Daily Reflection
November 16th, 2000
Roc O'Connor, S.J.
Theology Department and Campus Ministry
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

The feast of the martyrs of Paraguay, Sts. Roch González, 
Alphonsus Rodríguez, and John del Castillo, of the Society of Jesus (1628)
The memorial of the eight Salvadoran martyrs (1989)
Philemon 1:7-20
Psalms 146:7-10
Luke 17:20-25
Highlighted quotations are taken from: 
"The Service of Faith and Promotion of Justice in American Higher Education
by Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., University of Santa Clara, October 6, 2000

This letter of Paul to Philemon is so short, so tiny, so insignificant.  Paul is just asking Philemon to receive back his slave, Onesimus, as a brother, that's all.  What must have gone through Philemon's mind initially?  "What the ...? He's my slave!  I own him!  Who does he think he is, the %#$*^@#."

"Injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and its solution requires a spiritual conversion of each one's heart and a cultural conversion of our global society so that humankind, with all the powerful means at its disposal, might exercise the will to change the sinful structures afflicting our world."

Paul did not want to inconvenience Philemon.  He treated him as a person with certain 'rights' - he did own Onesimus -  and yet one with certain 'responsibilities' as a Christian:  "I did not want to do anything without your consent, that kindness might not be forced on you, but might be freely bestowed." 

"When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change.  Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection."

Then, Paul lays out the invitation, the challenge:  "Perhaps he was separated from you for a while for this reason:  that you might possess him forever, no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother."  Why?  Why, in God's name, should Philemon change? Submit?  Hand over his rights to what he owned?

"Paraphrasing Ignacio Ellacuría, it is the nature of every University to be a social force, and it is the calling of a Jesuit university to take conscious responsibility for being such a force for faith and justice.  Every Jesuit academy of higher learning is called to live in a social reality, and to live for that social reality, to shed university intelligence upon it and to use university influence to transform it."

We don't know what ever happened to Philemon and Onesimus.  Happy ending?  Tragic ending?  But, doesn't it seem like the same invitation/challenge is being laid to the feet of North American Catholics like you and me?  Aren't we invited to welcome - to name as brothers and sisters - those who have been enslaved by our limitless hunger for goods and safety?  Isn't that what St. Roch tried to accomplish in Uruguay?  Isn't that what 4 churchwomen, six Jesuits and 2 women died for?

In an unjust world, someone always loses.  To build a just world, many must choose to lose; many have to embrace loss to hand over a share in the world's goods.  Must it always be the poor?  Why am I so reluctant to hand over what I have a 'right' to?  (St.?) Philemon, pray for us.

A suggestion for prayer: sit with Paul; walk home with Onesimus; pace the floor with Philemon; rejoice and weep with the Trinity this day.  The story still plays out.

[Click here for the full text of Fr. Kolvenbach's talk and other justice links.]
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