Friday, December 2, 2016

December 2 - Maura Clarke and Companions, Martyrs, Victims of State Sponsored Death

Maura was bleeding profusely and knew that death was likely waiting for her after every short and gasping breath. Yet, she noticed that the men had already sprinted back to their van. Their guns were still warm from the bullet they had discharged and the death they had wrought in Maura and her sisters: Ita Ford, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel. It was odd to see five grown men sprinting from the defenseless, dying (or perhaps dead) nuns back to the safety of the van. They ran as if they expected some retribution to spring forth from the bloody wounds in the chests and heads of the women who had not even resisted.They turned up the radio as loud as it could go and peeled out--spraying gravel--as they fled the scene.Maura wondered if the radio was meant to silence the memory of atrocity and murder in their minds and wondered if they even knew what song was playing.

Maura had come to El Salvador because of Oscar Romero's plea for ministers of the Gospel to come and spread the Faith to people suffering injustice and oppression. Before coming to El Salvador, she had worked in the United States of America and Nicaragua providing assistance and pastoral care to the poor and needy. When Oscar had made his plea, Maura had been quick to respond and soon found herself serving her suffering Lord in the city of Chalatanengo. She had served alongside Ita Ford in a local parish. Upon returning from a conference in Nicaragua where she had reaffirmed her commitment to stay in El Salvador, she and Ita were picked up at the airport by Donovan and Kazel. They were tailed from the airport by a group of Salvadorian soldiers in civilian clothing. These men were soldiers trained to serve the interests of the State before even their own calling. To call them a "death squad" would be appropriate according to history but it would also grant them the privilege of rationalizing their atrocity--so, it is best to call them murderers. They followed the women to an isolated spot, stopped their vehicle, drug them from the van and began to beat them savagely. The women offered no defense and instead offered prayers and tears.

It was clear that the goal was to eliminate these "undesirables" in such a way as to make it look plausibly deniable. There would be no doubt that these women--who had helped take care of the enemies of the State in the Salvadorian Civil War--had been murdered but it would be plausibly deniable if they made it look like an act of chance not sponsored by the State. So, to make it look more barbaric--and truly to make it more so--the soldiers raped the nuns before shooting them and leaving them to die.In the logic of State sponsored death, one atrocity covers over another and allows the State to execute great evil under the cloak of denial and confusion.

When asked if she would leave the evils in El Salvador Maura had said that she would remain"to search out the missing, pray with the families of prisoners, bury the dead, and work with the people in their struggle to break out of the bonds of oppression, poverty, and violence." She had stayed and she had suffered for her commitment to Christ's calling and mission in the world. Finally, she died and was buried in Chalatanengo as she had desired. She would not forget the people of El Salvador and they would not forget her.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December 1 - Eligius, Goldsmith, Honest, Bishop

Eligius was a young man and so it was surprising that he had been selected for such a prestigious assignment: to craft a throne from gold for king Clotaire II. Eligius had become a goldsmith not because of a great personal desire to work within a trade renowned for its corruption but because his father recognized a certain amount of natural skill and talent in him for the work. Out of a desire to see his son succeed at his goals, Eligius' father had him apprenticed to a famous goldsmith in Limoges. Eligius had enjoyed his time there and had learned to enjoy the trade selected for him. By the time he left his master in Limoges, he felt as if this might be a good job for him even if it didn't feel like a calling. He had left to take a position under Babo in Neustria among the Franks. Babo was the royal treasurer for the Frankish kingdom and had the ear of Clotaire II. So, when Clotaire wanted a throne made from gold, Babo turned to his new goldsmith and informed him of his new task.

