Today the church celebrates St. Irenaeus of Lyons, bishop and martyr, who died about 202 AD. He wrote a famous treatise, Against Heresies, refuting the Gnostic sects which proposed a dualism which despised the material world. A famous quote from Book 4, chapter 20, 7 of the treatise reads.
For the glory of God is a living human being; and the life of a human consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.
In a speech at Louvain in Belgium on February 2, 1980, less than two months before he was martyred, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero ended his acceptance speech of an honorary degree with these words, reinterpreting Irenaeus:
The ancient Christians used to say, “Gloria Dei, vivens homo” – “The glory of God is the person who is alive.” We could concretize this saying, “Gloria Dei, vivens pauper” – “The glory of God is the poor person who is alive.” We believe that from the transcendence of the Gospel we can judge in what consists truly the live of the poor; and we also believe that putting oneself at the side of the poor and trying to give them life we will know in what consists the eternal truth of the Gospel.
On June 25, 1975, Fr. Jerome Casimir Michael Cypher, O.F.M. Conv., U.S. missionary, and Fr. Ivan Betancur, S.J., Colombian missionary, and six others, martyrs of Los Horcones, were killed in Juticalpa, Department of Olancho, Honduras. Father Ivan was involved with the poor in the area and many of the campesinos involved were involved in organizations. Father Michael Cypher was probably killed because he happened to be a priest who just happened to be in Juticalpa at the time. The deaths unleashed a series of actions against the church in the department of Olancho. (Interestingly, the US bishop, a Franciscan who had a price of $10,000 on his head, happened to be out of the country or he might have been a victim of the attacks.)
A few years ago I read this meditation of Father Michael Cypher:
“What is important is not that we wait for a revelation in some book or in some saying, but take the revelation we have in our everyday life. And the revelation in our everyday life is to use the talents God gave us. Lazarus had no ‘talents’ — but what he was, he was. And that was all.
“There is beauty in life if we only worry about living completely and just being truly what God meant us to be. We miss it when we worry about not being really great, about accomplishing things we cannot accomplish. When we want God to make us greater than we are, we become smaller, because we neglect what we have and what we are already.
“Remember this Gospel. It is a sort of warning: Don’t look too far into the future. When you look into eternity, don’t look on forever; you will stumble over your own life. Look for eternity in those who are near you right now. For eternity begins today; it begins this moment. It begins right NOW!”
Today the church celebrates the birthday of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Lord. Quite the eccentric character – eating locusts and wild honey, living in the desert – he is a great saint to have as my patron.
One of the best meditations I have read about him was written in a Nazi prison by Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, who was eventually killed by the Nazis.
“The man crying in the wilderness. We live in an age that has every right to consider itself no wilderness. But woe to any age in which the voice crying in the wilderness can no longer be heard because the noises of everyday life drown it — or restrictions forbid it — or it is simply stifled by authority, misled by fear and cowardice. Then the destructive weeds will spread so suddenly and rapidly that the word ‘wilderness’ will recur to [people]’s minds willy-nilly. I believe we are no strangers to this discovery.
“Yet for all this, where are the voices that should ring out in protest and accusation? There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period; brave [people] inspired by the dynamic compulsion of the mission to which they are dedicated, true witnesses following the lead of their hearts and endowed with clear vision and unerring judgment. Such [people] do not cry out for the sake of making a noise or the pleasure of hearing their own voices, or because they envy other[s] the good things which have not come their way in account of their singular attitude towards life. They are above envy and have a solace known only to those who have crossed both the inner and outer borders of existence. Such [people] proclaim the message of healing and salvation. They warn [people] of [their] chance, because they already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet, feel the beams cracking and the great mountains shuddering inwardly and the stars swinging in space. They cry out to [people], urging [them] to save [themselves] by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm [them].
“Oh God, surely enough people nowadays know what it means to clear away bomb dust and rubble of destruction, making the rough places smooth again. They will know it for many years to come with this labor weighing on them. Oh, may the arresting voices of the wilderness ring out warning [hu]mankind in good time that ruin and devastation actually spread from within. May the Advent figure of St. John the Baptist, the incorruptible herald and teacher in God’s name, be no longer a stranger in our own wilderness. Much depends on such symbolic figures in our lives. For how shall we hear if there are none to cry out, none whose voice can rise above the tumult of violence and destruction, the false clamor that deafens us to reality?”
