A news article published by Saint Louis University details the university's involvement and deep support of the Belize 2020 effort.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/January 24, 2018/Belize City, Belize
Christmas mail arrived a little bit soggy this year. I made some inquiries and discovered the Post Office has a leak. And it has been raining. Wet or not, the holiday greetings were much appreciated.
BELIZE 2020 held a Winter Retreat last week in Belize City. The purpose being the deepening of relationships between those colleagues of the US and Belize as well as planning for the future of Jesuit works in Belize. Over 90 persons attended, about 45 Belizeans and about 45 Internationals. Several St. Louis University Deans were present, for which all were very grateful. There was a great deal of work done on this retreat, but there was also very pleasant socializing as many enjoyed their first Belikin Beer along with warm Belizean hospitality. We closed the Retreat with a big Mass in Swift Hall, many seeing the facility for the first time and were duly impressed. God bless all the many, many people who made this Retreat such a great success. Summit at SLU this summer?!?!
Now, since many of you who read this could conceivably get a phone call from me, please know that our area code in Belize is “501.” But, on your US phone the call registers as originating from Arkansas, where the area code is also “501”. I have had many phone calls ignored because family and friends thought it was a telemarketer or Bill Clinton calling them. It’s not. So if you see a call coming in from Arkansas, please answer. It’s me. And I might need some bail money!
Our Sunday Mass crowd continues to increase, thank heavens. However, we do not have the pew space for our crowd, which in many instances is now flowing out the door, even after extra chairs have been set up. So, I am needing to have more pews made, along with benches along the walls. The only real remedy, however, will ultimately be a larger church, which was much needed even before our congregations started swelling.
The following originally appeared as part of SLU's occasional series Get to Know the Jesuits of Saint Louis University. Fr. Collins serves on the Belize 2020 U.S. Core Team.
He's often found in DuBourg Hall or leading the campus community in prayer. Christopher Collins, S.J., assistant to the president of mission and identity grew up intimately familiar with the Jesuits, but never expected to become one himself.
After growing up in Phoenix, he moved to Dallas during high school. He attended Jesuit schools in both areas, but moving states during his junior year of high school left him lonely, which gave way to lots of time spent thinking about the bigger meaning of life.
After taking part in a service trip in El Salvador before his freshman year of college, Collins discovered a love for service, for community and for faith. He fostered that desire by taking philosophy and theology classes, understanding for the first time the intellectual elements of the Catholic faith. Though still not considering himself very spiritual, Collins was slowly laying the path for his journey to the priesthood.
One day, Collins noticed faculty and students entering the church on campus on a Tuesday. Because it was not a Sunday, Collins’s curiosity was piqued. Following them into the chapel, he discovered weekly Mass - a way to bridge the spiritual and intellectual elements of his faith with service, praying in quiet in a way that was previously unfamiliar.
Still not expecting to become a Jesuit, Collins said, “I didn’t think anybody did this anymore.”
In fact, Collins didn’t even consider that a young person like himself could be a priest until his cousin came to visit. While spending time together at a bowling alley, Collins’ cousin suggested, “Why don’t you become a Jesuit? You like those guys, and you want to do what they do.” Though not the first time Collins had heard a similar suggestion, this one hit him hard.
Collins remembered his initial reaction to the suggestion: “Oh, no, I have to do this now.”
After a brief stint panicking and discerning, Collins entered the novitiate. He studied at Bellarmine House in the 1990s and has worked in a variety of capacities in a variety of situations - from being pastor of a reservation to teaching theology.
Recognizing the shared history of the Native Americans and Jesuits in the United States, particularly at Saint Louis University, Collins recalled his time on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.
"Right after I was ordained, I worked in Pine Ridge, South Dakota as the pastor of a reservation down there with the Lakota people. Whenever we did a funeral, the Lakota people would have a giveaway at the end . The priest would usually get a blanket, typically a star quilt. They took pride in making different designs of their star quilts. I brought one back with me - it hit me as important because Jesuits originally came to the U.S. to minister to Native Americans, and we built SLU along the way. I tell this to new employees when I give talks we talk - about our mission all the time, and this is a part of our mission and who we are."
Story and photo by Molly Daily for University Marketing and Communications
© 1818 – 2018 SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/January 3, 2018/ Belize City, Belize
Happy 2018 to one and all. I spent the evening of New Year's Day with two friends on a verandah enjoying a dinner of lobster meat, cheese, crackers, and grapes with a glass of 16-year-old Lagavulin while watching the only supermoon of 2018 rise up big and beautiful out of the Caribbean. I am unaware of ever having a more delightful New Year's Day evening. Now it is on with the New Year.
