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Compositions

In the mountain community of Guaimaca, we met with representatives from several peasant communities. This is their story:

The communities had taken advantage of a provision of the agricultural reform which allows landless peasants to claim idle arable land. They had been working the land for eighteen years, and, before the coup, the process for obtaining documents confirming their title to the land was progressing through government channels. The coup halted the process. When a new putative owner of the entire latifundim (ranch) on which their land is located tried to evict them, they resisted. A few days later, one of their leaders was killed in front of his two children. They continue to be stalked by masked, armed men. This scenario occurs throughout the countryside. In one area, while we were in the country, seventeen peasants were killed when they refused to leave their land.
In addition to violent attempts to take land from peasant communities, we heard of increased militarization from every community and organization we visited. The United States has had and used the Soto Cano (formerly Pamerola) Air Base. The United States is now building two new bases on the eastern side of Honduras. Peasants and resistance leaders alike told us of a massive military buildup, consisting of United States, Colombian, and Israeli forces.
 
The resistance in Honduras is organized and nonviolent, despite murders and disappearance of its leaders.
 
The military also resorts to intimidation amounting to terrorization. For example, shortly before our visit, the military had ordered the mayors of all the municipalities to provide the names of all members of the resistance in their jurisdiction. And, following the example of the United States, the Honduran Congress has criminalized financial support to any organization connected with the resistance, including support for humanitarian aid.
To me, the most significant indication of human rights crisis in Honduras came from Berta Oliva, co-founder and director of the Committee of the Families of Detainees and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). From her twenty-eight year perspective with COFADEH, Berta told us that “for the first time, I find it necessary to ask for accompaniment for COFADEH itself. For our protection, we need a North American who will stay with us for at least a year, working in our offices, daily.”
When we preach, we are facing some of those people who love a story. Members of the group or congregation anticipate a homily, of course, but if we can use rhetoric in the sharing of that homily, they will be more inclined to listen to it, appreciate it, and – who knows – perhaps even remember some of it. And (miracle of miracles!) some might even be open to the Spirit and take some of the rhetoric into their hearts.
 
Don't be afraid of that word rhetoric. It means merely "the art of effective communication." And as preachers, we all want to communicate effectively, don't we? We meditate on the Scripture-readings for the day; we practice our voice-projection, eye-contact, gestures. But sometimes we neglect a very important rhetorical device: story-telling.
We all know it is the Spirit Who touches hearts. We are only the poor, battered-up old megaphones or squeaking, squawking microphones through which the Spirit speaks. Have you heard the story about a self-satisfied preacher who gloried in her abilities, who clutched to her bosom every word of praise she received after giving a homily?
 
One morning, after an especially dynamic presentation, when she knew she had preached well, a parishioner said to her, "Your homily has changed my life. I am firmly resolved to return to the Church and the Sacraments – and I owe it all to you!" "Why, Sir," the preacher replied, preening. "What exactly was it about my homily that touched you so deeply?" "Oh," the repentant sinner answered, "when, after you finished, you said, 'Now let's all begin---' I don't know the rest of it, but those words, 'Let's all begin' inspired me to begin my life over again by returning to God!"
But where are these stories we should be using? I keep a computer file named "Ideas," that has served me for years. I sometimes copy an e-mail story into it; other times I jot down a sentence or two. But the best stories, I think, come from our own personal experiences: the ups and downs and round-abouts of our faith journey, the stages of our relationship with God and with others; examples we remember from books, film, TV programs: kernels of Truth found in things we read or hear. Don't worry about whether or not a certain incident happened just exactly as it is recorded, as long as it contains at its center a bit of the Truth. Ask yourself: "What is the Truth to be found here?" What, for instance, is the Truth in the story about the vain preacher?
 
As preachers, as ministers of the liturgy, ours is an awesome privilege and responsibility. Like the chalice and other altar vessels, like the bread and wine, we are consecrated for God's special use during a particular liturgy. With all our hearts we desire to give our best – in preparation and in delivery. We can offer no more; the Divine Victim deserves no less.