Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks for Primordial Saints

In honor of those whose past and ongoing suffering makes possible our present and undeserved gratitude, let's take a break from dead German guys, and follow the path of the conquistadors across the ocean to be surprised by the grace of God which plants its flag firmly in the camp of the conquered. In his latest work, Christ Our Companion: Toward a Theological Aesthetics of Liberation, Hispanic Roman Catholic theologian (and personal influence) Roberto Goizueta calls the church to "retrieve the significance of lived faith for theology, the lived faith of the primordial saints in our communities," whose faith liberation theologian Jon Sobrino defines thusly:

Saintliness does not have to be accompanied by heroic virtues - which are required for canonization; it is also expressed in a life of everyday heroism. We don't know whether these poor who cry out to live are saints-intercessors or not, but they have the power to move our hearts. They do not perform 'miracles,' in the sense of violating the laws of nature, which is also required for canonization. But it is not rhetorical to say that their miracles violate the laws of nature; it is a miracle to survive in a hostile world that makes their life exceedingly hard. What we call primordial saintliness is the will to live and survive amid great suffering, the decision and effort that it requires, the unlimited creativity, the strength of constancy, defying immeasurable problems and obstacles. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2009, 6)

Goizueta goes on to unfold the significance of Sobrino's understanding for those who practice the art of theology:

Perhaps, ironically, the reconciling truth of the crucified and risen Christ is revealed, above all, in the invincible faith of the victims of history, in their stubborn insistence that, in the face of all the evidence, life is worth living; life is a gift. If the young Guatemalan mother forced to decide which of her children will go without food today, because there is not enough for call, can still proclaim, 'caminemos con Jesus (we walk with Jesus),' we must listen. If the elderly Cuban American woman whose family has been ravaged by the violence of exile can still kneel at the foot of the cross, we must pay attention. If the Mexican American farm worker lying in a hospital bed, suffering from terminal illness caused by repeated exposure to toxic pesticides, can still lovingly caress the medals of La Morenita and the Sagrado Corazon pinned to his pillow, we must not turn away. It it can honestly be affirmed at all, the absolute value of life as a gift will be affirmed most convincingly in the enduring faith, the hope against hope, of those persons who daily live at the very limits of life, at death's door. Paradoxically, it is the unloved, the despised of our world whom God has chosen to bring the good news to a world desperate to feel loved. That my experience, the fundamental message of Jesus Christ. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2009, 7)

Whether on this national day of thanksgiving they are eating alone at a Burger King, toiling away at Bi-Lo to support their family, or giving a sticker to a volunteer's one-and-a-half year old daughter at a church outreach supper, let us give thanks for God's gift of primordial saints to those of us who cannot know salvation without the grace God gives us through them.

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