Grace to you and peace!

October 11, 1999

Romans 1, 1-7 + Luke 11, 29-32

Pilgrimage 2000 ... Front Page ... HOME ... A Millennial Prayer

This week we leave the Prophets of the Old Testament for the Apostles of the New. Written about 56 - 58 AD by Paul, probably when he was in Corinth, the book of Romans is "the longet and most systematic unfolding of the apostle's thought" (Introduction to the Letter to the Romans, New Oxford Study Bible). Today's reading is a formal salutation which includes both a statement of his apostolic authority and a confession of faith. The final sentence -- "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" is often used today in liturgy. Paul writes of the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and of the on-going reality of His ministry through the apostles as well as the believers in Rome, Jews and Gentiles alike.

You can imagine the reputation that the Assyrians had in the minds of the hearers of Jesus' word in today's Gospel. But the Lord strikes directly at this cultural memory, telling them that the Assyrians of Ninevah will rise up in judgment against the corrupt leaders and those who turn away from the Gospel of Life. He recalls the story of Jonah (which we have recently read) and the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon in times ancient to the first hearers of these words. The words are sharp, pointed, uncompromising.

Notice that our Lord did not turn away from his enemies. He engaged them in conversation and dialogue, he loved them enough to call them to repentance. Those who came to metanoia were welcomed -- Matthew had been a "tax collector and a sinner" before his call as an apostle. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man. Christ loved them and their lives were changed by their new relationship with this politically incorrect Rabbi from Galilee (which is to say the barrio, the ghetto, the sticks, the "Not a Fashionable Neighborhood").

Today is the civil holiday of Columbus Day, and thus it is a good day to remember all the martyrs of the conquest of the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere by European invaders. It is also the day on which Joao Bosco Bournier, SJ, was martyred in 1976, while demanding the freedom of two peasant women who were being held and tortured at a jail in a remote area of the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. On the site of his death, the Indian peoples of the region erected a cross with the inscription, "On 11 October 1976 in this place of Ribeirao Bonito, Mato Grosso, was assasinated Father Joao Bosco Bournier, for defending the liberty of the poor. He died, like Jesus Christ, offering his life for our liberation."

Fr. Bournier was ordained a priest in 1946, and spent the next 20 years largely in administrative assignments; in 1966 he was assigned to an area of Brazil which was rife with injustice and exploitation of the poor, especially against the Indians whose lands were being dispossed by the rich and powerful. Under the pressure of the circumstances, he came to a new understanding in his own ministry as a priest of the importance of the work for justice. Robert Ellsberg, in his book All Saints, says Bournier came to understand that "the priest's job was to represent the interests of human dignity and justice and to make it clear that God was not indifferent to the fate of the poor."

Fr. Bournier, and all you martyrs of the Americas, known and nameless, pray for us!

Pilgrimage 2000 ... Front Page ... HOME ... A Millennial Prayer