On Holy Thursday, the Roman Catholic church celebrates both a Chrism Mass in the morning and the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Every March 24th since 1980, the church also remembers the martyrdom of Blessed Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, assassinated while consecrating the offering during a memorial mass for a friend’s mother. Significantly, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the two occasions coincide. On this first feast of Blessed Óscar Romero, the juxtaposition illuminates for me the kind of life each follower of Jesus is anointed to and how we are asked to serve out that life—a life, while not seeking death, is still a life worthy of a martyr because it is a life lived for God, defending the most vulnerable. Adding to this weight, four days ago, under a hail of bullets, a former classmate of mine became such a martyr. In light of Vincent Machozi’s sacrifice, how do I choose to draw my life forward, in what direction do I cast the gaze of my life’s purpose? Bearing witness to the violent sacrifice of a life tears a claim into the flesh of human hearts—when they heal, what are hearts healed to?
Anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor
Chrism is the oil used to anoint those receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and last rites. In baptism, Christians are anointed “prophet, priest, and king” (or presumably queen if the proverbial shoe fits). Today’s Chrism Mass gospel reading comes from Luke. Jesus, preaching on the Sabbath, takes it upon himself to read a passage other than the one set before the community. He turns the scroll to Isaiah 61:1, 2, reading,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
The author of Luke’s gospel adds, “Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back down to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21). This passage is to be read in plural ways: Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy as is each one of us who hears God’s call in these words and transforms their life by living them. Who among us will know our call and disrupt the normal rhythm of life by turning the page of the community’s attention to such justice and mercy? It is a call to let God work through us, remembering what Teresa of Ávila said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.” It is the Bhagavad Gita’s lesson to Arjuna to know and follow the duty of his dharma no matter the consequence and Islam’s continual invitation to submit to the will of God—a universal truth that we ought not to make prisons of our bodies, our selves, our egos but to become vessels that bring the palpable presence of divine love into the world no matter the cost.
Handing one’s life over to God
On his last retreat, Blessed Óscar Romero made a note of his conversation with his spiritual director: “It is not easy to accept a violent death, which is very possible in these circumstances, and the apostolic nuncio to Costa Rica warned me of imminent danger just this week. You have encouraged me, reminding me that my attitude should be to hand my life over to God regardless of the end to which that life might come; that unknown circumstances can be faced with God’s grace; that God assisted the martyrs, and that if it comes to this I shall feel God very close as I draw my last breath; but that more valiant than surrender in death is the surrender of one’s whole life—a life lived for God.”
Like Romero, Vincent Machozi, aware of the threats to his life, exposed the repression of his native people. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Nande people are massacred by a genocidaire government and multinational industries who illegally mine 65-80% of the world’s coltan, a mineral present in almost all electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones. Coltan mining, sponsored by companies such as Sony, Ericsson, and Nokia, uses child labor, destroys biodiversity, and has numerous consequences for socio-economic and health as documented by the Environmental Justice Atlas. Machozi, an Assumptionst priest, founded and ran the Beni-Lubero website that documented the political violence that represses indigenous people at the hands of the government. Days before his murder at the hands of DRC uniformed soldiers, Vincent had implicated DRC president Joseph Kabila in the brutality. Working on his laptop in the courtyard of the My Beautiful Village center where he worked, Vincent’s last words were rhetorical, “Why are you killing?”
While I had not seen or spoken with Vincent in almost a decade, I remember him clearly: his broad smile, his confident joy, and his sober, single-minded sense of purpose. He was a man who embodied the truth of Romero’s words: “Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.” He lived out what he was anointed to do: bring glad tidings to the poor and bring freedom to the oppressed. My heart breaks for what we the living have lost in him—and still his life renews my hope that solidarity with crucified peoples and the crucified Earth will go on because my heart recognizes its shared calling in his.
At the consecration of the Eucharist, Romero’s prayed his final words that I pray for Vincent now, “May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humankind nourish us also, that we may give our body and our blood over to suffering and pain, like Christ — not for Self, but to give harvests of peace and justice to our people.”
Blessed Óscar Romero, pray for us.
Dear Vincent Machozi, pray for us.
All you holy martyrs, pray for us, that your sacrifices will not be in vain.