Sunday, April 22, 2012

“Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach”. (Reflections on the Third Sunday of Easter, Lk. 24:35-48)

“Study hard. Learn to integrate into your life what you study. That’s the only way you can be sure that what you’ll be preaching to people as a priest will have substance and won’t simply be fluff”.

These are words with which my first spiritual director in seminary—God rest his soul—used to constantly encourage me when I would get lazy and neglect my studies.

You see, I wasn’t always the studying type. As I've shared with my students on several occasions, I didn’t always like philosophy or theology, and I certainly didn’t like studying. I always did relatively well with minimal effort, and I brought that attitude to my formation in seminary. And so it became my spiritual director’s job to remind me of the value of study—not for its own sake, but as he never tired of repeating, “so that what you teach as a priest will have substance, and won’t just be fluff”.

At every diaconate ordination—like the one last Saturday where yet another batch of young men I once taught in philosophy class—inched closer to the day they’re ordained to the priesthood—the ordaining bishop says to those receiving the Sacrament of Orders: “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach”.  

"Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach".

It’s a beautiful reminder of what every deacon, and priest should be doing. We are to “believe, teach, and practice”.

Notice though, that there are really four verbs in this chain of admonition, not just three. “Believe”, “teach”, and “practice”, are the most prominent. But there’s a fourth, which must not be overlooked (though it sometimes is) because it is in fact the foundation of all three, and is the heart of the chain: “Read”. (Translation: “study and learn”.)

In today’s gospel reading, the disciples are terrified at the sight of the risen Christ. They initially think he’s a ghost. And so Jesus reassures them. But he does this by doing two things. First he tells them to see and touch his hands and feet. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones. But he does something more. He asks them if they have any food. And he ate it in front of them. A mere spirit couldn’t eat.

This wasn’t a mere specter. It was Jesus himself, body and soul; or to borrow a term from Thomas Aquinas, Jesus in the fullness of his “substance”, standing in front of them. And then he tells them that they are to be his witnesses to this fullness.

We too, are to be witnesses to this fullness. But the only way we can be sure that it is the fullness of Jesus that we teach (“substance” and not “fluff” as my spiritual director would say) is if we learn as much as we can about Jesus, about the church, about our faith, and integrate everything we learn into the story of our life and our vocation.

Every chance I get, I remind you in class that we study not for the sake of studying, that our intellectual life is not an end in itself. And that is true. But this is never meant to downplay the value of study, or give it secondary status in our life in seminary, or in our life as priests.

Know that there is a genuine "hunger" for God, for faith, and for spiritual nourishment among many persons you will encounter. There is no denying that. How many times have we heard Pope John Paul II and now, Pope Benedict remind us of that fact? 

But that hunger will not be fully satisfied - we shall not really be "feeding" Christ's flock - if we who have been tasked to open and share the "treasures" of the faith, give little value to acquainting ourselves with it, learning and understanding it, and finally, making it part of our very lives as messengers of the Gospel. 

Nemo dat quod no habet. "No one gives what he does not have". We cannot break open the treasures of Christ to his people unless we ourselves have come to know it and "taste" it, fully, intimately, passionately, and allowed it to touch and transform our own lives. 

Never neglect your intellectual life, not now as a seminarian, not later as a priest. Let study become a prayer, let study inform your prayer, and allow both to form your ministry as shepherd and teacher of God's flock.

(Be always on guard therefore against a kind of anti-intellectualism that sometimes worms its way into the hearts of the pious and devout. Intellectual rigor, as Augustine, Anselm, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Paul II, as well as many of the giants of our faith, have so powerfully shown us, is the ally of true piety and devotion, not its adversary.)

The constant reminder that even our study in seminary is oriented towards our future task as shepherds, is meant to encourage us to realize that the only way for us to truly feed and satisfy God’s flock that will one day be entrusted to our care as priests, is to study and learn as much as we can while still seminarians. Only in that way can we be more or less sure that what we shall teach has substance, or in the words of the gospel, “flesh and bones”.

Otherwise, we will end up witnessing to ourselves, not Christ. We will be teaching our ideas and opinions, not the church’s. We will be proclaiming another gospel, not the true one. Then we will be preaching, not substance, but “fluff”. And God’s flock will starve.

“Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach”. “Believe, teach, practice”. These just won’t happen if we do not “study and read”.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Take courage, for I have conquered the world." (Meditations on the death of the good man, Friday of Holy Week)

"The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall ever touch them". (Wisdom 3:1)

A number of years ago, in one of my theology classes at Providence College, we were talking about the Beatitudes where Jesus pronounced those who are poor, meek, humble, and persecuted to be blessed and proclaimed woe on the proud, vain, arrogant, and mighty, one of my students raised his hands and asked: “Father, do you think anyone who takes Jesus’ advice seriously can survive in the world?” 

He wasn’t asking a trick question or trying to be argumentative. It was a sincere question. But before I managed to give an answer, he followed up with a statement: “Good guys finish last, Father. The bad boy always gets the girl”. Everyone began laughing of course. 

On this day, Good Friday, we remember the death of the quintessential good man. We commemorate the lowest point in the story of a man who did nothing but good, whose life, spent loving people, ends in the most tragic fashion. On this day, two-thousand years ago, the world pronounced its verdict on the Son of God: he is a failure, and his mission is doomed to die with him on his cross. 

The events leading to the crucifixion are heartrending, the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death, even more so. Abandoned by the people he had come to redeem, abandoned by closest friends, he now on the cross seemed abandoned by his Father as well. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Jesus the faithful Son, is now seemingly left by his Father to die a most ignominious death. What more could the world want in showing itself right by judging him a failure? Here was the final proof; even God did not want to vindicate him. Even his Father had forsaken him. Jesus was utterly alone. My student’s question thus makes terrible sense: “Do you think anyone who takes Jesus’ advice and follows him seriously can survive the world? Good guys finish last.” 

Do we believe this true? Do the good really finish last? Before giving an answer, consider that in society, most often than not, those who are cunning, devious, and clever, are the ones who succeed. Even the psalmist who wrote thousands of years ago, made that observation: “Why, O Lord”, he writes, “do the evil prosper?” 

Does the bad guy really win? That would make good guys losers, wouldn’t it? People like Socrates, unjustly condemned to drink poison, Sir Thomas More, beheaded for standing firm in his principles, Mahatma Gandhi, assassinated for his unyielding stand for peace, Sister Dorothy Stang, 73-year old American nun from Ohio, shot in the face in Peru, just a few years ago, for her defense of poor farmers, Jean Donovan and the Maryknoll sisters of El Salvador, beaten, raped, and murdered for their work on behalf of justice, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who defended the rights of the poor in El Salvador, felled by bullets while celebrating Mass, a number of Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist; the list goes on and on. 

And who, for the world, would be the winners? Stalin, Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot of Cambodia, the Duvaliers of Haiti, the dictator Marcos, the bigshots at Enron who robbed people of their hard earned money, Bernard Madoff who stole from thousands of people in the largest pyramid scam in history? 

In a dog-eat-dog world, where the rule is “survival of the fittest”, “big fish eat little fish”, and where the basic law of evolution is “natural selection” in which the strong survive and the weak die, it would indeed seem that “the good guy finishes last”. But is there any other way? “Nature does not care for the individual”, one of my philosophy professors used to say. “Nature cares only for the species, for its survival; and it does so by favoring the strong”. 

The philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche could not agree more. This is part of the reason he called Christianity, with its commandment to love “the least” in this world, a “disease”. If all were to obey the commandments of Christ, Nietzsche argued, humanity would eventually be wiped out. Nature demands the survival of the fittest. Natural selection dictates that the strong must overcome the weak; the weak must be weeded out so that the strong may increase in number. 

If you have any doubts about this, just observe a litter of puppies or kittens, and notice how the runt fares. Already the smallest and weakest, and therefore the one needing nourishment most, it’s very smallness and weakness almost guarantees that it won’t get what it needs unless someone intervenes. 

The Renaissance political thinker, Niccolo Machiavelli once counseled would-be rulers to remember that “human beings are a contemptible lot, simple-minded and dominated by their present needs, that one who deceives will always find someone willing to be deceived”. 

