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April 23, 2017



Many moons ago, a wise and holy Jesuit spiritual director told me the following: “Suppose you live in a country where Christianity were proscribed, where engaging in public manifestations of your Christian faith, expressing truly Christian opinions, acting according to the Gospel, were a capital offense. Imagine further that you are arrested, accused of being a Christian, and dragged before a court of law. As he assesses the accusation, would the judge find enough evidence to convict you of the crime of being a Christian?

These days, as we all know, this hypothetical situation proposed by my Jesuit spiritual director, overflows the realm of hypothesis: it is quite real and concrete in some parts of the world: Christians are being killed in Syria (some of them, as photos have shown, by crucifixion), and other places where radical anti-Christian religious sentiment fuels acts of violence and cruelty.

My spiritual director’s challenge, however, was addressed not so much to martyrdom in faraway places, but to tragically specific and real situations in our Catholic parish communities, in countries where the law of the land grants religious freedom. It is not a matter of feeling a gun pressed to our head, or a knife tickling our jugular vein, as a voice thunders: “Renounce your Christian faith, or you die!” No, it’s not that easy. It is rather more complicated, more insidious.

A simple parable should suffice: Let’s assume I live in such a place of anti-Christian proscription, that I am arrested accused of the crime of being a Christian, and as I stand before the judge, I hear his sober comment:  “I see no evidence that says that you are a real Christian. I see that you were baptized, that you attend the 10 AM Mass every Sunday, but that, of course, is not enough to qualify you as a true Christian. You were a month old when you were baptized, you go to the over-crowded 10 AM Mass to keep appearances, or because your spouse nags you into it, or perhaps, most likely, because it’s what you are supposed to do as a Catholic, it’s the routine. BUT,

“All the witnesses who have deposed in your case, all those who know you and who have, freely or under torture, shared their personal experiences with you, the conversations held with you outside the 10 AM Mass, or at work, or in casual social occasions, they tell of the way you speak about foreigners, the poor, the homeless, the migrants and refugees (particularly, the migrants and refugees! Some of the things you have said-Wow!!!), the things you do – OR RATHER! Perhaps not so much, or not only, the things you have said or done, but the things you HAVE NOT said or done, your lethal silence in the face of injustice, hunger, poverty, homelessness, racism aimed at migrants and refugees, your option for the those standing on the left in Mtt 25; 31-46 (“For I was hungry, and you did NOT feed me . . . For I was an alien, and you did NOT welcome me . . . “) – NO, you (and your whole Catholic community) did not speak when Onñesimo López Ramos, the 18-year old Guatemalan migrant, was beaten to death by three racist, self-styled “Guatemalan Hunters,” on April 18, 2015. Good citizens don´t do that, after all, shouldn´t all those migrants go back to the hellhole they came from, instead of contaminating our neighborhoods and opulent Catholic parishes?”

“Well done! Only the followers of that Jewish criminal, Jesus of Nazareth, those who profess to live by that Handbook of Crime, the so-called Gospel, speak out against injustice, racism, poverty . . . not good citizens like you.

“You can go free! You are innocent of the crime of being a Christian. The evidence says so, in eloquent and compelling fashion! This court offers its apologies to you, for being falsely accused of such a heinous crime. You, most definitely, ARE NOT a Christian. You do not disturb anyone, subvert any unjust social order, confront inhuman and immoral laws and executive orders. You have not been beguiled by the seduction and the fascination of Jesus´ criminal teaching.

“After all, He did break the law, did He not? Imagine, breaking bread with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes! – Teaching that the law was made for man (human beings), not man for the law! Why, eyewitnesses have deposed that in your parish, they wouldn’t allow that rabble within a country mile of the church door, would they? Go in peace, you are absolved of this most despicable and abominable crime: being a Christian!”

I have often meditated on my spiritual director’s prophetic challengw. In this Paschal season, I pray to the Lord Jesus that He may see fit to make me a criminal at the service of the Gospel, to try to live, however sinfully and imperfectly, the Gospel of crime, the Gospel that commands justice, mercy, compassion, love, preferentially to our fellow criminals, to the rabble: the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the despised. A criminal for the sake of the Kingdom – no greater grace can we hope for! I ask for this grace, through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the suffering, the Mother of criminals!

Oremus pro invicem



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