Advent 3 2010: Martyrs of El Salvador
Thirty years ago today Sr.s Dorothy Kazal, Ita Ford, Maura Clark and Jeanne Donovan were tortured, raped and murdered in El Salvador by American trained terrorists because they were working for the most basic civil rights of poor people.--Anthony McCarthy
I had almost forgotten it was today.
I repeat this every year. This post is largely as I wrote in in 2008. I preached from this story when I had a pulpit and used it, probably unwisely, in a sermon when I was invited to a pulpit in Advent. It is volatile stuff, and repetition had dulled me to that. It shouldn't be repeated enough to dull one; just enough to make one sensitive to the world, and to the message of Advent.
In the world, Advent means precious little; frantic for Christmas to come and go, the world is in a hurry. To the liturgical church, though, Christmas doesn't begin until December 24th, and it doesn't end until January 6th, on Epiphany. And before it ends, it will include two days of death: the Massacre of the Innocents, and the first Christian Martyr, St. Stephen. I mention that because Advent is actually akin to Lent, not to "December" on the American calendar. It is a time of preparation for shattering change, not for celebration of consumer excess.
This highlights a distinction I think needs to be made, between Christianity, and Christendom. It's an old distinction, but, like the Massacre of the Innocents and the death of Stephen right after Christmas, little acknowledged or its importance understood.
As I type this, I'm listening to a Christmas mix of my own devising, and Joni Mitchell is singing "River." That's the tone I'm going for, if it helps.
This is from Memory of Fire: Volume III, Century of the Wind, by Eduardo Galeano, tr. Cedric Balfrage, Pantheon, 1988.
"ARCHBISHOP Romero offers her a chair. Marianela prefers to talk standing up. She always comes for others, but this time Marianela comes for herself. Marianela Garda Vilas, attorney for the tortured and disappeared of EI Sal-vador, does not come this time to ask the archbishop's solidarity with one of the victims of D' Aubuisson, Captain Torch, who burns your body with a blowtorch, or of some other military horror specialist. Marianela doesn't come to ask help for anyone else's investigation or denunciation. This time she has something personal to say to him. As mildly as she can, she tells him that the police have kid-napped her, bound, beat, humiliated, stripped her-and that they raped her. She tells it without tears or agitation, with her usual calm, but Archbishop Romero has never before heard in Marianela's voice these vibrations of hatred, echoes of disgust, calls for vengeance. When Marianela finishes, the archbishop, astounded, falls silent too.
"After a long silence, he begins to tell her that the church does not hate or have enemies, that every infamy and every action against God forms part of a divine order, that criminals are also our brothers and must be prayed for, that one must forgive one's persecutors, one must accept pain, one must. . . Suddenly, Archbishop Romero stops.
"He lowers his glance, buries his head in his hands. He shakes his head, denying it all, and says: 'No, I don't want to know.'
" 'I don't want to know,' he says, and his voice cracks.
"Archbishop Romero, who always gives advice and comfort, is weeping like a child without mother or home. Archbishop Romero, who always gives assurances, the tranquilizing assurance of a neutral God who knows all and embraces all-Archbishop Romero doubts.
"Romero weeps and doubts and Marianela strokes his head."
This is the First week of Advent. In Christianity, we are told to watch. We are watching for the apocalypse. We are waiting in faith, faith not so much in certainty as "acting-as-if in great hope." Hope is supposed to be what we desire; Advent reminds us hope is also for what we need, whether we really want it, or not.