One who wishes to rule over and dominate others must therefore be willing to use every means at his disposal, including falsehood and deceit to achieve his goal; failure to do so would only open himself to being the one dominated and ruled. Such is the key, in Machiavelli’s mind, not only to surviving, but to thriving in a world that makes room only for the powerful and strong. Anyone who fails to realize this and act upon it is bound to be left behind, judged a failure and a loser. 

A few years ago, a lady whom I knew since my seminary days was given an award by a Catholic Foundation for her work with the poor and needy. She shared the award and the substantial sum that came with it, with another person. Now she herself was poor. In fact, we would every once in a while help her out with her finances. When she received the check, we encouraged her to save some for herself, for her future health needs, and just to make sure she’ll have something for a rainy day. 

Instead, she went to archbishop, told him she was giving him the money and that she wanted it to go to charity. All of it! We would probably call that noble. The world would call it stupid, crazy, irresponsible, impractical, and ridiculous. And that, in fact, was how some of her relatives and friends interpreted what she did. 

When we asked her why she gave all the money away and didn’t even think of keeping some so that she’d have something to use if she got sick, her answer nearly brought me to tears: “That’s why I have you guys, right. You’ve been very good to me. I take care of other people. I’m sure there will be people who will take care of me. My life has always been in God’s hands”. Even I struggle to have that kind of faith. 

Do the good really finish last? Are they really losers? In the gospel account of the Transfiguration, Jesus is shown in his glory together with Moses (who symbolized the fulfillment of the Law) and Elijah (who symbolized the fulfillment of the Prophets). His clothes become dazzling white and the voice of God the Father is heard saying: “This is my beloved Son. My Chosen One. Listen to him”. The apostles are dazzled and amazed. 

And yet, before this particular gospel passage, comes Jesus’ words to his disciples, telling them the cost of following him. “If anyone wishes to be my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” These were very hard and difficult words for the disciples to accept. They all wanted a powerful Savior and Messiah, not a suffering one who would be killed. They wanted glory and power. 

In the very same chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel, Peter proclaims Jesus to be the “Messiah, the Son of God”. The gospel of Matthew says that when Jesus tells Peter that he is going to suffer, Peter rebukes him. “God forbid that you suffer”, Peter tells Jesus. To which Jesus responds: “Get thee behind me Satan. Your thoughts are not God’s thoughts, but the thoughts of man”.

Even for the disciples, it was hard to understand and accept the way of Jesus. The way of the world, the way of power, wealth, and glory, remained far more attractive. Why suffer when you can be powerful and strong? Why do it the hard way when there’s an easier way? Why be the good guy who loses? Why not be the bad guy who wins? In this view, Jesus would indeed be one of the world’s greatest losers, and his mission, one of the world’s greatest failures. 

And yet on the mountain of the Transfiguration, God affirmed, once and for all, what Jesus was about to do, a task toward which he had set his heart, mind, and soul when he refused the devil’s temptations to power, fame, and glory in the desert. “You are my Beloved Son”, the Father says to Jesus, as if to tell him: “Be strong. You have chosen to follow my way and not the way of the world. And because of that I shall remain with you”.  

But it was also God’s way of encouraging the disciples, of reminding them that there is true glory for those who choose to listen to Jesus and follow him all the way to the Cross, and its the kind of glory that does not fade, that “no thief can steal, no moth can eat, and which rust cannot corrode”. The glory Christ has promised is eternal; that which the world dangles before us is one that doesn’t last. Sic transit gloria mundi. 

We can always choose the latter way, of course. We can take our chances and say, “Oh, I can have both. I’ll follow Jesus, but there’s nothing wrong with being worldly from time to time”. As long as we realize that our choices have consequences, we are free to do and choose what we want. But we must always bear in mind that when it comes to choosing between Jesus’ way and the way of the world, there is no “middle ground”. We either stand squarely with him, or we don’t. 

If we choose Jesus' way, the world will most probably judge us losers. And that can be very hard. If we choose the way of Jesus, our only reward will be this: when we finally come face to face with the God who shall judge us, we shall hear him speak the words He spoke to His very own Son: “You are my beloved child. You are my chosen one”. And on that day, it is the world that will be judged the loser, not us. For the cross of Christ, “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” represents the true judgment on the world and its pretensions. 