Our first funeral of the year has been scheduled for this Saturday. Statistically it is no surprise, but it is nonetheless disheartening to have the first funeral of the year be for a murder victim. Epiphany means Chalking the Doors. Likely you have seen front doors of homes with cryptic writing above. That is an Epiphany Tradition. Here's what it looks like: 20+C+M+B+18
And here is what it means. The 20 and the 18 are the year. CMB are the initials for the traditional names of the Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar. CMB also stands for the Latin, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, meaning “May Christ Bless this House.” And the crosses are just that, crosses. So go ahead, chalk your doors and as you do so simply pray, “Lord, bless this home and all within. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Once again, the recent bitter cold in the U.S. has descended on Belize as nighttime temperatures dip into the 60s. And, yes, it makes for luxuriant sleeping, quite necessary in recovering from the busy, bustling holidays and in preparing for the opening of school next week.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/December 20, 2017/Belize City
A recent uncommon cold front served as a prelude to the Christmas Season. We had several days requiring a blanket in the night and a jacket in the morning as temperatures dropped into the upper 60s. For Belize, that is a cold front.
Last week I drove four hours to the south of the country where I visited the Jesuit Volunteers of Punta Gorda. It is our habit when I visit my beloved JV’s to do pizza and beer on their rooftop as the sun goes down. Anna, Hannah and Matthew are very thoughtful, dedicated volunteers, but *alas* visiting them is too infrequent a pleasure. I also visited Jesuits Fr. Derek Vo, pastor of St. Peter Claver, and his associate pastor, Fr. Sam Wilson. These two are have almost incomprehensible responsibilities. You see, St. Peter Claver Parish has 30 mission stations in the southern villages, stations accessible by unpaved and often deeply rutted roads. This presents an array of logistical problems for these two good Jesuits. Their efforts are heroic, and I mean that.
Yesterday our St. Vincent DePaul Society hosted a Christmas party for our senior citizens in Swift Hall. Santa showed up, a nice meal was served, and there was plenty of music and Christmas carols. On Thursday, the 21st, we give out “Giving Bags.” These are bags full of food to make sure everybody in our neighborhood has a meal for Christmas. There are lots and lots of families with children who would have little to eat and no gifts on Christmas were it not for St. Martin’s. We not only give out Giving Bags, on Christmas morning we give out heaps and heaps and heaps of presents donated by our parishioners and the local business community. I have long been genuinely edified by the generosity of our parishioners at this time of year.
The Mayor, City Council, and all the Belize City Workers celebrated their Christmas at St Martin’s with a Mass on December 19th. This is a tradition between Martin’s and the City. We are proud that they find St. Martin’s a comfortable place to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and we are proud to serve those who serve us so well. Mayor Darrell Bradley is Jesuit educated, St. John’s in Belize City and St. Louis U, and his service honors the Jesuit Tradition as he has been, in my view, a very good mayor.
The Jesuits enjoyed their Community Christmas on December 18th, first with a noon meal honoring our workers, then in the evening with just ourselves, though we were happy to have a visiting Ana Casey, the Nurse for our Province, join us. Santa appeared, gifts given and all believed the evening splendid. It was the first time we ever had spring rolls, compliments of Quang Tran, as a Christmas treat.
The Jesuits weren’t the only ones gorging themselves. An 11-foot boa constrictor joined in the fun by killing and eating a large mammal, cat?, dog?, raccoon?, in our front yard, then lazing about afterwards like a snoozy old Jesuit taking a siesta.
In the past year I have become a Chaplain for the Belize Coast Guard. On the 21st I will join the Officers in serving the enlisted men and women a Christmas dinner. The Coast Guard reaches out to the youth of our neighborhood with various programs. After the dinner, I will then return home then to undertake yet another Christmas responsibility. You see, when cruise ships come to Belize during Christmastime, many of those cruising want a Mass. So, who does the cruise line call? Me. I put together my Mass kit, drive to Tourist Village, jump on a tender and get ferried out to the ship where I will celebrate Mass for a bunch of grateful, cruising Catholics.
So as you can see, St. Martin’s is a very busy place at Christmas. We do lots of good, but of course ain’t nuthin’ free. If you would like to send a little Christmas donation, that would be delightful. You can do it with a couple of touches up to the top of this page. In the meantime, you all have a holy and blessed Christmas and a joy-filled and gracious New Year.
The December edition of the Belize 2020 newsletter is ready for you! Please click on the image below to read about our latest news and progress, and learn how to include Belize 2020 in your year-end giving plans. Thank you!
