school class.

IMG_6071.JPG
At the pulperia with a friend of the Mission. Juan Carlos is a taekwando master with his own school in Comayagua and helps with youth programs.

IMG_6153.JPG
A March mission team is an interesting thing. Christian and I led five students from the Shenandoah Valley and upstate New York in the mountains for a weeklong catechism mission.

IMG_6159.JPG
Christendom college students rolling home after their week in Honduras.

IMG_6170.JPG
Leydi, Elias, and I with our Texas A&M mission team. Second week of March.

IMG_6223.JPG
After English classes in Cabañas, La Paz.

IMG_6468.JPG
Holy Week 2019, Comayagua. The procession passes over colorful carpets made of sawdust and pigment.

IMG_6562.JPG
Finishing up our Hombres de Cristo (Men of Christ) spring retreat.

IMG_6758.JPG
A sweltering Corpus Christi procession through El Volcan, Comayagua.

IMG_6807.JPG
What’s your favorite Crayola color? Children’s catechism activity during a weeklong mission in La Cebita, Comayagua.

IMG_7044.JPG A day at the park with the kids from the San Juan Bosco scholarship program.

IMG_6670.JPG
The past. A Spanish colonial side altar at the Comayagua Cathedral.

IMG_7233.JPG
The future. First Holy Communions at Maria Reina Parish, Comayagua.

IMG_7204.JPG
Fr. Felix preaches at Pan de Vida (Bread of Life), the final youth retreat of the year. Over 100 teenagers and young adults were able to experience firsthand the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

IMG_7240.JPG
The John Paul II House of Formation on a warm, gray day in December.

After a month of family, friends, and feasts, I am ready to be back in Honduras. As much as I love my home, and everyone associated with it, I can’t wait to hit the tarmac in Tegucigalpa, pile in the truck, and roll up to the Mission, ready to go.

Some things to look forward to in this Year of Our Lord 2020.

  1. Four new missioners who will be coming to live in community. Two men from Honduras and two women from Nicaragua will be joining us for long term service!
  2. A new responsibility in the sacristy of the Mission house. Arranging the sanctuary for Mass and devotions, keeping things orderly, and training the new Honduran missioners how to serve Mass.
  3. Three big March missions, followed by two back to back weeks in April, and all the while discerning the will of God for my future with the Mission.

So it begins, all over again! Will you pray for the Mission?

 

 

Anniversary

A year ago today I landed on the tarmac in Tegucigalpa. It had been a long time coming. Since November of 2017, I had been thinking about it. Sitting in the dark at St. Benedict’s Church in Richmond, listening. That’s when Our Lord speaks, when we enter into silence and quiet our interior noise to listen.

So a year has passed. A month in Guatemala, six catechetical missions, four different English classes, a seemingly endless Lent, Holy Week on the Caribbean coast, the Easter Vigil, mountains of happy screaming kids, long hours crossing mountain roads, and a silent retreat just last week. Wish I could say there was a partridge in a pear tree, but neither can be found at this latitude.

I also know what’s been bothering me about this WordPress. It’s the same thing that bothered me about the journal I kept for four months and stopped. I dislike the first person. To read it in a novel is fine, because you’re not speaking. You’re listening to a character describe their experiences. Generally you don’t want a pretentious narrator, but if he’s pretentious and funny, you can have a good time laughing at him. If he’s pretentious and boring, you can discard that one and go read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn again.

It’s like when Sean O’Casey was writing his memoirs and was agitated with all the “I’s” on the first page. They looked telephone poles strung along with sentences. So he switched to third person for the seven volume work. I don’t think I’m at that point yet, but this is why I mostly write fiction in the third person and plays with very few stage directions. This is also why I can’t listen to the Moth Radio Hour or This American Life or the rest of the People Talking About Themselves genre that is so bold, profound, necessary, et-cetera. Same goes for most personal blogs and YouTube talking heads who spill their guts to the camera their followers bought them on Patreon. To me it comes across as self-serving, maybe not quite narcissistic, but definitely not smelling right.