On this Good Friday, as the quintessential good man dies on the cross, the “great reversal” takes place, and the world is shown for what it truly is—not the Machiavellian or Nietzschean victor, but one whose pretensions to power and greatness are shown to be no more than a mask, a shell hiding nothing more than a defeated and rotting interior. 

On this day, the words of Jesus are spoken to those of us who choose to stand firm in our convictions, our visions, our dreams, our ideals, our fidelity to Him and all He stands for, for as long as we live: “Take courage, for I have conquered the world”. (John 16:33)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Modern martyrs for each day of Holy Week (Holy Thursday, Richard Michael Fernando, SJ, gave his life to save others, Oct. 17, 1996, Cambodia)

On October 17, 1996, twenty-six year old Richard Fernando, SJ, a Jesuit missionary was killed in Cambodia. He tried to stop a troubled young man from throwing a grenade into a classroom full of handicapped students. In saving the life of others, Richie gave up his own.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13)

Richie Fernando was a young Filipino Jesuit missionary in Cambodia. He was sent to Cambodia before his priesthood. There, he worked as a teacher in a technical school for the handicapped.

In the school, people who were disabled, most especially landmine victims, learned skills which help them earn a living. Richie loved his students in Cambodia and allowed them to share with him their stories.

Among Richie’s students was Sarom, a sixteen-year-old boy who was a victim of a landmine. He wanted to finish his studies there but he was asked to leave by the school authorities for his disruptive attitude. According to Richie, Sarom was tricky but he still had a place for him in his heart.

On October 17, 1996, Sarom came to the school for a meeting. Angered, he suddenly he reached into a bag he was carrying, pulled out a grenade, and began to move towards a classroom full of students; the windows of the room were barred, leaving the students no escape.

Richie Fernando came up behind Sarom and grabbed him. Sarom tried to let Richie go, but the missionary held on to Sarom. Sarom accidentally dropped the grenade behind Richie, and in a flash, Richie was dead. The missionary had protected Sarom and the other students from the violence that was about to come.

Four days before he died, Richie wrote to a friend in the Philippines, “I know where my heart is, It is with Jesus Christ, who gave his all for the poor, the sick, the orphan ...I am confident that God never forgets his people: our disabled brothers and sisters. And I am glad that God has been using me to make sure that our brothers and sisters know this fact. I am convinced that this is my vocation.”

Shocked by what he had caused, Sarom sat in his jail cell and mourned too. In March 1997, Mr. and Mrs. Fernando wrote to Cambodia's King Sihanouk, asking for pardon for Sarom; somehow, someone had to stop the violence. Sarom had not wanted to kill Richie. “He was my friend,” he said.

From "20th Century Martyrs".

Apart from genuine and loving service, the rituals, doctrines & rules of religion mean absolutely nothing. (Radical thoughts on a most radical day)

There’s a great deal of concern that’s sometimes expressed about where today's generation of young people is going to end up in terms of its religion, faith, and participation in the life of the church.

On some occasions, I’ve heard older folks, even some of my colleagues at university wonder out loud whether the younger generation will still consider itself religious, or whether it would continue to value the faith handed down to it.

It does make me wonder myself sometimes, especially since there does seem to be a general indifference we see among young people when it comes to the church, to religion, and to faith. It just doesn’t seem as important to them as it is to their parents and grandparents. Indeed, every new generation seems less devout than the previous one.

A couple of spring breaks ago however, I experienced something that didn’t only give me a great deal of hope, but somehow made me realize that perhaps those of us who are older and who often find ourselves worried about the religiosity of young people, might actually be missing something each time we think about the faith of the younger generation.

A few weeks before the break, I kept getting text and email messages from a good number of my university students who wanted to meet and talk. A few approached me right after class and were asking for appointments. I thought they wanted to talk about their grades—everyone seems to want to get an “A”, or as one student said: “At least an A-.”

All I can tell you is that every single one of those appointments before spring break left me astounded, at times even overwhelmed. These students were asking for recommendations to groups that would take them to New Orleans (this was after hurricane Katrina), Appalachia, even South America. They were going to do volunteer work, skipping the traditional party break to help build homes, assist people who needed help, or just be with people.