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/November 29, 2017/ Belize City
On November 29th we unveiled SWIFT HALL by inviting the news houses to a press conference. All three major stations showed and now SWIFT HALL is known throughout the country. It needs to be noted that this was not the dedication. We have had to postpone the dedication due to illness in the Woods family, a much-beloved Belizean family that made major contributions to the building of SWIFT HALL. They want to be at the dedication and we want them at the dedication. So we shall wait until that can happen. Until then, please keep the Woods family in your prayers. They are enduring a trial.
A beautiful thing has taken place. The temperatures have been unseasonably cool, down into the lower 70s by morning. It makes for lovely days and delicious sleeping. And yet these temps are also conducive for something more, as Belizeans call this “together weather.” Wooooooo-Hoooooooo!!!
Speaking of “together weather,” the most popular months to get married in the U.S. are now September and October. The most popular month for tourists to get married in Belize is May. But the most popular time for Belizeans to get married is December. Why? One, it is cool. Two, hurricane season done. Three, many family members who live abroad come home for Christmas and are able to attend family weddings. (St. Martin’s has three weddings scheduled for December 16th alone!)
Mark A. Noll is a history professor at Notre Dame University. He is also an Evangelical. Ten years ago he wrote an award-winning book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. His opening sentence of that work states, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” He is critical, then, of his own tradition for its lack of an Intellectual Tradition, a criticism he makes in the hope of encouraging greater thought in the evangelical community. In the last 200 years the evangelical movement, now numbering some 600 million members worldwide, has contributed virtually nothing of intellectual importance to the world. And yet, so many evangelicals loudly criticize the Catholic Tradition that has produced more theology, literature, art, music, science, grade schools, high schools, colleges, universities, learning centers, monasteries, laboratories, hospitals, observatories (35 moon craters are named after Jesuit scientists), than can possibly be reckoned. The contributions of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition have helped steer the course of civilization. Evangelicals need to keep quiet and start cracking the books! Indeed, I am coming to believe that evangelicals do not know what they believe, except that they hate Catholics, many appearing to hate Catholics more than they love Christ. But hate is always a sign of ignorance, which only confirms Dr. Noll’s thesis.
Finally, I pray all my readers have a beautiful, holy Advent as the world prepares for the birth of Christ our King.
Join Belize 2020, An Ignatian Partnership, for an evening of fellowship, refreshments, and great speakers on Tuesday, December 5, at the Nolans' condo. Carol Beckel, Ph.D., P.T. and Chris Collins, S.J. will share their experiences with the important mission of Belize 2020. Refreshments provided!
Where: Maureen and Tom Nolan's condo
721 North 17th St. #201, 63103 (There is plenty of parking on Delmar Blvd.)
When: Tuesday, December 5, 2017 | 5:30 - 9:00 pm.
Program at 6:30 - 7:15 pm sharp
Belize 2020 provides funding and assistance to an extended-day academic program focusing on students who might fall behind at St. Martin’s De Porres. A $5 suggested donation will help fund a student in the program.
About the speakers:
Carol Beckel, Ph.D., P.T. is Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training at Saint Louis University. She has been a Board Member and volunteer physical therapist at Hillside Health Care International in Punta Gorda, Belize and has been instrumental in linking SLU students with the Hillside clinic for more than 10 years. Dr. Beckel was honored as one of Saint Louis University's 2015 Women of the Year and has served as a member of the Health Policy & Administration Section of American Physical Therapy Association (Cross Cultural Special Interest Group).
Chris Collins, S.J. is Special Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity at Saint Louis University. Fr. Collins has served as Assistant Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Catholic Studies at SLU and was instrumental in the founding of Belize 2020. He served as the local group's first chair and has facilitated the University's continuing involvement in the work of the Jesuits in Belize. He is a member of the Peace & Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Board of Trustees of DeSmet Jesuit High School and ACCESS Academies.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/November 22, 2017/Belize City
On November 19th, the nation celebrated Garifuna Settlement Day. The Garifuna community of Belize City decided some years ago that St. Martin’s would be their parish. As such, they celebrated a Mass that honored their Day of Settlement in Belize with Fr. Brian Christopher as celebrant. Fr. Brian even worked on being able to say parts of the Mass in Garifuna.
On November 23rd, we Jesuits celebrated Thanksgiving at Melhado Hall (The Jesuit Residence at St. John’s College). Bro. Karl Swift danced and it was not a pretty sight.
On November 24, I was up early to drive the hour and fifteen minutes to celebrate Mass at Muffles College in Orange Walk Town. At the end of Mass, and much to my surprise, 700 high school students sang Happy Birthday to me and it was very sweet. By 10 a.m. I was in my birthday gift of a room at El Gran Mestizo Resort in Orange Walk. I was joined for dinner by Alice Peralta whose birthday is also on November 24th, (she was also the one responsible for tipping off Muffles that it was my birthday), her husband Abner, her son Abner, and daughter Aspen. It was a cool and lovely evening and a really enjoyable birthday.