They’re also boring.

What wasn’t boring was the sermon at the Franciscan Friary this morning for the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Moses was not able to enter the Promised Land, but instead gave his blessing to Joshua, who would then lead the Hebrew children to their inheritance. The next generation is given the grace to be holier than the previous, but what they do with that grace is up to them. They can use it or squander it. Sometimes they use it and the Lord blesses them richly, and sometimes they squander it and are led into captivity in Babylon.

This isn’t just ritualistic Old Testament Judaism. Your decrepit Slovak grandfather got to see his grandson baptized in a beautiful neo-gothic church because he worked in a filthy mine for thirty years, but still gave to his parish in his poverty. Your octogenarian grandmother from Mississippi got to see her granddaughter walk across the stage in a cap and gown, instead of having to work as a washerwoman or some such thing, because she did everything she could to provide for her family. Whether it’s a land of milk and honey or not, the forefathers are supposed to bless their children so the new generation can inherit something greater.

I was born in 1992, so according to the statisticians at Pew, I can be called a millennial. I care no more about this nomenclature than you would’ve cared about being labeled as a member of the “Lost Generation” had you been an average American born in 1900. While Hemmingway was getting drunk in Montparnasse, you were probably working on a farm. Right now, my generation is killing itself with painkillers and synthetics, has the highest suicide rate since World War II, and are drifting from soft agnosticism to other things.

At least Hemmingway could write a landscape.

Not surprisingly, many of my co-generationalists have made an Internet cottage industry out of mocking the baby boomers (who are really just their parents that voted for H.W. Bush and listen to the same five Jimmy Buffett songs ad-nauseam) and proclaiming that they set up their 2.5 children for failure. Likewise many of the boomers write off their disparaging, debt-ridden, millennial descendants (who are really just their kids who were packed into overcrowded public schools for thirteen years and spoilt with certain cereals) as selfish children who need government goodies and haven’t the emotional stability to do what their grandfathers did at Omaha Beach.

In Honduras the situation is similar, but different. The generational gap is not just cultural but also a physical vacuum. Thousands of men are gone to the States and their sons are waiting to go to the States. The political situation north of the Rio Grande doesn’t matter. If anything, go now, because it could get worse. This means thousands of families are left to manage for themselves with few resources.

But this isn’t a hard decision when you’re in your twenties with a fifth grade education, no job, and are the seventh son of a seventh son on a single-crop coffee farm that isn’t producing. Maybe your family was Catholic for four hundred years, but now they’re constantly fighting because half are Pentecostal. There are mob killings, human and drug trafficking, and corruption at every level of society.

So what is the inheritance, the blessing, the Promised Land that has been missed? The German artist Matthias Grünewald seemed to understand when he painted the Isenheim Altarpiece.

1024px-Matthias_Grünewald_-_The_Crucifixion_-_WGA10723.jpg

Four and a quarter centuries later, in February 1941, the Gestapo kicked in the door of a Franciscian monastery outside Warsaw. They arrested the friars and the superior, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, for hiding Polish Jews and printing anti-Nazi literature. Fr. Kolbe was beaten up for refusing to deny the divinity of Christ and thrown in a local prison. After three months he was sent to Auschwitz. In Block 13 of the concentration camp, Fr. Kolbe suffered from chronic lung problems, was routinely beaten, and risked the firing squad for hearing the confessions of dying men.

In August, a prisoner escaped from Block 13, and the guards meted out punishment. For every escape, ten prisoners would be taken to a starvation bunker to die of thirst. Hearing his name called, a Polish prisoner of war broke down weeping for the family he would never see again. At this Fr. Kolbe stepped forward saying,

“I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”

The Nazi commandant permitted the request and the ten men were taken to die. After two weeks without food or water, only Fr. Kolbe remained. Wanting to move things along, the guards injected him with carbolic acid, and his body burned in the crematorium.

