Dean Brackley, a Jesuit priest, died of pancreatic cancer in San Salvador on October 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 November 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.