Now let us continue our review of things found in the larger Christian culture but not found in the Catholic Faith, and sometimes even antithetical to our Faith.
Many Christian communities believe only in the Bible alone as the supreme and infallible authority. This is called Sola scriptura. There are many insurmountable problems with those who feel the Bible is the sole authority for Christianity.
- Jesus spoke in Aramaic and Hebrew. His words words were recorded in Greek. Then they got translated into English. Can anybody possibly believe that in the transmission from the lips of Jesus to the printed words of our Bible today there is perfect fidelity? There are so many different words that can mean close to the same thing but not quite the same thing. And there are still words that scholars really don’t know the meaning of. There are many translations of the Bible. Now you know why to use the Bible alone as an infallible source is plain untenable. The Bible is the inspired word of God, but it was written down by humans, and human are quite fallible.
- When you use the Bible alone as authority a person can twist the words any way they want and who is there to challenge? Even the Devil quoted Scripture at Jesus in the desert.
- Before the Bible existed the words of Jesus were conveyed orally. No Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John existed for at least ten years after the life of Jesus. The words of Jesus survived through an oral tradition beginning with the Apostles.
- If Scripture alone is true, who gets to interpret it? Unfortunately, in many denominations the Bible is left open to individual interpretation. And as we all know, the Bible in the hands of some is more dangerous than an assault rifle in the hands of another. All these interpretations are one reason why there are now over 300,000 splinter denominations of Christianity in the world, each claiming their interpretation of the Bible is the true interpretation. In Catholicism, interpretation must be in line with our Apostolic Tradition of 2,000 years.
- Nowhere in the Bible, absolutely nowhere in the Bible, does Scripture itself claim to be the sole possessor or arbiter of truth. So it is a head-scratching mystery how a Bible-based denomination can claim Sola scriptura. Sola scriptura denies Sola scriptura.
- Were it not for the Tradition of the Catholic Church, an unbroken Tradition that began with Jesus, there would be no Bible. Tradition alone preserved the words of Christ until they were recorded in the Gospels. These little denominations that claim to love the Bible all began in the United States in the last 200 years and their young tradition had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible’s creation. They weren’t even there!
- Holding that the Bible alone is authoritative, a Bible that is made of paper and ink, is getting very close to idolatry.
While holding Sacred Scripture as the divinely inspired document that it is, Catholics most certainly do not believe in Sola scriptura. Here is what the Church rightly teaches:
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own preaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.
This living transmission, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. (Catechism of Catholic Church #77,78).
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/November 15, 2017/Belize City
Swift Hall now has a sports floor made of sturdy plastic rather than the shin splint-inducing cement floor. It is lovely. There will be no end of persons and programs wanting to use this facility, a facility for which I am still receiving thanks and gratitude from all kinds of people. Parking spaces of cement are being created on the south side of the building. The last thing that we will do is landscape, and a local family dear to my heart has already stepped forward to say they will take career of this.
When my brother Jesuit Quang Tran went into the church on Monday morning in order to preside at our daily 6:30am Mass, somebody was already in the pulpit preaching! The fellow was railing against Catholic blasphemy. The congregation that had been waiting for Mass were taken back by this morning intrusion. Quang went to the fellow and said he would have to leave. The man persisted. Quang said you are now trespassing so leave or we’re calling the police. Some of the men in the congregation stood to defend Quang. The ‘preacher’ began to leave with his partner but turned and pointed at our November display honoring our Faithful Departed and yelled, “That is adultery.” Quang responded, “I think you mean ‘idolatry’ now please go.” The man and his friend left in a righteous huff, but not before…and get this…dipping their hands in the holy water font and blessing themselves.
Let us continue our examination of Biblical things said and done in Christian culture but are not necessarily found in the Catholic Faith, and can even be antagonistic to our Church.
The Bible says, “Confess your sins to no man.” This is another one of those ugly stones thrown at Catholics and our sacraments, and it is nothing short of foolish bigotry. The Bible says quite plainly that sins are in fact confessed to one another. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 3, verse 6, the people flock to John the Baptist, confessing their sins and getting baptized. In James 5:16 the author encourages his church to confess their sins to one another. Confession is, in fact, not only Scriptural, but quite humane and commonsensical. (You do not have to be Catholic to know confession is good for the soul.) And finally, nowhere, absolutely nowhere in Scripture does it say “Confess your sins to no man.” If you believe only in Scripture, it helps to know Scripture. Lamentably, that is very often not the case with those using Scripture to criticize Catholics. Which brings us to a major stumbling block between Catholics and certain other denominations. This issue we shall tackle next week.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/November 8, 2017/Belize City, Belize
By a score of 43-12, our St. Martin’s Primary School boys defeated San Francisco Primary School of Orange Walk Town in the Primary School National Basketball Championship. Our boys played like a team, no hotdogging, no ball hogging, just lots and lots of hustle, great defense, and some fine shooting. We are very proud of them.