Matthias_Grünewald_-_The_Crucifixion_(detail)_-_WGA10727.jpg

You can find Auschwitz in this picture. You can find Dachau and Belsen, the Gulag Archipelago, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden. Look over the whole altarpiece and you can see the Middle Passage, the Islamic State, lynch law, Wounded Knee, the Somme, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and El Paso. The poverty that hangs over the homes and schools in the hood, the barrio, and the trailer park. Cancer wards and diabetic amputations. Every misery in life, and in parting from it, can be found on
Grünewald’s anatomy chart.

The Crucifixion is our Christian inheritance. It’s hard to look at, but it’s harder to live without it.

Will you pray for the Mission?

Second Country

You don’t hear much from me these days. I know. I don’t hear much from myself either. Most of what I say to others, and indeed most of my audible prayers to God, are in a different language. Its a language I understand,  but at times it sounds like someone else is speaking.

Thomas Merton thought that, “After Latin it seems to me there is no language so fitted for prayer and for talk about God as Spanish.” He wrote that in 1948. I’m fortunate to have a bookworm eaten Latin-Spanish missal from 1958 for personal devotions, so I’ve come to know what he’s talking about.

Perhaps I have proficiency now. I don’t know. I can sustain a conversation with a toothless old man when he’s getting his physical therapy. He had a stroke a while back and doesn’t like to do his exercises. He told me that he has “Evangelical” relatives who don’t say the Lord’s Prayer because it isn’t in the Bible. I always thought it was in St. Matthew Ch. 6. I suppose my old Episcopalian Sunday School teacher would’ve been confused at that too. There are a lot of confusing groups in this part of the world.

I was once confused, for a Mexican. Sort of like Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil. I was in the mountains, with a group of students from Texas, speaking Spanish with a Honduran gentleman farmer, The local Missioners say my speech is very precise, like a schoolteacher’s, which I suppose is a good thing. Apart from some slang that everyone uses, it’s not particularly Honduran, though I don’t think it’s particularly Mexican either.

During March and April I was part of three week-long catechetical missions. Two were in the mountains in La Paz. The last was during Holy Week, just outside the tropical port of La Ceiba. They were different worlds entirely.

La Paz was familiar, with small towns wrapped around the mountains and the local honest-to-God piety that people impart unto their children. These two weeks were spent with students from Christendom College and Texas A&M. Exceptionally sharp undergrads. I don’t just mean declaiming in the original Latin or whatever mathematics it takes to be a chemical engineer, which were skills they definitely had. They were, and are, spiritually sharp young men and women.

Why? Because they commune with God regularly in prayer and in the Scriptures, they take Communion and Confession seriously, and they try to love God and their neighbor.

Our Holy Week mission in a small town near La Ceiba was a humid, rainy, mosquito-eaten experience full of locals who seem like they stepped out of a Spanish translation of Winesburg, Ohio. There was a lot of bad blood and tale-bearing between different families in the community, which unfortunately spilled over into the local church. The Faith was very lukewarm and most Catholic adults regularly skipped out on Mass.

Thankfully a recently-ordained priest from the parish church an hour away comes every Sunday to say Mass, so people actually have the opportunity to receive Communion. What the people in the mountains would give to have that grace every week. Still, there is great promise. The local kids came running to the Mission programs as soon as school let out. The teenagers would come by and talk about how they wanted to set up a regular Catholic youth group. Hopefully the Missioners will continue work with this particular parish in the future.

Easter was celebrated with the Friars of the Renewal at their chapel in Comayagua, followed by a bit of a rest during Easter Week.

Most of the middle and high school kids at the scholarship program have been absent this past month because of a country-wide teacher strike. The Government is “reorganizing” the public secondary schools, and the teachers’ union has been claiming that this will lead to more funding cuts and layoffs. This isn’t without precedence.

Last year, the schools took a major cut so the Military Police could be expanded. The President’s personal force is very visible in the streets, both in the cities the countryside. They ride around in pickups, with their ubiquitous green-gray camouflage and ArmaLites, drinking Coke and eating chips. It’s common to have delays and checkpoints on major public roads because the Military Police are “conducting exercises.”

