Martyr of Solidarity

Thirty years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, a Catholic priest was beaten and thrown into a reservoir. Blessed Jerzy Popielusko was a martyr for Solidarity whom I’ve admired ever since I read his story.

Solidarity was the name of a labor union movement in Poland that began soon after Pope John Paul II made a visit to his homeland in 1979.

In August 1980, ship workers in Gdansk went on strike. Warsaw steelworkers joined them in solidarity and sent someone to the chancery to ask for a priest to come and say Mass for them.

Father Jerzy Popieluszko happened to be there and volunteered to go and celebrate Mass at the huge cross the strikers had erected at their factory.

This young priest was an unlikely advocate of the strikers. But he soon became their chaplain, advocate, and spiritual advisor.

After the December 1981 martial law crackdown and arrest of many Solidarity union members, he visited those in prison and help organize ways to respond to their families. He also began to celebrate a monthly Mass for the Fatherland where he helped Solidarity discover its spiritual roots.

He very clearly saw his work not as political – though it had strong political implications. He was only doing what the church should always do – be at the side of people struggling to live as human beings.

As he said:

…when people suffer and are persecuted, the church also feels the pain. The mission of the church is to be with the people and to share in their joys and sorrows.

He, like another martyr for solidarity with the poor, Monseñor Oscar Romero, knew that this was dangerous work. When we truly side with the poor we can expect to be misunderstood and even persecuted.

As Father Jerzy said:

If we must die, it is better to meet death while defending a worthwhile cause than sitting back and letting an injustice take place.

For his preaching and solidarity his Masses were interrupted and a bomb thrown at his apartment. Finally, he was kidnapped on the night of October 19, 1984, and killed early the next day.

Not many of us are called to witness by dying for God and the oppressed, but we are all called to give our lives to serve God.

As Blessed Jerzy put it:

To serve God is to seek a way to human hearts. To serve God is to speak about evil as a sickness which should be brought to light so that it can be cured. To serve God is to condemn evil in all its manifestations.

__________

Relic of Father Jerzy Popieluszko

Relic of Father Jerzy Popieluszko

The church of San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome has been set up by the Community of San Egidio as a place to remember the martyrs of the New Millenium. In the chapels there are relics of many recent martyrs, including the Missal used by Archbishop Romero the day he was killed in El Salvador, one of the letters from a Nazi prison of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, and one of the stone in the bag that was used to drown Blessed Jerzy Popielusko. Here is a photo of the relic of Blessed Jerzy.

Nothing for Caesar

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Matthew 22: 21

Is there anything that is not God’s?

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, ” says Psalm 24: 1.

“I am the Lord and there is no other,” according to Isaiah 45: 5, 6 in today’s first reading.

Yes, I know the question was a trap for Jesus. But so many have been entrapped by his response and hold on to an idolization of the State, of Caesar.

We not only give Caesar his money but we give him our souls.

We think that one party, one candidate, one position will bring what we want and need. But, how often are political promises nothing more than pampering to our self-interests?

As the late Jesuit priest John Kavanaugh noted: “The empire and those who vie for its throne offer us, in differing forms, an ideology of self-interest.”

Gustavo Gutiérrez, Dominican priest and founder of liberation theology, is blunt in his commentary in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year (pp. 244-245). The question is about money.

In the Pharisee’s question, there is a possible insinuation of not paying their tax and those of their keeping the money for themselves. Their would-be nationalism does not go further. Jesus is going to the root: it is necessary to eradicate all dependency on money. It is not only a question of breaking with the political domination of the emperor; it is necessary to break with the oppression that comes from the attachment to money and its possibilities of exploiting others. Jesus tells them to give the coin back to Caesar and to be liberated from money (mammon, see Mt 6:24). Only then will they be able to worship the true God and to give him what belongs to him.

José Antonio Pagola is even more blunt:

What is it that belongs to Caesar that is not God’s? Only his unjust money.

Give to God what is God’s – and there is nothing left for Caesar.

In this respect, Dorothy Day quoted Saint Hilary:

The less we ask of Caesar, the less we will have to render to Caesar.

 

Dean of Solidarity

Dean Brackley, a Jesuit priest, died of pancreatic cancer in San Salvador on November 16, 2011. I feel privileged to have met him several times and to have profited from his wisdom. His book of Ignatian spirituality, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola, helped me discern my decision to come to Honduras.

