In a world full of suffering and violence, we are given this truth at Easter:
Al-Masihu qama min bain al-amwat, Wa wati al-mouta bil-mout, Wa wahab al-hayata lil-lethina fil qubour.
Christ has risen from the dead. In dying, he trampled death, And gifted life to those who were in the tomb.
We still do feel the sting of death, and we still experience the pain of suffering. But we know how much God loves us, that he is here with us, right in the midst of it.
For that reason we always, always, always have hope.
Residents of Yarmouk Camp, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. After being bombarded and besieged by the Syria government, the camp is now embroiled in another round of fighting between the government, ISIS, and its own Palestinian fighters.
The family of Deah Barakat, who was murdered along with his wife and sister-in-law in Chapel Hill, NC. Several similar shootings have taken the lives of Muslim-Americans in recent weeks, but have received far less media attention.
Mourners in Garissa, Kenya, after the Somali-based group, al-Shabab massacred 147 Christian students at a university there.
Fr. Frans van der Lugt, who was murdered in Homs, Syria last April.
Twenty-five years ago today, in the war-torn country of El Salvador, U.S.-trained gunmen marched onto a college campus, dragged priests from their beds and shot them in the quad. Earlier this year, a masked man came to the door of the Jesuit residence in the Syrian city of Homs, asking to see the priest. When Fr. Frans van der Lugt emerged and sat down with his guest, the visitor shot him in the face.
On Thursday, the Georgetown community came together to commemorate the first of these attacks. The Mass, and particularly the Gospel reading, reminded me of the victim of the second.
In Luke 17:20-25, Jesus tells his followers and critics that the “kingdom of God” would not initially be established in the way they’d expected or hoped. The third-century Church Father, Origen of Alexandria, quotes Jesus and explains the passage in his important work, On Prayer in The Liturgy of the Hours.
“The kingdom of God, in the words of our Lord and Savior, does not come for all to see; nor shall they say: Behold, here it is, or behold, there it is; but the kingdom of God is within us, for the word of God is very near, in our mouth and in our heart. Thus it is clear that he who prays for the coming of God’s kingdom prays rightly to have it within himself, that there it may grow and bear fruit and become perfect. For God reigns in each of his holy ones…”
Contrary to our expectations and to those of Jesus’ companions, God’s kingdom will not simply come in some future time, where an earthly, political authority that will enforce peace and justice. God’s kingdom is here now. It is constantly created and renewed through the self-sacrificing love of God’s people. The kingdom is found among those who share in the struggle of another; who speak truth to power; who work for justice and understanding; and who practice radical forgiveness and non-violence.
The kingdom, then, was no doubt present in the war-weary San Salvador and in the besieged Old City of Homs. There, Ignacio, Segundo, Juan, Ignacio, Joaquin, Armando and Frans lived out the self-giving love, agape, that Jesus’ life and death ask of us. Frans, originally from the Netherlands, lived alongside the Syrian population—Christian and Muslim—for fifty years. Ignacio Ellacuria, a Spaniard strongly defended the poor, angering both sides of the conflict when he said, “I am not a Communist, I am a Christian.” In both Syria and El Salvador, the Jesuits refused to join the fight, a stance that proved so threatening they had to be silenced.
Like these men, who died in their pursuit of building God’s kingdom, we too will not see the kingdom fully formed. But we still work, in our own communities, to make the kingdom present in small ways. The words of a prayer dedicated to Oscar Romero, another priest who was killed during El Salvador’s war, not only reflects the outlook undoubtedly shared by these Jesuits, but also compels us to “move forward.”
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. … We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
If you are unfamiliar with the lives and deaths of these brave men and their companions, check out the following links.