How good it was to return to the St. Martin’s pulpit. Seeing all the warm faces, getting all the “welcome homes,” hearing the singing, and enjoying that great St. Martin’s spirit, I tell you this place is good for my soul.
OK. Let us resume our survey of things found in the Christian culture that are not found in the Catholic culture and can even be antagonistic to our Faith.
“Catholics worship saints, especially Mary” is a common refrain amongst some denominations. It is a hateful little allegation, as hateful as it is ignorant of what Catholics truly believe. Let me set the record straight.
The official teaching of the Church: God alone is worthy of our worship and adoration (latria); saints are given respect and honor (dulia); Mary, the Mother of God, is given a higher respect and honor (hyperdulia) but well short of worship and adoration that belongs to God alone.
“Catholics are idolaters because they worship statues,” is yet another hateful thing some people will say about Catholics. This is simply not true. Our statues, stained glass, and our art remind us of those Saints that we respect and honor. It is like hanging a portrait of a dearly departed family member in a home. We further believe that the saints pray for us as we get busy with our day. “We don’t need the saints. We go straight to Jesus” is yet another self-righteous proclamation I hear. The saints are looking at the face of Jesus when they carry our prayers to him. The Scriptures are chock-full of holy persons like Abraham, Moses, and Job whose prayers God hears specifically because they are holy persons. In fact, God tells persons to go have these people pray for them because he hears their prayers. Well, if I can get someone as holy as St. Martin de Porres to pray for my children, I am going to do it, and Holy Scripture confirms this attitude.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/November 1, 2017/Belize City, Belize
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. And what is a saint? A saint is a man or woman who labors in hope. Far from viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, far from being a pietistic bore, the wide-eyed saint sees all the evil and all the destruction the world has to offer, but believes, despite all the ugliness and all the obstacles, that good and beauty shall prevail. Again, a saint is a man or woman who labors in hope. So my friends, labor on!
As I deplaned yesterday afternoon, the feel and smell of Belizean air enveloped me and I knew I was home. How good it felt. A Belize ease crept into my mind and bones and I just felt good, happy to be home. As much as I wanted to stay up and watch Game Six of the World Series, that Belize ease got the best of me. I heard my own bed calling to me during the fourth inning. Having awakened at 2:30 a.m. that morning to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight, I was only too eager to heed that call.
This morning I visited the classrooms. Oh my goodness. These children. How I love them. Had I nothing to do in Belize but serve these children, it would be enough to warrant my return. I firmly believe I can do nothing better with my life than spend it on these students of ours. How deserving they are of every good thing we can do for them. They are God’s own.
Speaking of our students. Our boys’ basketball team has won the District Championship. They now play for the National Championship on Friday.
Now . . . We continue our review of some of the impulses we find in the Christian culture but not in the Catholic Faith. A thoughtful Catholic would never declare, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord And Savior.” And why would we Catholics never say that? For three reasons. First of all, it is unspeakably arrogant. There are roughly 4,000 years of Salvation History, a history that includes the Patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Queens, Prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles. To say “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior” is to intimate that all of that happened for your own personal salvation. Sorry. I don’t think so.
Second of all, it is a gross error to say that. Nowhere in the Bible, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus hope to save a bunch of individuals. The entire Bible is about how God desires to save the community of believers. Never does Jesus save an individual and then say, “OK, whew, I got you saved. Now let me move on to the next individual.” Even when Jesus does heal individuals, it is foremost a sign that salvation has come to the entire world, it is a sign that Jesus is God and that the Kingdom of God has broken into our lives, our history.
Third, it is very bad theology. The great commandment requires us to “love our neighbor as ourself.” To say “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior” is tantamount to saying, “I got mine; now you get yours.” What about one’s mother? Father? Friends? Spouse? When you say “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior,” you have left them out. You are saying as long as I have Jesus, nobody else really matters. It is a very selfish declaration. There should be greater concern for the other, the neighbor. So what do Catholics say?
