From where we stand

Today is the anniversary of the execution in 1945 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian, who opposed Hitler.

He had the chance to stay in New York City and avoid returning to Nazi Germany. This would have saved his life, but he decided that he needed to be in Germany, especially if he hoped to be part of the rebuilding of Germany after the war.

Where we stand is important. Where we walk and the people we encounter influence the way we look at the world, the way we live our faith.

I believe that that means being with the suffering, the poor, the marginalized – in some way or another. Then I think we will begin to understand the world, history, and ourselves.

As Bonhoeffer once wrote:

We have for once learnt to see the events of history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.

A few days ago, I encountered this quote from Robert McAfee Brown, a US theologian, who was very sympathetic to Latin American liberation theology.

Stand up and speak on behalf of the poor
and those who need your voice in this world.
Remember that:
Where you stand will determine what you see;
Whom you stand with will determine what you hear;
What you see and hear will determine what you say and how you act.

For some, this might seem to be a secular, merely sociological reflection on the human way of understanding things.

But I think it is essential a Christ-centered approach. Jesus is God who became flesh and situated Himself in the midst of the pain, the suffering, the oppression, and the poverty of first century Galilee and Judea.

He thus provides His followers with a key to understand life, to understand history, to help make sense of our world – in the midst of the suffering.

And so meditating on the Passion of Christ should open ourselves to the suffering world. As Thomas Merton wrote in A Vow of Conversation:

 We have to see history as a book that is sealed and opened only by the Passion of Christ. But we prefer to read it from the viewpoint of the Beast. We look at history in terms of hubris and power — in terms of the beast and his values. Christ continues to suffer his passion in the poor, the defenseless, and his Passion destroys the Beast. Those who love power are destroyed together with what they love. Meanwhile, Christ is in agony until the end of time.

This is I think what has happened to so many who commit themselves to the poor. It is certainly what happened to Cardinal Raúl Silva who, as archbishop of Santiago, Chile, defended the poor and the oppressed during the dictatorship of Pinochet. He died fifteen years ago today, on April 9, 1999. In his Spiritual Testament he wrote:

My word is a word of love for the poor. Since I was a child I have loved and admired them. The sorrow and the misery in which so many of my brothers and sisters live in this land have moved me enormously. That misery is neither human nor Christian. I humbly ask that all efforts, possible and impossible, be made to eradicate extreme poverty in Chile. We can do it is a current of solidarity and generosity is promoted in all the inhabitants of this country. The poor have honored me with their loving affection. Only God knows how grateful I am for the affection they have shown me and their adherence to the Church.


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