Thirty years ago, six Jesuits, their cook, and her 15-year-old daughter were murdered at the University of Central America in San Salvador by Salvadoran government forces. These academics were killed for being outspoken advocates for the poor and suffering in a country wracked by years of violent civil war. Their concern was to work for a more just society according to the vision more recently expressed by Pope Francis of the Church as a field hospital for the wounded, a poor church for the poor. According to the gospel, we are reminded that our actions reveal our commitment to it which is ultimately the building of God’s upside-down Reign.
Jesus today assures us, ‘I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.’ It comes from the Holy Spirit - that same Spirit that prompted Jesus to proclaim that he has come to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, give sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free (Lk. 4). It is this same Spirit that animated countless people in the past and present whose lives are taken for their stand by the gospel. We saw this with Archbishop Oscar Romero. But many are dying and suffering today and often not acknowledged. It was this Spirit that strengthened Sr. Dorothy Stang to be in solidarity with the Amazonian people, which led to her murder. One of the six Jesuits, Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria, said that conversion to God must be conversion to the poor – and this led to their death. We should say, that we also need to be converted by the poor, by people on the lowest rung, those most on the peripheries of society. It is in them that Jesus’ face is revealed. However, this conversion can have dire consequences not because where people stood or sat on certain issues, but they sat with.
A few centuries before Jesus’ birth, the word ‘apocalyse’ emerged to convey its message of impending radical change by using the images of natural catastrophe listed in the gospel. The message was for the victims of empire. It was meant to encourage the poor and dispossessed, the sick, widowed and orphaned – not the rich and well-off. Apocalypse assured the poor that all systems of oppression end in flames. Ironically, apocalypse has been embraced by conservatives and their wealthy supporters who want to keep things as they are. But the message of ‘apocalypse’ is that a new era is dawning, and we need to be on the right side of history. The old order is doomed. We need to look at all the empires of the past.
Luke has Jesus name the wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famine, and plagues, and whilst they can overwhelm, we are called to be a people of unreasonable hope. Malachi says that hope has the final say. He calls us to see God all around us: ‘Look around you! God speaks to you in everything.’ God is active in human affairs: though evil and strife exist in the world, and people who live according God’s alternative values are misunderstood and persecuted, God’s reign continues to work, and to transform the world and its people into loving, peaceful and just men and women. Jesus calls us away from fear and to place our trust in the heart of a God of love. ‘Do not be afraid’ because it is the fear that paralyses that leads to failure in compassion, hospitality and openness. Seeing our world and others through the prism or lens of God’s love enables us to look at others with compassion, appreciation and respect. Hope is how are in community – how we look, touch, love despite the violence and chaos around us. It allows us to see to that in God’s upside-down Reign, the last are first, the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are fed, and all people are revealed as God’s beloved children. The martyrs lift the veil and show us this where to look, where to walk, who to follow, who to sit with. Will we continue this work?
We are called to take our cue from those who went before us and discerned God’s presence in their lives. We can easily be overwhelmed by the evil and suffering in the world but there also is the grand scope and challenge of the Gospel of a vision of a restored world. In the midst of these two overwhelming realities is a simple, but powerful response – the contribution made by a life of daily discipline and faithfulness to what is right. It these small contributions, when put together, that make a significant difference in the big scheme of things.
Today’s readings testify to God’s investment in creating a new world – not destroying it. We also see people who keep on struggling and enduring with God’s persistent promise and relentless presence. These passages should cause us to long for — and work for — a future that is almost beyond our imagination. We must look up and keep on working. It is not over until it is over; the end is not yet here. Certainly, destruction of some kind is in the offing. We have to acknowledge that the human footprint has been massively destructive on ecosystems especially in the last two centuries. Will we even have to pay for the collective ‘sinfulness’ of those in the past as the peoples of the Pacific, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other low-lying parts of Asia and Australia. Will we be like Zacchaeus and pay the price of our negligence, blindness and greed? Countries are increasingly looking to purchase more toys in the form of nuclear weapons.
The promises of positive change, as people in the peace and justice movements know, are to be trusted in and worked for, but their realisation may only bear fruit across generations. Faith is not just about vision, but patience and endurance.
Paul (2Thess. 3:13) calls us ‘not be weary in doing what is right’. Whenever Christ’s Second Coming is to eventuate, we have a lot of work to do now rather than being overly concerned about Christ’s Second Coming. The work of peace with justice always involves ‘toiling and laboring’ with others rather than living apart from or dominating them. A fascination with the end time is paralyzing and at the expense of active involvement in the present. It is difficult for many people to live lives of faith in the present. It can seem easier or more comfortable to live in the past or in the future. As followers of Christ, we need to recognise the power of our daily decisions and actions to bring about significant change and contribute to a more just world, e.g., committing to the discipline of conscious consumerism; eat mindfully and find out if the food we eat has been ethically sources; when we treat others with respect, regardless of religion, ethnicity or immigration status; when we love even those who might harm us. These ordinary actions are what Paul calls ‘doing what is right’, and are manifestations of God’s peaceful reign. So in working for justice in the world and contributing to the big issues, we must not forget the small, daily disciplines of care and nurture that ensure that together we become more whole, peaceful and compassionate human beings.
Central is the question: ‘Where is the God of justice?’ On this second last Sunday of the year, we are reminded that for every ending there is another beginning. This coming Sunday, we look again at the Jesus, Christ the King, the Heart of the Universe, the God of justice, to draw inspiration as we move into Advent and light the first candle of another liturgical year.
Compiled by Claude Mostowik msc,
Director of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre, Erskineville, NSW
President, Pax Christi Australia
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia (NSW)