The first order of Catholic business is to always make sure our neighbor is not in some physical, spiritual, or emotional need. When a person’s needs have been attended to, if there were needs, and if the person is open to hearing about Jesus, the second order of business for the Catholic is not to pietistically declare, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior,” but “Jesus Christ came to save all of humankind, isn’t that great news?!”
More than 100 interested people turned out for two Belize 2020 events in St. Louis in late October. Attendees had the opportunity to hear Fr. Matt Ruhl, SJ, speak about the tremendous need in Belize, as well as learn about the Belize 2020-sponsored programs and activities helping at-risk children and families. Many thanks to all attendees and to event hosts Schlafly Tap Room and Saint Louis University.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/October 25, 2017/St. Louis, Missouri
There is a Jewish saying that goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Certainly the plans made for my time in the States were upended with my brother’s passing and my own little health issue. But the two weeks I had planned to work for St. Martin’s and Belize 2020 while up north have not been interrupted. Last night, Belize 2020 hosted an informational evening at a Brew Pub for the young and the intelligent who have some interest in Belize 2020. I have been to breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; I have been speaking in classrooms and halls, all in an effort to spread the word. Tonight a fundraiser will be held at St. Louis University. In all this talking I have formulated an understanding of what a major part of Belize 2020 is about — the children of St. Martin’s.
During Hurricane Earl last year, I noticed the effects of the tidal surge as I cycled about the city. While knocking down many fences and walls, the tide dumped all kinds of smelly muck and refuse in Belize City. It did not take much imagination to see how a large tidal surge could really wreck a city. So this has become an image I use. Our children must navigate a terrible tide. So many of our children suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress; so many of our children in this English-speaking country are effectively illiterate; so many of our children come from homes that are socially and economically distressed. Our children must fight a terrible tide, and many are overwhelmed. We see the evidence of being overwhelmed by the number of funerals for the young we perform at Martin’s, and by the scores of our PSE examinations, and by gang involvement, and by teenage pregnancy. A major impulse of Belize 2020 is to help our children fight the terrible tide.
Belizeans from all walks are instrumental in the Belize 2020 effort. St. Martin’s parishioners have made significant contributions of time and dollars, St. John’s offering of scholarships to all our graduating boys is priceless; Cisco Construction’s waiving of management fees; the government’s waiving of import taxes for the floor at Swift Hall, the cooperation and encouragement from the Ministry of Education, the cooperation of our Lake Independence representative, the contributions of the local business community, the unbelievable support we have gotten from Catholic School Management, Belize NGO’s have committed to Martin’s programs, Rotary clubs from Belize joined Rotaries from the U.S. to make terrific donations to our school facilities and programs, and last but not least the Martin’s neighborhood itself has been entirely supportive and cooperative. A monetary value of all this support: priceless! All laboring to help our children fight the terrible tide. Ultimately, St. Martin de Porres is a Jesuit parish and Belize 2020 is a Jesuit program of colleagues from Belize and the U.S. coming together in service to the young and vulnerable.
As we slowly move into an investigation of Scripture, it is important to address some of the Scripturally-based expressions of faith that one finds in our Christian culture but not in the Catholic Faith, expressions that are at times even antagonistic to our Catholic Faith.
We hear the phrase “Born Again” somewhat regularly in Christian circles. There are even those who identify themselves as “Born Again Christians.” This phrase, of course, comes from the Gospel of John 3:3 wherein Jesus explains to Nicodemus that “. . . no one can see the kingdom unless they are born again.” The understanding of those who proclaim to be “born again” is the belief that a person has had a single, definitive, life-changing experience of Christ wherein that person knows they are saved; they are, “born again.” That is all fine, but Catholics see things decidedly differently.
In John 3:5 Jesus explains that being born again means being born of “water and Spirit;” in short, baptism. In baptism we are born into a lifelong relationship with Christ. When Catholics are baptized we embrace the belief that in our relationship with Christ we are constantly being born again and again and again and again and again and again. Every sunrise of our lives is a born again experience. Every insight that creates in us a deeper understanding of ourselves, creation, and God is a born again experience.
Every word, poem, art piece that inspires is a born again experience. Each moment in nature that causes awe is a born again experience. Every suffering is a birth pang, for we are constantly being renewed even in our suffering. Every Advent, Lent, Christmas, and Easter season is a born again experience. Every act of reconciliation or forgiveness is a born again moment. As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan once sang, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” The notion that we are born again only once is absurd to Catholics.
So in sum, Catholics are never “Born Again.” We are joyously born again and again and again and again and again and again and again . . . .