With little hesitation and less fear, Eligius took to his job and collected the amount of gold allotted to him for the work. Eligius was confused as to why so much gold had been given to him when his calculations suggested he didn't need nearly that much. As he sat in his workshop with the fabulous gems and large amount of gold, he decided to make the best throne he knew how to and simply trust that he had learned how to do his job to the best of his abilities. When he finished the first throne and had placed all of the precious stones on it, he looked again at the remaining stones and gold--there seemed to be enough for another throne of equal quality and weight. Not knowing what else to do, he made a second throne of equality quality and weight and presented both to Clotaire. At the time, it was the policy and practice of most goldsmiths to keep a large portion of the gold for themselves. They filed away pieces and burned up others so that when they had finished the work, they were all the more wealthy. Eligius kept no scrap of gold and, instead, presented king Clotaire II with two golden thrones comprised of every gem and ounce of gold given him to utilize. Clotaire was astonished at Eligius' shocking honesty. Eligius was rewarded handsomely for his craftsmanship and dependability and set a new standard for Frankish goldsmiths. Soon, Eligius had more gold than he ever could have stolen--gold on the edges of his robes, gold on his fingers and neck, gold in his pockets--and his reputation was cemented as an honest and dependable man.

Yet, it was then that Eligius suddenly seemed to understand calling. He had been given a gift of crafting and forging gold with the skill of an expert and artisan but this was not his only calling in life. Eligius felt a calling from the God he worshiped to serve him and give back from the abundance granted to him through his gifts. Eligius gave away his expensive clothing and was rewarded with more. When he was rewarded with more, he gave this away. The people could not understand why Eligius was so keen to give away what had been given to him but what they failed to understand was the passion burning in his heart: a passion to help the poor, sick, and needy. Eligius would pass through other professions--adviser, artist, diplomat--but always remained committed to his calling to take care of those in need and those outcast by society. As one who crafted what the society found valuable, Eligius was given many opportunities to free slaves and ransom prisoners.

Eventually, Eligius was elected priest and bishop of Noyon, France, and Tournai, Belgium. As a preacher, many were drawn to hear his homilies by his fame as a goldsmith and friend of the poor. His most exquisitely crafted sermon was the life he lived in full view of a culture that had made mistakes in prioritizing wealth over people. By forging and crafting gold, Eligius was able to right this injustice and lead many to the blessed redemption found by losing everything to gain the only thing that mattered.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 30 - Andrew, Apostle, Protocletos, Martyr

"Come on, Peter," Andrew called, "we have too much work to do to stay here any longer." Andrew and Peter were on their way to the shore to continue fishing and working the sea. With net and boat, they ventured daily into a great terror--a sea where storms killed men and refused to supply fish and sustenance. In the first century, the waters could be a very risky and intimidating place to be. Yet, Andrew went there regularly to support himself and his family. But on the walk, that day, Andrew wanted to talk about the figure that he and Peter had been talking to, recently. Andrew was inspired and vivified by the presence and words of John and found himself spending more and more time out in the wilderness with the wild man who proclaimed a new and imminent Kingdom and baptized people for the remission of their sins. One day, Andrew had gone forward to John and been baptized because of his intense and growing passion for the Kingdom of God. Peter had heard Andrew say much about John but there was something different in his voice. Recently, another man had come and John had seemed to be gripped by the same rapturous amazement that so many of John's audience felt in John's presence. Then--much to John's confusion--the man had requested to be baptized by John. John baptized the one he called "the Lamb of God" and "Jesus" but he insisted that Jesus should be baptizing John. Andrew had shaken his head in confusion and uneasiness but his heart had burned within him as he watched Jesus be baptized.There was something different about this one--this one that John said he had been preparing everybody for.

"Do you think this Jesus could be the one?" Andrew asked Peter while casting the nets over the side of the boat, "I you think this one could be the messiah?"Peter was about to respond when Andrew saw Jesus standing on the shore nearby. Jesus waved to them and indicated that they should come in as he had something to say. Andrew looked to Peter and noticed that Peter was already taking in the nets and preparing the boat to return to land. When they got there, Jesus was smiling at them and asked them how they were doing with their fishing. They responded but they were waiting to see what this potential messiah might say to confirm or deny their hopeful suspicions.

