Reflection for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
The prophets who are struggling in our midst, proclaiming and following our Lord’s example of simple sharing, are not without their difficulties, but are also not without their blessings. They may appear to be useless in the minds of the insatiable and grumbling, and defeated in the eyes of an unjust and oppressive world; but they are triumphant in the hearts of the oppressed, and vindicated through and by the Spirit.
Prophets may understandably wear down from the complaints and insults of an uncooperating people, shed tears of frustration, doubt and hopelessness and may even pray for death. But like Elijah, they must not despair and they must continue to take refuge in the sheltering care of the Father, for he will most certainly send angels armed with his might, protecting and defending his brave warriors in mission, all the days of their lives.
Prophets are sworn to becoming possessed and used by God, and they shall always be God’s own; hence, they will surely “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” And so, in spite of all the tribulation, they will hardly bear any wrath, nor carry any bitterness or malice. They will always be merciful and compassionate even to those who lack mercy and compassion. They will serve even to those who are undeserving. They will persist in boldly carrying the message of simple sharing to the farthest ends of the earth, even to those who are unwilling to listen or are stubbornly defiant.
They will always be above and beyond evil, becoming “imitators of God”: humbly living, loving and dying, as Christ humbly lived, loved and died for all. It is in serving with the “living bread that came down from heaven” that we will all live forever.
Father Stan Swamy is one such “imitator of God.” He was a human rights and social justice advocate, renowned for defending the rights of the Adivasi indigenous peoples and the Dalit minority in India for over four decades, particularly against violations involving forced displacement and illegal land acquisition. He is recognized for having questioned the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which stipulated the creation of a Tribes Advisory Council with members solely coming from the Adivasi community.
Father Swamy, whose full name was Stanislaus Lourduswamy, was born on April 26, 1937, in Tamil Nadu, India. He studied theology and received a masters degree in sociology in the Philippines. Belonging to the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, he was the director of the Indian Social Institute in Bangalore from 1975 to 1986. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the 84-year-old Jesuit was arrested by the National Investigation Agency under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on October 8, 2020, from the Bagaicha Social Centre, which he founded on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand. He was charged with terrorism, based upon alleged links with Maoist insurgents, who were said to have been responsible for the January 2018 violence in the Bhima Koregaon village in the western state of Maharashtra. Lodged in Taloja Central Jail near Mumbai, he denied all charges against him.
His arrest triggered widespread protests across India, from the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Indian bishops and other concerned heads of the Catholic Church, to the leaders of other minority religions. Father Swamy filed for bail, appealing on the grounds that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but his bail pleas were repeatedly rejected. Aside from having great difficulty in carrying out daily activities such as eating, drinking and washing due to tremors in both hands, he was also suffering from loss of hearing in both ears. Last November, he requested the special court that he be provided with a straw and a sipper because he was unable to hold a glass. In response to the delay in being issued a straw and a sipper, social media users protested by ordering straws and sippers online, and having them delivered to the office of the NIA and at the Taloja prison.
The elderly priest/“political prisoner” fell seriously ill in May 2021. He was later found to have been infected with COVID-19 while in prison. He requested for interim bail from the Bombay High Court, so that he could return to his home in Ranchi, citing his rapidly deteriorating health, while refusing to be brought to any hospital. But the Court instead directed the Maharashtra government that he be admitted to a private medical facility. He was eventually admitted to the Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai, where he died more than a month later under ventilator support.
Father Swamy’s witness in demonstration of a life animated by the Chrīstós in imitation of God, uncompromisingly engaging until death a social question involving and troubling non-Christians, dramatically shows that the seeds of justice and peace can only be effectively nurtured to fruition with the graces of our Abba and the blood of a prophet’s martyrdom.
For the love of and for the Christ, we must do nothing less.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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