They wanted to talk as well because they believed what they were doing was so much a part of their faith, but they didn’t quite know how exactly to make the connection, aside from remembering that—as one of them said to me—“Jesus said we should love our neighbor as ourselves”. During one of our theology classes, one of them said to me: “I think what we’re doing is good. And it was great to be able to help build homes in New Orleans. I just don’t know if it was a properly religious thing”.

“A properly religious thing”. I thought it was a very interesting idea. What’s a properly religious thing anyway? Is it prayer, the rituals of the church, the doctrines we believe or the religious rules we obey? Or is it something more than that? Something bigger perhaps—something that includes all these things, and much more?

Jesus’ action in today’s Gospel, and the ritual we are to witness at the liturgy of this day, gives a definite, final, and absolute answer to that question: Is serving other people a properly religious thing?

Why did Jesus wash his disciples’ feet? You see, over and over again, the disciples kept missing the point he was making. Again and again, they failed to understand the message Jesus wanted to convey.

Only a few days before their Passover meal, James and John had their mother go to Jesus and request that they sit at his right and his left when he finally inaugurated his Kingdom. This led to a big dispute among the disciples. Days before that, Jesus had called Peter “Satan” for trying to persuade him to abandon his mission. And a few moments from this scene, Judas will go to the high priests, frustrated that Jesus didn’t turn out to be the Messiah he imagined him to be.

These men wanted to define Jesus, his work, his life and his message in terms of something so narrow. For them he was the Messiah, the promised King of Israel, a powerful religious and political leader. That summed up for them what Jesus was.

In washing their feet, Jesus opens their eyes and makes them realize, once-and-for all, what he is really about. His action sums up for all time, and for all of us, what it means to believe in Jesus, what it means to have faith in him, what our religion is about. It’s one simple word: “service”. For as he tells them: “What I have done for you; you must in turn do for one another”.

Service is at the heart of our faith, our religion. It is at the core of everything we do because “service” is the most concrete manifestation of faith. In another part of the gospel Jesus calls it by the name more familiar to us. He calls it “love”.

Jesus washes his disciples’ feet in order to show in the most concrete way possible, what it means to love; it is service, it is giving oneself in all generosity to those whom we love.

Our celebration today is a reminder to all of us. Serving one another in love, especially the poorest and neediest among us—is as much a part of our religion and our faith, as the ritual we are about to see. As I told my students after spring break, pounding those nails and building those homes were as much a part of our religion as their coming to church on Sunday.

That is what tonight’s foot-washing is all about. To serve others, out of love for them and love for God is a properly religious thing.

Apart from loving service, most especially to those most in need, the rituals, doctrines, and rules of religion mean absolutely nothing.

As St. Paul says in words so familiar to all of us:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am like a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing”.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Modern martyrs for each day of Holy Week (Holy Wednesday, Jean Donovan and the Maryknoll Sisters of El Salvador, martyred on December 2, 1980)

On the afternoon
of December 2, 1980, Maryknoll Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan picked up two Maryknoll missionary sisters, Teresa Alexander and Madeline Dorsey, from the airport after the pair arrived from attending a Maryknoll conference in Managua, Nicaragua. They were under surveillance by a National Guardsman of El Salvador at the time, who phoned his commander for orders.

Acting on orders from their commander, five National Guard members changed into plainclothes and continued to stake out the airport. Jean Donovan and Sister Dorothy returned to pick up another pair of Maryknoll sisters, Maura Clarke and Ita Ford who were returning from the same conference on a flight not due until 7:00 pm.

The five members of the National Guard, out of uniform, stopped the vehicle they were driving after they left the airport in San Salvador. Sisters Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clare, Ita Ford, and lay missionary Jean Donovan were taken to a relatively isolated spot where they were interrogated, beaten, raped, and murdered by the soldiers.

Peasants living nearby had seen the sisters' white van drive to an isolated spot at about 10 p.m. on December 2 and then heard machine-gun fire followed by single shots, three hours after the flight was due. They saw five men flee the scene in the white van, with the lights on and the radio blaring. The van would be found later that night on fire at the side of the airport road.

Early the next morning, December 3, the bodies of the four women were found. The peasants who discovered them were ordered by local authorities—a judge, three members of the civil guard, and two commanders—to bury the women in a common grave in a nearby field. The peasants did so, but informed a local priest , who then relayed the news to the local bishop, and the United States ambassador, Robert White.