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/October 18, 2017/Kansas City, Missouri
My brother Mike has gone to God. He was blessed to have all his siblings, all his children and his wife Jean and many good old friends present during the last month of his life. Prostate cancer is no pleasant way to go, but he died in his own bed surrounded by loved ones. I must also say that in my 25 years of priesthood and attending to the dying, enough praise cannot be given to the absolutely wonderful nurses of Hospice. Their strong, loving hands are God’s own.
Let’s talk about the Bible. The Catholic Bible is made up of two major sections: Hebrew Scripture (the Old Testament) and the New Testament. The Hebrew Scripture has 46 books and the New Testament has 26 books. The Hebrew Scripture covers a time frame from the Bronze Age, 2300-1300 years before Christ up to about 100 years before the birth of Christ. The New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus around the Year 4 and goes to about the Year 100. The New Testament was put into a final compilation, canonized, by the late Fifth Century. The Old Testament canon was determined in the 16th Century. The chapter and verse numbers were added in the 16th Century.
There are of course innumerable themes to be found in the Bible, but the overarching theme is God active in human history, always creating out of love for us. There are two stories of primeval creation, the story of Creation in Seven Days, and the Creation Story of Adam and Eve. Noah and the Flood is also a creation story. Of course there is the creation of the nation of Israel and the creation of Temple Judaism. Then there is the creation of the Church at Pentecost. The life of Christ is the center of all creation in human history.
The point to be made here is that God is always creative. Creativity is a divine expression of love. Unfortunately, too many people who claim to love the Bible do not appreciate this.
I have heard the Bible quoted to put down women. I have heard the Bible quoted to put down homosexuals. I have heard the Bible quoted to put down people of different Christian denominations. I have heard the Bible quoted to put down Jewish people. I have heard the Bible quoted by husbands to put down wives. I have heard the Bible quoted with words that are not even in the Bible. I have heard the words of the Bible twisted and turned and abused in all manner of ways in order to put others down. This is very ugly business. To use God’s word in a destructive manner is evil. It is, in fact, a form of blasphemy. Today our first Bible lesson is very simple: If you cannot use the Word of God creatively, do not use it at all. If you cannot use God’s word to build people up, do not use it at all. The Bible was never, ever intended to be a club to beat other people. The Divine Word was certainly never intended for human ax-grinding. Remember, Gospel means “Good News.” Please, do not turn it into “Bad News.”
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/October 4, 2017/Frisco, Colorado
The Catholic Church is an institution of sinful persons. No question. We openly admit it. Yet we are also an institution born of and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The truth is if the Scales of Justice were ever applied to the Catholic Church, our historical goodness definitively and lopsidedly outweighs our historical sinfulness. But evil is noisier than good, ugly is louder than beauty, so there are many leaving the Church, or failing to embrace the Church, without a broad historical and spiritual appreciation of Jesus and this ancient institution of ours. For my part I confess to loving the Church. I find great joy and wisdom in the Church. Now I do not love the Church because I am a Jesuit and a priest. The truth is I am a Jesuit and a priest because I love the Church. It might, however, justifiably be asked, “What occasions this little tribute to our beloved Church? Why is your blog going in this direction?” Let me explain.
Look at these United States of ours: another mass shooting, this time of particularly horrific proportions; behold the opioid epidemic, a true national emergency; we have a President the vast majority of citizens disapprove of; a Congress incapable of working together; we are angrily divided on the issue of race; illegal drugs flood into our country as gangs in our cities grow more destructive; and let’s not forget this return to nuclear saber-rattling. The United States is struggling. Is it so inconceivable that our 2,000 year-old Catholic Church just might have some answers for our 231 year-old nation? If I thought not, trust me, I would no longer be a priest, Jesuit, or a Catholic.
In the next few blogs I hope to write about why I love the Church, why the Church is worthy of our love, our adherence, our vibrant participation. I will write to give encouragement to those looking for hope in these days that can be so discouraging to so many. I will begin to address some of the reasons why so many of my fellow citizens are unfairly dismissive of this Church.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/September 27, 2017/Kansas City, Missouri
Last week Thursday was Belizean Independence Day. It was also the Feast Day of St. Matthew the Apostle. And it was also the day I went under the knife at KU Medical Center to have a tumor on my lower lip removed. The surgery itself lasted only 30 minutes or so. I came out with a very fat lip and 50 stitches. They asked that I return in a week to get the stitches out and to review the biopsy report.
Having just returned from the Doctor’s Office where I learned the results of my biopsy report, I am happy to say that the surgery was entirely successful at removing the entire tumor. It was a 1.1 centimeter squamous cell carcinoma, stage 1. My lip will never be quite the same, but it does not look bad. I can’t whistle right now and spitting is a risky business, but all things being equal I am very happy with the result of the surgery, and you can’t beat being cancer-free!!!