This week I was approved for my Honduran residency card. It allows me to remain in the country for the coming year. It cost about a hundred dollars, American. They took my picture and everything.

“So ask the traveled inhabitant of any nation, In what country on earth would you rather live?—certainly in my own. where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections and recollections of my life.—Which would be your second choice? France.” -Thomas Jefferson

I know what he means.

Will you pray for the Mission?

Dry Season

It’s been some time since I have written in this space.

A lot of this comes from my own self-consciousness. I do not want to deliver half-baked or rushed writing. I greatly dislike reading such articles, be they in small magazines that are trying their hardest, or clickbait websites that pay a nickel a word. Maybe that makes me a perfectionist, and I would agree with that assessment. But is it healthy to be a perfectionist when dealing with a website, that may be read by a dozen people at most, housed on a free domain?

In the southern mountains of Honduras the the Dry Season runs from November to May. It rains two or three times a month. This is, of course, the ideal time to set a trash fires in the middle of a populated area. Thanks to our neighbor across the field, the grass has been taken care of until spring.

IMG_6031.jpg

But all the same, the work at the Mission continues. I have three teaching ministries this academic year, two of which are completely new.

  1. Becas of St. John Bosco. The charity scholarship program, where I am a tutor Wednesdays and Thursdays the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month.
  2. English classes for the postulants at the Franciscan house of formation in Comayagua. I have nineteen students, ages 18-24, from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. The class meets Tuesdays and Saturdays for 90 minutes.
  3. A middle and high school English Club in Cabañas. Wednesday and Thursday of the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month I travel two hours, into the mountains, to the small town of Cabañas in the La Paz Department. I lead three 90 minute classes at three different secondary schools in the area.

IMG_6041.jpg

My days in Cabañas has have inspiring, as well as beautiful. Some really generous hosts too. The ride up the mountains is a bit rough, but the mist and the views are worth it.

IMG_6019.jpg

The cows are in Honduras. The mountains are in El Salvador.

IMG_6035.jpg

On Sunday, as it is a day of rest, we have a free day. I’m partial to Mass at the Comayagua Cathedral. The old city is actually very peaceful on a Sunday afternoon.

IMG_6101.jpg

My current reading list is keeping me busy with two spiritual and two secular works, all of which are first-time reads.

  • The Philokalia- Nicodemus the Hagiorite and Macarius of Corinth
  • Imitation of Christ– Thomas à Kempis
  • Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens
  • Cabbages and Kings– O. Henry

March is coming soon, which means three weeks of catechetical missions back-to-back in the mountains. The Missioners will be joined by student groups from Virginia and Arizona, as well as FOCUS missionaries from across the United States. I am doubly excited because this is where I was originally exposed to the work of the Missioners of Christ, visiting as a VCU undergrad, for a week-long mission in 2013.

Will you pray for the Mission?

IMG_6047.jpg

 

Advent

I landed back in Virginia on December 11th, just before midnight.  My bags and personal effects were all accounted for, and besides a short delay on the tarmac in Tegucigalpa, everything moved along efficiently.

The last three weeks of my journey with the Lord in Honduras were memorable, to say the least. A cyclone of meetings, trainings, retreats, programs, travel, and celebrations full of divine grace and intensity.

We had Thanksgiving at the John Paul II House, with all the external Missioners from Comayagua and their families. The Americans/North Americans/Gringos cooked dinner. The Hondurans provided a karaoke machine. Much to be thankful for; including family, friends, and the Lord’s grace guiding His people through another year of the Church’s calendar.

IMG_5776.JPG

The last week of November was spent at a retreat for the young adults (17-25) who had taken on leadership and evangelization roles for the December mission in the mountains. We spent four days focusing on prayer, apologetics, creating programs for different age groups, and team-building.

