An infamous slogan of the day was “Be a patriot! Kill a priest!” Women, including pregnant women, and children, including infants, were not spared. Unspeakable massacres at the Rio Sumpul and in the village of El Mazote seemed intended to wipe out the next generation of peasants – potential “subversives” – and to terrorize the current generation into submission.
“In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people,…abandoned the covenant,…and sold themselves to wrongdoing… Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant…was condemned to death by royal decree.” Apparently persecution of the righteous by the ruling powers is nothing new, as the story of the Maccabees in the second century before Christ makes clear. “But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts…[and] preferred to die rather than…to profane the holy covenant.” And so was born the idea of religious martyrdom.
Faced with such inhumanity and idolatry, one cries out to God, with the Psalmist, “Indignation seizes me because of the wicked who forsake your law.” One begs the Lord, “Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may keep your precepts.” When wicked men rule, as in the time of the Maccabees, or of Jesus, or of Romero and the UCA Jesuits, observing the commandments to love God and one’s neighbor as oneself becomes subversive and makes the righteous targets for violence.
In such a broken world, when the risen Jesus passes near, for what do you beg? How do you respond to his question to the blind man of Jericho, “What do you want me to do for you?”
I find myself praying for the courage to sustain compassion when so many suffering people around the world and over my back fence cry out for justice and solidarity. I find myself praying for the courage to be faithful to the covenant when it might be risky to speak out. I find myself asking for mercy, since I know from long past experience that my courage will sometimes be found wanting.
I find myself begging for sight, to see the world as it really is, in all its beauty and all its misery, its love and its hate, and to see it through the eyes of Jesus. I pray that I will never grow too tired, or cynical, or comfortable, to experience indignation in the face of yet another atrocity.
From the Maccabees to Jesus, and from Jesus to the Salvadoran martyrs, we have examples before us of those who persevered and paid the price. Dare we pray to have that kind of subversive faith?
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