During my week of convalescence, my mind wandered regularly back to Belize, St. Martin’s and my teachers: I was thinking of my dear friend Encalada who works so hard and yet always has a smile; Reneau is one of the hardest working women I know; and Mama Lino who will not let me pass her class without a hug, which I am only too happy to provide; there’s McKenzie who is the best cheerleader we have; of course Pitts, my Wednesday morning coffee-mate; Little Lino and Ben-Goosh are natural born teachers and I am so happy we have them; of course, there’s Rodriguez who is a wonderful anchor at Martin’s; Ayuso is so quiet but so very good in the classroom; Darcy keeps a happy face while keeping order…and so on and on. I love my teachers, all of them. I pray unceasingly for them and for a great year.
Join friends and Belize 2020, An Ignatian Partnership, volunteers on October 24 for a fun and informative evening with special guest Fr. Matthew Ruhl SJ, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church in Belize City, Belize. Founded in 2015, Belize 2020 is a group of volunteers in the United States and Belize focused on supporting Jesuit ministries in Belize. Fr. Matt will speak about the mission of Belize 2020, accomplishments, opportunities, and ways to be involved. Young professionals are especially invited to attend.
Learn more about Belize 2020's work at St. Martin de Porres and St. John's College at www.Belize2020.org.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/September 13, 2017/Kansas City, Missouri
After 25 years of priestly service, my Superiors in the Society of Jesus allowed for a little break from pastoral duties to spend time with family and friends in the States. I had put together quite a lineup of activities, including a bike ride from Westhope, North Dakota, to Laredo, Texas. I was set to leave Belize when the course of things changed dramatically.
Our brother Mike, second eldest, has been fighting prostate cancer for some years. In the last few weeks it has spread quickly and widely into bone and organs. He is now in hospice care. For his 73rd birthday on September 5th, he gave himself the gift of no more treatment. For my part I was moved and honored to administer the Last Rites to my big brother, who took consolation in the sacraments. My other brother Peter, the family barber, gave Mike a haircut. My nieces, Mike’s daughters, Jamie, Rachel, and Emily, have all risen graciously to the occasion and have been very helpful to Mike and his wife Jean at this time. It should also be noted that my brother is dying very bravely. A Nurse Practitioner at KU grimaced when I told her about my brother and she said, “That is a tough way to go.” I see for myself it is a tough way to go. I see also my brother’s courage, and I am proud of his grit and grace.
So what was I doing at KU talking with a Nurse Practitioner? Lo and behold I have my own little health issue. For several weeks I have had a fingernail-sized growth front and center on my lower lip. I thought it would just go away, but no, it became a fixture on my lip landscape, so off to KU Med where the doctor said he did not know what it was. Since it could be cancerous it needs to come off. So on September 21st, Independence Day in Belize, I go under the knife. I will learn sometime after the surgery as to whether or not this thing was cancerous.
My brother Tim and I did take a day off to go fishing at Truman Lake. Truman is a favorite recreational area for the family. We did our one and only family reunion there in 2015. Anyway, Timbo and I caught our limit of white bass in under two hours, then caught a few crappie for good measure. These fish will be served at the Fish Fry honoring our brother, Mike.
In my absence St. Martin’s Parish has been left in the very capable and holy hands of both St. Martin’s church and school staffs. Fr. Brian Christopher, SJ, and Fr. Quang Tran, SJ will cover the Sacramental bases.
Read other entries in Fr. Matt's blog by clicking here.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/September 6, 2017/Belize City
Most Catholics cannot recite the traditional Corporal Works of Mercy; nonetheless, the corporal work in which we excel here at St. Martin’s is burying the dead. There are many, many unchurched persons living on the south side around St. Martin’s. So when an unchurched person dies, what does the family of the deceased do? They come to St. Martin’s. Instinctively, they come to St. Martin’s. We bury as many non-Catholics as Catholics. It is a corporal work of mercy and a genuine labor of love. It takes terrific patience to open up the church to so many who know nothing of the Faith. Bottles of alcohol come into the church, often there is little understanding for the sanctuary as a sacred place, “hymns” are frequently the favorite pop song of the deceased, weed is smoked and alcohol consumed outside during the service, there is most time lots and lots of chatter throughout the service, every now and again a drunken mourner makes a spectacle of himself in the middle of the service, and once in awhile an Evangelical feels compelled to interrupt the service to loudly testify. Services, frequently not Masses, can be a genuine trial. Now…you might say, if it is so disagreeable why don’t you stop it and bury only known Catholics? Continue reading by clicking here.
Read other entries in Fr. Matt's blog by clicking here.