Our December mission ran from December 2-6. I was on a team with five Honduran young adults in the village of Matazono, population 90 families. The people of that tiny mountain community are all Catholic, but only visited twice a year by a priest from the nearest town. Too few priests cannot visit such remote areas as regularly as needed. Access to the Sacraments and spiritual formation is limited, though the community does have appointed laymen who lead devotions and worship on Sunday. Still, not having access to the Mass and Confession, is hard on the lives of the faithful.

Our team was warmly welcomed, lodging in the home of one of the local delegados (lay leaders). Over the course of three days, our team split up to visit homes, pray with families, share Gospel readings from the Advent lectionary, and lead catechetical programs for children and adults in the local chapel.

On the final night, the little chapel of St. Anthony was packed full for Las Posadas, a communal reenactment commemorating Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Farmers and farmers’ sons came in from the coffee fields, still in their rubber boots, with their wives and daughters and assorted relations. We all prayed the Rosary, sang the traditional hymns, and made our way to a nearby home afterwards for hot coffee and sweetbreads.

The St. John Bosco Scholarship Program had finished up the week before the mountain mission. The Honduran public schools are off for most of December and January, so the kids were all anxious to finish up and have their vacation. Grevin, thanks to a lot of studying and personal accountability, passed his dreaded Natural Science exam and will be going to 8th grade with the rest of his friends. Praise God.

IMG_5752

The students and families had their yearly celebration on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The night featured Holy Mass, music, a gift exchange, dinner, and performances by the students.

IMG_5789

Although I was 3000 miles from Virginia, I still got to see a middle school Christmas music program.

IMG_5802.JPG

IMG_5797.JPG

My last few days at the Mission were spent packing and cleaning, as well as reflecting on the past four months of life in Central America. Just few things I’m incredibly thankful for as we approach the Nativity of Christ and this Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Eighteen passes away.

  • Friends and benefactors who have supported the Mission financially and spiritually, and without whom I would not be able to be a part of this community.
  • The joyful, creative, and Spirit-filled Missioners of Christ family; with brothers and sisters from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and all over the United States.
  • Having a close to working proficiency in Spanish, and the grace to use the language in the service of God.
  • Finding some new favorite authors, including a lot of French spiritual writers, the most notable being Fr. Jean Grou and Fr. Jacques Philippe.
  • My physical and psychological heath being enormously improved from one year ago. Mostly due to a more active lifestyle, regular prayer, and solid spiritual direction.

So after four months of discernment, I will be returning to Honduras in January 2019 for at least the next year. God grant me the strength to do His will, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Will you pray for the Mission?

IMG_5810.JPG

Tree of Life

The Honduran school year is winding down and the dry season is here. Still, the Mission is running at full steam.

A few weeks ago I began working one-on-one with Grevin at the St. Juan Bosco Scholarship Program. He’s an A-B student in most of his classes, except for Natural Sciences which he has been failing consistently since the beginning of the year. He needs to pass his final exam to move from 7th Grade Natural Science to 8th, so we’ve been reviewing out of his badly photocopied national government issued textbook. Plant biology and classification, animal taxonomy, Honduran wildlife, cell structure, states of matter, the Periodic Table, and basic chemistry. We had three weeks to prepare, and I know he worked hard at home as well as at tutoring. His test was a few days ago and I’m anxious to hear the results!

At the end of October I assisted with the Arbol de Vida (Tree of Life) Retreat. It’s held annually for young adults ages 18-25. There were something like 60 participants, young people from different parishes in the Comayagua, as well as some Nicaraguans. The retreat was focused on two major themes.

  1. Forgiveness. Being able to personally forgive others in the past and, with God’s grace, move in a positive direction towards… 
  2. Growth. Spiritual fruit as a Christian. Be that patience, fortitude, a stronger life of prayer, becoming a better listener, or controlling one’s passions.


Through forgiving others, and ourselves, we are able to cultivate ourselves into a tree that bears fruit. Ultimately this is a reflection of the Cross, the great paradoxical Tree of Life, planted on Calvary. This was a very moving and spiritually renewing retreat and it was awesome to see so many young adults gathering to worship God and seek the healing of Christ.