Their shallow grave was exhumed the next day, December 4, in front of 15 reporters, Sisters Alexander and Dorsey and several missioners, and Ambassador White. Jean Donovan's body was the first to be exhumed; then Sister Dorothy Kazel's; then Maura Clarke's; and finally, Ita Ford.

On December 5, a Mass of the Resurrection was said by Bishop Rivera y Damas; and on December 6, the bodies of Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel were flown out for burial; Donovan to her parents in Sarasota, Florida, and Kazel back to her hometown of Cleveland. The bodies of the Maryknoll sisters, Clarke and Ford, were buried in Chalatenango, in El Salvador.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his deeds’.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Modern martyrs for each day of Holy Week (Holy Tuesday, Sister Dorothy Stang,SND, martyred on the 12th of February, 2005)

Sister Dorothy Stang lived among the poorest of the poor, though she also lived side by side with those who wanted her dead on account of that. When her killers finally came for her she read passages from the Bible to them. They listened for a moment, then fired. Her body was found face down in the mud, blood staining the back of her white blouse.

The town of Anapu, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, is most notable for the dust that clogs its streets and for the number of shops selling chain - saws. It is also the place that Sister Dorothy called home for more than 30 years and where she organized her efforts to try to protect the rainforest and its people from disastrous and often illegal exploitation by logging firms and ranchers. Now Anapu will be known as the place where Sister Dorothy is buried.

The 74-year-old activist was laid to rest on the morning of the 14th of February 2005, after being assassinated by two gunmen at a remote encampment in the jungle about 30 miles from the town. Sister Dorothy - the most prominent activist to be murdered in the Amazon since Chico Mendez in 1988 - was shot six times in the head, throat and body at close range. "She was on a list of people marked for death. And little by little they're ticking those names off the list," said Nilde Sousa, an official with a local women's group who worked with the nun.

As with the death of Mr Mendez, the murder of Sister Dorothy has triggered waves of outrage among environmental and human rights activists who say she dedicated her life to helping the area's poor, landless peasants and confronting the businesses that see the rainforest only as a resource to be plundered and which have already destroyed 20 per cent of its 1.6 million square miles.

Sister Dorothy was in the Boa Esperanca settlement when she was killed. She was traveling with two peasants to a meeting to discuss a settlement for the area, which has apparently been granted to peasants by the federal government but which is sought by loggers. The two men traveling with her escaped unhurt.

Sister Dorothy was originally from Dayton, Ohio, where she attended Julienne High School. It was while she was a student that she decided to become a nun and when she left school she joined the convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Cincinnati. The order, founded in France in the early 18th century by Marie Rose Julie Billiart, is an proponent of liberation theology and social justice. Its mission statement dedicates the order to "take our stand with poor people especially women and children, in the most abandoned places".

Her beliefs took her to Brazil in the 1960s and it was there, in the vast Para region, which encompasses large tracts of rainforest, that she found her calling - despite the obvious dangers she faced. Just two weeks ago, Sister Dorothy met the country’s human rights secretary, and told him of the death threats that she and others had received and asked for the government's help and protection.

Sister Elizabeth Bowyer, a senior nun at the Cincinnati convent, said yesterday that she believed Sister Dorothy may have realized she was going to be killed at some point even though she told her friends and colleagues that her status as a nun would offer a level of protection. "She knew she was on the death list. She said she would be protected because of her age and because she was a nun - she was wrong," she said. "We don't know who hired the gunmen but we know the loggers and ranchers were very upset by what she was doing. She was working with the human rights people to protect the small farmers who have been given the right to the land."

In her native Ohio she was remembered at a series of services which recalled her dedication and courage. "Sister Dorothy in her ministering to the poor remained faithful. We honor those who die for their faith," said Father Dennis Caylor, pastor at St Rafael church in the suburb of Springfield.

By Andrew Buncombe, in The Independent, UK, February 15, 2005.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Modern martyrs for each day of Holy Week (Holy Monday, The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador, martyred on the 16th of November, 1989)

In November 16, 1989 in El Salvador, six Jesuits, together with two women who were sharing their university residence, were murdered by the Salvadoran military. Dean Brackley SJ tells the story of the Jesuit martyrs, who were eventually posthumously awarded with El Salvador’s highest honor. These excerpts are from Brackley's work.

