Daily Reflection
November 16th, 2005

Roc O'Connor, S.J.

Campus Ministry
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Memorial of St. Roch Gonzalez, S.J.

2 Maccabee 7:1, 20-31
Psalm 17:1bcd, 5-6, 8b and 15
Luke 19:11-28

Memorials like this bring me up short. Memorials of martyrs who gave their lives in service of the poor and oppressed make me wonder about how easy I have it.

Frs. Roch Gonzalez, John del Castillo, and Alphonsus Rodriguez were martyred in Paraguay in 1628. They had been serving the indigenous peoples of Paraguay for over 12 years. This time it was a witch doctor, jealous about their success, who did them in. Pope John Paul II canonized them all in 1988, remembering them for their zeal and fortitude in defending native peoples against repression. That was then, this is now.

It wasn’t but a year later that the following story ran in the Washington Post on the first anniversary of the canonization of Roch, John, and Alphonsus:
SAN SALVADOR, NOV. 16 -- SAN SALVADOR, NOV. 16 -- Six prominent Jesuit priests, including the rector and vice rector of El Salvador's most prestigious university, were killed early today along with two other persons [their housekeeper and her daughter] at the house where they slept in the capital. The priests were the most prominent victims of Salvadoran violence since 1980, when eight leftist politicians were gunned down by the military, three American nuns and a lay worker were shot dead and archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated as he said Mass.

Each of these people died a martyr’s death. There are different types of martyrs. There are those who got eaten alive by lions in the amphitheaters in Rome and North Africa. There are those who were tortured for their faith, like in the first reading today. But, there are other martyrs who died because others were dying. Their beloved people were dying and these were willing to stand up to cultures of death and speak words of freedom.

This is a different kind of martyr, it seems to me. It’s a sort of martyrdom that is mostly about love for the poor and the outcast in the face of insurmountable cruelty. It seems to be a kind of love that faces such cruelty with a further Word of truth and freedom meant to free and liberate the oppressors themselves.

This is the sort of martyr I find unnerving. It’s the love of the poor that lives itself out in a daily stance of truth-saying against “powers and dominations” that calls into question my safe life. These are the kinds of martyrs that I find unsettling today. May God call us all to a new level of freedom, love, and truth in our age!

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