45079360_1999218170160434_8072936257455390720_n.jpg

Celebrated the feasts of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2). Both were pretty low-key in the Mission community, though there were a lot of fireworks and drunk people making noise in the neighborhood after dark. Not exactly the Heavenly Jerusalem, but the weather has been excellent and sitting out on the terrace, or laying in a hammock, you feel like you’re on a ship out at sea.

Now it’s mid-November and the usual ministry schedule is finished. We’re currently going into some intense prep for the end of year mission into the aldeas (small villages) in the surrounding mountains. In December, we’ll be packing up for a week to lead catechesis and community building in some of the most remote parts of the Comayagua Department. We had a day of training for the young adult (18-25) volunteers who will be accompanying the Missioners and Friars into the mountains. 

46438431_2029029477179303_8486760655687254016_n.jpg

I’ve been selected, along with two other Missioners, to create a few short plays for the kid, teenage, and adult groups we’ll be working with in the mountains. Short parables from the Bible or the Lives of the Saints. Of course, in Spanish.  Here’s to flashbacks of the Shafer St. Playhouse, circa 2013. Though I doubt there’ll be any perilous staircases or electrical fires.

Probably some early mornings, late nights, hot coffee, stale bread, and sleeping on the floor. Which is fine by me.

Will you pray for the Mission?

 

October

It’s halfway through autumn and the trees are still green. The broad leaf fruit trees and palms are still growing in the rocky Honduran soil. No fall colors in Central America.

IMG_5667 (1)

Just rain!

I’ve been in Comayagua for a month now and it has rained almost every afternoon. Usually into the evening too. Rain on tin roofs. Rain in the low-lying garden plots full of black water. Most of the streets in the barrio of Francisco Morazan are dirt, so they look like the Somme after half an hour of rain. When the thunder arrives it comes flying down from the mountains. The power comes and goes, but water usually isn’t a problem.

October is full of things to do. Many feasts of the Church, including some of the Mission’s patron saints. This means some time to rest, but also meditate on the lives and words of some deep Christian witnesses. 

Therese of Lisieux- Oct. 1
Holy Guardian Angels- Oct. 2
Francis of Assisi- Oct. 4
Teresa of Avila- Oct. 15
Ignatius of Antioch- Oct. 17
Luke the Evangelist- Oct. 18
Pope John Paul II- Oct. 22

With so many Franciscans in the area, there are plenty of processions the first week of October.

IMG_5649.jpg

The Mission has an excellent library and I’ve already spent many hours there. Before going to Guatemala it was a bit of a mess, with no real organization, but as soon as we all got back from Antigua it was clean and categorized. I don’t know who cataloged the four hundred or so books in English and Spanish, but I am forever in their debt because I would’ve gone insane trying to organize it all.

Since prayer is so essential to the existence of the Mission, there’s quite a bit built into the schedule. Lauds, Vespers, and Compline are prayed as a community, with Mass and Holy Hour every day. There is also quiet time for spiritual reading.

IMG_5669.jpg

Last week the entire community went on a retreat led by a group of lay people from Nicaragua. It was an interesting way to see how the Church has manifested her mission in other parts of the world. The Catholic faith is truly universal, with every nation and people bringing something unique before Christ the King, be it music, art, or devotions. In a lot of ways the Church in Honduras appears different when compared to the Church in Nicaragua, New York, or Norway, but the creed and the faith is the same! And that is an encouraging thought.

I’ve since received my weekly schedule and I’m assisting in three ministries that the Missioners of Christ operate in the community. We have three “Apostolic Periods” every day. Morning, Afternoon, and Night. There’s a lot to do, but that’s why we’re here as Missioners!