Where are the prophets like John the Baptist and Alfred Delp today? Or maybe we’re called to be those prophets!
Cardinal Jaime Sin was the archbishop of Manila, the Philippines. He is noted for his commitment to the poor and to standing up to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and for participating in the nonviolent overthrow of President Marcos.. He died on June 21, 2005.
He once wrote:
Strength without compassion is violence.
Compassion without justice is sentiment.
Justice without love is Marxism.
And… love without justice is baloney!
On June 20, 1979, Father Rafael Palacios was killed in Santa Tecla, one of more than twenty priests killed in El Salvador.
A native of Suchitoto, he studied for the priesthood for the neighboring diocese of San Vicente, but was suspended by the bishop for his liberating style of pastoral work. He was, however, accepted by the San Salvador archdiocese where he worked with base communities in several poor barrios in Santa Tecla and the city of San Salvador.
He was very critical of the government and allied with the progressive priests in the dioceses. Members of the parish of El Calvario in Santa Tecla where he was working, presented a Passion Play on Holy Thursday, 1979, in which they interpreted Jesus’ imprisonment and death in the light of the exploitation they experienced in their lives. That may have been the last straw. The White Warriors Union death squad took responsibility for his death.
He is buried in the Sacred Heart chapel in the church in Suchitoto. When I was there in 1992 and the following years daily Mass was celebrated in that chapel and the moveable altar was directly over his tomb. How fitting to celebrate over the tombs of the martyrs.
A hymn composed in his memory has the following refrain:
The truth of the Gospel you announced, ever faithful
For following Christ, they martyred you, Rafael.
But this verse is, for me, the most fitting, for his work with base communities:
“Nuestro Dios no está en el templo
sino en la comunidad.
Our God is not in the church building
but lives in the community.”
Today is also the anniversary of the following deaths:
- In 1923, Mexican revolutionary hero, Pancho Villa (born Doroteo Arango), was assassinated.
- In 1979, Salvadoran Marist brother Mariano Blanco, Salvadoran, was killed in a burst of gunfire by the National Guard, Estelí, Nicaragua.
- In 1998, Fr. Leo Commissari, an Italian missionary priest, was killed near São Paulo, Brazil.
- In 2001, Fr. Martin J. Royackers, S.J., waskilled in the parish of St. Theresa, Annotto Bay, Jamaica. Father Martin was a advocate of land reform.
Reading today’s lectionary readings (2 Corinthians 12: 1-10 and Matthew 6: 24-34) we should be struck at how counter-cultural the message of Christ is, especially for us who are from the US.
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” – But we must be strong, armed to the teeth.
“You cannot serve God and money.” – But we strive to accumulate, to have more and more.
“You are worth more than many sparrows.” – But I have to prove myself or I am worth nothing.
“Set your hearts first on the Reign of God and God’s justice…” – But I am an ‘American.’
We all have a value that is not dependent on what we have or what we do. We all have our weaknesses, as Paul noted, but God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
The Providence of God, God’s care for us, is not dependent on what we do – on our strengths. God uses both our strengths and our weaknesses if we set our hearts on the justice of God.
As one friend once said, “God loves us as we are but loves us to much to let us stay where we are.”
God calls us to be “more.”
On June 16, 1980, a British Quaker pacifist, Will Warren died. He lived and worked for a time in Northern Ireland and was known for his direct peacemaking efforts, at times preventing violence by speaking directly to the para military factions on all sides. He spent six years in the Bogside, a very conflictive area of Belfast.
Here is a quote that sums up his life and work.
“One of my fundamental beliefs is that there is something of God in everybody. Everything else springs from this. I am not nonviolent by nature. I do believe that nonviolence must come if you try to follow the way of Christ. I also believe that if you see anything wrong, you shouldn’t be a democrat and call a meeting and elect a committee to do something about it, and then forget to do it; but you should do something yourself, or try to do something yourself about it. This is followed by one other thing. I do not believe that you can effect reconciliation unless you can speak to the people you’re trying to reconcile.”