November 16, 2019 Wisdom 18: 14-16; 19: 6-9 Luke 18: 1-8
The Wisdom reading today tells us that the word of God will come to bring justice for his people, to make creation anew and to shelter his people with his hand. In both the Hebrew scriptures and in the gospel’s widow, we see that God’s special beloved are those who are treated unjustly, the imprisoned, the poor, the oppressed, the weak of this world. Because of God’s actions, these are people who can truly rejoice. I believe their joy becomes so abundant, bounding “about like lambs,” because not only have they been lifted up by God’s word but also because they have come to see the fruit of their faithfulness and prayer. Thus, Jesus encouraged we disciples “to pray always without becoming weary.”
For me, some of the most profound witnesses to the grace of prayer have been lived by the poor. I am always stunned by the incredible faith and prayerful hope I have experienced in the people of Haiti. Even in their great poverty, persistence and pray produce hearts that are deeply grateful for life and God’s love. It is a good lesson for those of us in the northern world. At the end of today’s gospel Jesus ask if faith will be found on earth when he returns. As we listen to the recent Pew Report that notes the significant increase in the “Nones” today, we can hear Jesus asking this haunting question again. My answer is the same as in our scriptures today: Yes, it is found in the poor.
Today, November 16, marks the 30th anniversary of the terrible slaughter of the six Jesuit martyrs, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador in 1989. May God have compassion and mercy on these who stood with the poor of that country! They were murdered because they gave prayerful service and witness on behalf of the poor. This day is a very good day to raise our prayer for the poor of our time and to truly give witness to our faith.
Five years ago, I was blessed along with my pastor to have accompanied a congressional delegation to El Salvador for 25th anniversary events honoring the Salvadoran martyrs and to remind the world that the poor of that country and other marginalized places will not be forgotten. It was in the beautiful faces of the poor people of El Salvador that I was reminded of God’s promise to provide a sheltering hand to those who are of one heart with him. As I marched in solidarity with thousands of them on the campus where the martyrs’ lives had been taken or prayed with thousands more at an open-air evening liturgy, I was deeply moved by their prayer for justice. I was touched by their faith.
Now 30 years after the slaughter, we see, in our news, reports of new oppressions in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Mexico and other places. Some is because of corrupt governments; much is because of powerful drug cartels. Can we hear the words of St. Oscar Romero echoing again: “Stop the repression!”? Can we join our poor brothers and sisters in this prayerful plea? Will we let faith be found in our words and actions?
The Jesuit University of Central America in EL Salvador gave me a gift in appreciation for being present at their memorial five years ago. It is a little 8 x 10 plaque that now hangs by my bed. In Central American art, St. Romero is surrounded by God’s beloved poor embracing the Cross and the words inscribed below them read: “No hay amor mas grande que dar la vide por los amigos.” There is no greater love than to give your life for your friends (Jn 15:13). Let us be reminded by this witness of the poor to pray always so that justice may come and we all may be lifted up through the power of the Cross.
Ernie Rivard is a Passionist Associate. He has served as Pastoral Assistant at two New England parishes and in the roles of administrator, associate retreat director and retreat director at Passionist retreat centers over twenty-three years. He is now retired from full-time ministry to spend more time with his family, golf, and reading & research into history, spirituality and contemporary Church issues. He continues to offer occasional retreats and days of reflection.