Sometimes, late in the game, justice is done and the truth served. In November 2009, the President of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, announced that his government would bestow its highest honour, the Order of José Matías Delgado, posthumously, on the six Jesuits who were murdered twenty years ago on that same date.
In the early hours of 16 November 1989, commandos of the Salvadoran armed forces entered the campus of the Jesuits’ university, the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), and brutally murdered the six Jesuits, together with two women who were sleeping in a parlour attached to their residence. The Jesuits were: the university

Ignacio Ellacuría, 59, an internationally known philosopher; Segundo Montes, 56, head of the Sociology Department and the UCA’s human rights institute; Ignacio Martín-Baró, 44, the pioneering social psychologist who headed the Psychology Department and the polling institute; theology professors Juan Ramón Moreno, 56, and Armando López, 53; and Joaquín López y López, 71, founding head of the Fe y Alegría network of schools for the poor. Joaquín was the only native Salvadoran, the others having arrived long before from Spain as young seminarians. Julia Elba Ramos, the wife of a caretaker at the UCA, and their daughter Celina, 16, were eliminated to ensure that there would be no witnesses. Ironically, the women had sought refuge from the noise of gunfire near their cottage on the edge of the campus. Julia Elba cooked for the Jesuit seminarians living near the UCA.

This was one crime in a long series that included the martyrdom of Rutilio Grande SJ in 1977, and those of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and the four US missionaries: Jean Donovan, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel and Maryknoll sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, in 1980. They all mixed their blood with that of tens of thousands of lesser-known civilian victims of El Salvador’s civil war of 1981 to 1992, which moved the world with its extremes of cruelty and of heroic generosity.

Like many others, the UCA martyrs were killed for the way they lived, that is, for how they expressed their faith in love. They stood for a new kind of university, a new kind of society, a ‘new’ church. Together with their lay colleagues, they wrestled with the ambiguities of their university in a country where only a tiny minority finished elementary school and still fewer could meet the required academic standards to enter university and to pay the tuition fees.

The Jesuits and their colleagues concluded that they could not limit their mission to teaching and innocuous research. Yes, they did steeply scale tuition charges according to students’ family income. More importantly, they sought countless ways to unmask the lies that justified the pervasive injustice and the continuing violence, and they made constructive proposals for a just peace and a more humane social order. As a university of Christian inspiration, they felt compelled to serve the truth in this way. That is what got them killed.

The UCA martyrs also stood for a different kind of society. Ellacuría, like the theologian Jon Sobrino who lived with him but was travelling at the time of the killings, was an eloquent advocate for what he called a ‘civilisation of work’ to replace ‘the prevailing civilisation of capital.’ With great prescience he foresaw that this would not be principally the work of governments but rather of civil society, whose different sectors have to organise and point the way to new social models, beyond both communist collectivism and capitalism. In this, Ellacuría believed, ‘the poor with spirit’ would play a privileged role.

Finally, the UCA martyrs stood for a Church of the poor (in the words of Pope John XXIII) which would serve as a vanguard of this new society, modelling equitable social relations and solidarity; a prophetic Church like the one that Archbishop Romero symbolises, which gives credible witness to the fullness of life that God promises.

The UCA martyrs knew they were risking their lives. But they understood that that was the price of being human in their time and place; that was the cost of following Christ. Twenty years later we give thanks for them, and many like them who inspire us to live up to the challenge of our own time.

In announcing that he would bestow the country’s highest honours on the fallen Jesuits, El Salvador’s president said that they had distinguished themselves for outstanding service in education, human rights, combating poverty and inequality, and in working for peace and democracy. He added that he and many members of his Cabinet regard them as ‘eminent Salvadorans who rendered extraordinary service to the country.’

At the Presidential Palace, on 16 November 2009, some of their relatives joined the Jesuits of El Salvador along with representatives of the poor communities that the martyred Jesuits served. In their stead, those present will receive this historic public recognition. It is fitting that campesinos, mothers and workers, representatives of the crucified peoples like Julia Elba and Celina, share in this tribute, which is all the more welcome for coming so late in the day.

Dean Brackley SJ is Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Catholic University in San Salvador.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)