Dean had worked in the South Bronx and at Fordham University before going to El Salvador and teaching at the Jesuit University there – the UCA, the Central American University. He had volunteered after the killing of the Jesuits there on Novemebr 16, 1989. Besides working in a parish he taught at the University and welcomed groups from the US that came to visit El Salvador and the UCA. Every so often, Dean returned to the US to speak as well as to teach at a Jesuit university.

Dean is an embodiment of the solidarity that Christ calls us to. He was a bridge between the world of the poor in El Salvador and the world of those of us who have much.

I like to share his essay “Meeting the Victims, Falling in Love” with people who come to visit. Here is an extended excerpt:

These people [the poor] shake us up because they bring home to us that things are much worse in the world than we dared to imagine. But that is only one side of the story: If we allow them to share their suffering with us, they communicate some of their hope to us as well. The smile that seems to have no foundation in the facts is not phony; the spirit of fiesta is not an escape but a recognition that something else is going on in the world besides injustice and destruction. The poor smile because they suspect that this something is more powerful than the injustice. When they insist on sharing their tortilla with a visiting gringo, we recognize there is something going on in the world that is more wonderful than we dared to imagine.

It seems that the victim offers us the privileged place (although not the only place) to encounter the truth which sets us free. The poor usher us into the heart of reality. They bring us up against the world and ourselves all at once. To some extent, we all hold reality at arm’s length — fending off intolerable parts of the world with one hand and intolerable parts of ourselves with the other. The two go together. As a rule, our encounters with the world place us in touch with internal reality, as well. In particular, when the world’s pain crashes in upon us in the person of the victim, the encounter dredges up from within us the parts of ourselves that we had banished. The outcast outside us calls forth the outcast within us. This is why people avoid the poor. But meeting them can heal us. We will only heal our inner divisions if we are also working to heal our social divisions.
The victims of history — the destitute, abused women, oppressed minorities, all those the Bible calls “the poor” — not only put us in touch with the world and with ourselves, but also with the mercy of God. There is something fathomless about the encounter with the poor, as we have said — like the opening of a chess game with its infinite possibilities. If we let them, the poor will place us before the abyss of the holy Mystery we call God. They are a kind of door that opens before that Mystery.

A copy of the full article can be found here.

An unlikely holy pope – for our times

Today’s saint, Callistus I, who was pope from 217 to 222, is an unlikely saint, not one I would normally write about or pray to. Yet, he might be a very good saint to consider in these days of the Synod on the Family being held in the Vatican.

Callistus was a Christian slave who was given charge of some financial matters by his Christian master. Either through mismanagement or questionable practices, the business failed. Either he fled or was sent to the Sardinian salt mines for his malfeasance. Another story has him sent to the mines for a brawl in a synagogue. Not a very savory person.

While in Sardinia, Marcia, a Christian concubine of the emperor managed to get some Christians released from captivity. Callistus was not on the list that Pope Victor had given her but he persuaded the authorities to release him.

The pope then sent Callistus to a town outside Rome, but the following Pope, Zephyrinus, brought him back to Rome, ordained him a deacon, and put him in charge of one of the cemeteries.

When Zephyrinus died, Callistus was elected pope – but not without controversy.

A certain priest named Hippolytus had opposed Pope Zephyrinus, charging him with being lax. He thus opposed the election of Callistus and had himself elected bishop of Rome – the first anti-pope.

Hippolytus was a rigorist seeing the Church as “the ark of saints,” as Robert Ellsberg puts it in All Saints. Pope Callistus, however, saw the Church as “the loving home for saints and sinners alike.”

According to Paul Burns, in Butler’s Lives of the Saints: New Concise Edition,

[Callistus] readmitted previously married persons to the sacraments, upheld the validity of marriages between citizens and slaves (against Roman law)…, and declared that the Church had the power to remit all sins, even murder and adultery, so could be merciful to the gravest sinners.

Callistus, however, always treated Hippolytus with respect.

Thanks to the grace of God, Hippolytus was reconciled to the papacy after Callistus’ death and died a martyr’s death on the island of Sardinia about 236. He is the only anti-pope recognized as a saint.

Sta Maria in TrastevereCallistus’s death is subject to dispute. The legend is that, in the midst of a riot against Christians, he was thrown from his home in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome and drowned in a well. His image is to the left of Mary in the apse mosaic of the church of Santa Maria en Trastevere, perhaps on the site where he lived.

In the midst of the controversies raised by the Synod on the Family, it is helpful to remember the long history of the centrality of mercy.

In Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread, the Reflection is taken from Dialogue 30 of Saint Catherine of Siena:

By your mercy we were created. And by your mercy we were created anew in your Son’s blood. It is your mercy that preserves us…. O mercy! My heart is engulfed with the thought of you! For wherever I turn my thoughts I find nothing but mercy!