"Follow after me, Andrew and Peter, and I will make you a different kind of fisherman--a fisher of people." Andrew's heart jumped in his chest and he suddenly knew what his only response could be: yes. Peter soon followed and the two became apostles and members of "the Twelve." They began following after Jesus and learning how to cast nets of words and actions that could catch people in them. They were learning to be what it was that Jesus called them to be. Andrew was, by no means, always faithful or given to believing but he continued to come back to the one that he had learned to trust. It was Andrew who said: "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes: but what are these among so many?" His question is a question that so many of us ask in so many ways in our daily lives. What difference does a little help make when compared to such great need? When there are thousands dying every day from hunger, does my little bit of help do anything? When there are wars and rumors of wars surrounding us, does my stance for peace do anything? Jesus knew, however, that the little could be made to be sufficient and that it mattered deeply both for the giver and the recipient. It is this lesson that Andrew learned that day when he gathered in the fragments of fish and bread with awe written across his face.

Andrew would follow Jesus in mission after Jesus' death and resurrection and become a missionary to people who had never heard the good news of mercy and grace for all sinners. He would preach a gospel that mattered even if the nets of the faith only gathered one person at a time. Over time, this meant that thousands came to know faith in and fellowship with Almighty God because of the faith of one fisherman. Years after Jesus' death, Andrew also would be martyred. His final request was that his crucifixion should not mimic his Lord's because he didn't feel worthy even to die like his Lord.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November 29 - Dorothy Day, Convert, Mother, Champion of the Disenfranchised

Life didn't feel like what Dorothy felt it should. It felt like there was something missing--something askew--and that she was constantly and consistently on the verge of true happiness but never breaking through. It felt like happiness should be such a natural thing but that it still eluded her. As a child, she had been baptized Episcopalian but had never really been a part of the Church. As she aged, she became concerned with the plight of the poverty stricken and disenfranchised. Seeing the oppression of the people that surrounded her struck her with a vague desperation but watching churches ignore this same issue only further convinced her of the irrelevance of most Christians. So, she sought change and had left the Church behind because the Church was leaving her and her concerns behind.

Yet, something felt different as she sat alone in her apartment. Her boyfriend wasn't around and she was pondering something she hadn't yet told him: she was pregnant. Dorothy was pregnant and her boyfriend was the father. She enjoyed her bohemian life but was aware that a child might change things. Yet, in spite of all of the looming change she was quietly and powerfully happy. She later described the feeling as being "natural happiness." This happiness combined with an increasing realization that her life wasn't a solution to poverty so much as a desperate reaction to the Church's inattention effected a conversion within her. Soon, she realized that though she had been running away from God she had been running toward God because God had promised the Kingdom to the poor and the outcast. She decided to have her baby baptized into the Roman Catholic church and followed along with her child in 1927.

Yet, she was still uncomfortable with the Church's inattention to the plight of the poor and the causes of social justice. A self-proclaimed anarchist and pacifist, Dorothy was unafraid to break down existing structures that no longer served any beneficial purpose and it became clear that Dorothy would not sit by and watch the Church protect itself at the cost of the lives of the needy and its own damnation. She prayed that she might do something about it instead of simply talking about it and in 1932, she met Peter Maurin. Peter gave her the idea she needed to get started about the business of changing the Church and the world. Soon, Dorothy was publishing a newspaper entitled The Catholic Worker that connected the people of the Church to the people of the Kingdom. She opened up the Catholic Worker offices as a house of hospitality to provide shelter and food for the poor. She committed herself to vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity but never became a nun or took a position in the Church.

She remained active in protesting wars and acts of vast inattention and ignorance concerning the needy and outcast.She was investigated by the FBI and CIA as a spy and a revolutionary. Though her citizenship was truly in another Kingdom, she was not promoting insurrection anywhere except in the souls of the people whose hearts had been hardened to the cries of the needy. She was shot at, threatened, and assaulted because of her radical stance of peace and love as superior to vengeance and control. She actively resisted people who tried to insist that it was possible for her to do great things but impossible for them.In a very real way, Dorothy called everybody she met to live a life worthy of the Gospel and the cross of her Lord.Though she had rejected the Church as a youth because of its inattention to the poor, she spent the majority of her life (all the way until November 29, 1980) reforming the Church she loved to care for the people she loved.