¡Presente! Today is the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Maura Clarke M.M., Jean Donovan, Ita Ford M.M., and Dorothy Kazel O.S.U. in El Salvador. These words from Jean Donovan, the one lay missioner among the sisters speaks to their presence the violent and war-torn land.
The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave…. Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave. I almost could, except for the children, the poor bruised victims of adult lunacy. Who would care for them? Whose heart would be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and helplessness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.
During this time of Advent, we are called in fact to wait and to watch. It can be boring, it can be distressing. And to do otherwise might cause more spiritual harm than many of the things identified as “sin” in the world. Hannah Arendt’s remarks on the “banality of evil,” in which she reflects on Adolf Eichmann’s involvement in the Holocaust come to mind. She wrote about how he was a dutiful servant, with some ambition – not simply an anti-semetic ideologue. (A great link to explore Arendt and her work is here.)
Yesterday’s Gospel pointed us to what we “see” and don’t see, of what holds our gaze and what causes us to turn away – and possibly to never look again. Jesus says:
Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
Our Advent journey is meant to have us see and hear, even when – perhaps most especially when – we do not have the patience or courage to wait, to watch, to see and to hear.
Above you see the results of the waiting and watching of the Four Churchwomen of El Salvador. As evidenced in Jean Donovan’s words above, they waited, they watched, they saw, and they heard – and it cost them their lives. This is the risk of living a truly Christian life. No, we are not to run into death’s arms of our own volition, but to follow Christ, which always means going to the Cross. The same cross might not be demanded of most of us, but make no mistake, remaining anything other than being fully present – ¡Presente! – is not an option.
Ultimately, if we can’t stare at the Cross and then go to the Cross, how can we gaze lovingly at the Creche in a few weeks? It is simply not possible. When our hearts grow faint in the waiting, may we remember Jean Donovan’s words about her heart – “Not mine, dear friend, not mine.”
(To learn more about this story, this excellent 13 minute video is well worth your time.)