  • Becas (Scholarships) of St. Juan Bosco. A charity program that provides scholarships to neighborhood students for primary, secondary, and higher education costs. My day to day work includes tutoring for grades K-12 in homework, projects, and test prep. There are also social events and outings for the kids and parents as well as food distribution. (Tuesday-Thursday afternoons, Saturday mornings) 
  • Beata Margarita Physical Therapy Program. Two of our Honduran Missioners are licensed physical therapists and provide free sessions for local kids and adults in need. As many of the patients are homebound, a therapist will make weekly house visits with a fellow Missioner, who can follow up with the family on other material or spiritual needs. (Wednesday mornings) 
  • Hombres de Cristo (Men of Christ). A weekly youth/young adult group for guys 13-29 that meets weekly. Every meeting includes prayer, music, a talk on a Biblical subject, small group discussion, and refreshments. Youth from the neighborhood and a local orphanage attend and the program has been going strong. (Wednesday nights)

Plus house meetings, sessions in spiritual and human formation, cleaning, laundry, weekly cooking duties, ministry planning, and other random matters to attend to.

We also have to walk the dog, Ranger, who lives on the front porch of the men’s house. He’s very friendly, but will lose his patience if someone has the gall to ride a bike down the street.

IMG_5725

There is so much growth here, and not just from the rain. It can be seen externally in the lives of the poor, and felt internally, as we continue to walk with the Lord as brothers, sisters, and Christians.

Will you pray for the Mission?

Antigua

Some thoughts on four weeks in Guatemala.

Left Comayagua on the Hedman Alas bus early on August 18. Alas, the actual name of the company. A Central American Greyhound. Passed through Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and Copan before reaching the Honduran-Guatemalan border. After fifteen hours we made it to Guatemala City, then on to Antigua after dark.

The six of us, three guys and three girls, made our home at Doña Gilda´s boardinghouse. A kind lady who provided our meals and did the laundry. Pretty comfortable accommodations. Even hot water if you were lucky. Our first day in our group hiked to the Cross at the north side of town.

unnamed.jpg

I spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, at San Jose El Viejo (St. Joseph the Old) Language School. Drilled on verbs, real and theoretical, in the past, present, and future. Vocabulary taken from the gardens and neighborhoods around the school. One-on-one classroom situation. The first steps of a journey into the language of Cervantes, de Vega, and John of the Cross.

I spent my free time walking the old city, streets and ruins, the name Antigua literally meaning antique. A town of quadrants forever dressed in Spanish Colonial and Baroque right down to the windowsills. Everything is named for an Apostle, sans Judas, or a Franciscan. The local saint is Peter of Saint Joseph de Betancur, or simply Hermano Pedro. His tomb at the Franciscan Church was one of my favorite sites of reflection. A holy man who never took holy orders, a simple brother, who would go around at night ringing a bell to remind people to pray for the dead who had been forgotten by their families.

unnamed 1.jpg

Miscellaneous Things

  • The entire city of was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. People still refer to it as The Earthquake and most of the colonial churches still stand in ruins.
  • Avocados are everywhere and used on everything. They are cheaper than clean water.
  • It is possible to find live chickens, dried iguanas, secondhand Romanian boots, pirated movies, and every type of vegetable imaginable at the municipal market.
  • The volcano overlooking the city has never erupted in all of geological history, while the one on the other side of the city is constantly spewing forth.
  • It is easy to get sick off pork rinds.
  • There are more Franciscan friars in Antigua than I have seen in my entire life.
  • The statues decorating the Catholic parishes are all kept behind glass. Thieves have been known to steal them, then sell Jesus to a collector in France or Germany. See St. Luke 23:34.
  • People are very understanding with visitors who make an attempt to speak the language.

unnamed.jpg

Our last day in the city was September 15, Independence Day. Parades, bands, fireworks, and street food. After toasting to the República de Guatemala and Christ the King, we packed our bags, then stayed up for the bus at three in the morning.

Sixteen hours later we were back to Comayagua and our brothers and sisters at the Missioners of Christ. Ready, I hope, to start our work!

Will you pray for the Mission?

unnamed.jpg