May the mercy of our Lord guide us and the Church as we seek to strengthen families and the bonds of love between God’s people.

For love of the world

All too often I hear people making a sharp distinction between the spiritual and the worldly.

Fifty years ago today, on October 13, 1964, Madeleine Delbrêl died in France. For many years she and groups of women lived and worked in Ivry, a working-class city near Paris. These communities of contemplatives living in the world were, as she called them, “missionaries without a boat,” immersed in the lives of their neighbors, many of whom were Communists.

She felt a call to live in the world. As she wrote in We, the Ordinary People of the Street,

Christ does not provide his followers with a set of wings to flee into heaven, but with a weight to drag them into the deepest corners of the earth. What may seem to be the specifically missionary vocation is in fact simply what it means to be embraced by Christ.

Despite any apparent contradiction, we diminish and falsify our love for Christ and the Church wherever we diminish that which draws us to the world and enables us to plunge ourselves into it. This is what the love of the world means, a love that is not an identification with the world, but a gift to it.

That love let her see the grace that comes in responding to the ordinary in daily life, in recognizing God coming to us in every moment:

Each tiny act is an extraordinary event, in which heaven is given to us, in which we are able to give heaven to others. It makes no difference what we do, whether we take in hand a broom or a pen… Whether we are sewing or holding a meeting, caring for a sick person or tapping away at the typewriter…. Is the doorbell ringing? Quick, open the door! It’s God coming to love us. Is someone asking is to do something? Here you are! It’s God coming to love us. Is it time to sit down for lunch? Let’s go — it’s God coming to live us. Let’s let him.

This awareness of God in the ordinary let Madeleine open herself to her neighbors and show them God’s love.

Though I find ways to do this now, living in town and going out to the countryside, I am looking forward to moving out to a rural village where, I pray, I can be present to the people, recognizing God’s presence there and responding in love.

The man without a wedding garment

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 22: 1-14) is the parable of the wedding banquet. Addressed to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus notes how those invited to the banquet find excuses to decline the offer and some even kill the messengers. The king then invites those at the crossroads – the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind, according to Luke 14:21. Matthew puts it bluntly: the servants gather in all the people they found, the bad and the good.

There is much in this parable that gives hope to those on the outside, to those who are not part of the religious establishment.

But there is at least one troubling element in the parable.

The king sees a man without a wedding garment. When questioned, the man says nothing. The king then throws him out of the party.

The late Father John Kavanaugh, S.J., has a marvelous commentary on this, inspired by C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. You can find it here on the St. Louis University liturgy site.

But, as I prayed over the readings this morning, I had a slightly different take on the man without the wedding garment.

Maybe he was there just for the food. It didn’t matter to him that this was a celebration of love, a celebration of the marriage of the king’s son. It was just a chance to fill his gut.

He was not very different from the invited guests who refused to come because they were involved in their farms and businesses. They too didn’t want to share in the joy of the king. They only thought about their own well-being.

The man without a wedding garment was thrown outside because he was really not a part of the celebration. He had not put on the festive garment.

And what is that garment?

The commentator in Diario Bíblico suggests that “We cannot forget that the indispensable garment for the Reign [of God] is charity. One cannot live the Christian life without love, without charity.”

The banquet invitation calls us out of ourselves to share the joy of the Reign of God – and to do what God does, as suggested in the first reading from Isaiah 25: 6-10a:

The Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines…. he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples… he will destroy death forever.
The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face; the humiliation of his people he will remove from the whole earth…

The Lord promises a grand banquet; we are called to put on the wedding garment of joy and love – sharing in the Lord’s joy and sharing that joy with others, especially the outcasts of the earth.

 

Consistency

On October 7, 1772, John Woolman, a Quaker tailor and writer, died in England of smallpox.

He had lived, worked, and traveled around the Philadelphia area, but had gone to England to spread his message of the incompatibility of Christianity and slavery.

Many years ago I read his Diary and was impressed by his simplicity as well as his fervor in visiting other Quakers with his message of resisting oppression by refusing to cooperate with slavery.

He consistently refused to stay with slave owners; he also ate no sugar or molasses since they were the products of slave labor.

In his plea for the poor he wrote:

O that we who declare against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the light, and therein examine our foundations and motives in holding great estates! May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.

Though few of us are as consistent as he was but we should keep his example in mind as we seek to live as disciples of the peaceful Christ.