November Saints of Justice


Editor’s Note: The following blog entry is from Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ.


Two of my favorite saints have feast days in the second half of November. I want to share some highlights of their lives. Each gives us a good example of Christian charity and work for justice in the particular circumstances of his life and culture.
St. Roque Gonzalez, SJ, served in an amazing project referred to as the “Reductions.” The name comes from the Spanish verb reducciones, “to gather together.” These missions gathered the Guarani Indians together for their protection and advancement in the colonial world. The Jesuits shared the cutting-edge advancements of their day in agriculture, technology, arts, reading and writing and the gospel. They helped the nomadic Indian peoples establish settled communities where they shaped an economy that combined collective ventures with private enterprises, and where there was security from exploitation and enslavement.
Heaven on Earth
Summing up their approach to service, St. Roque wrote, “God does not command the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ to be preached with the noise of arms and with pillage. What he rather commands is the example of a good life and holy teaching.” In fact the sound that accompanied life in the Reductions was most often amazing music, both the highly refined Baroque music of the time and the sound of flutes, pipes, whistles and fireworks that the Indians loved. The movie The Mission tells the story and features Ennio Morricone’s breathtaking music capturing the love of beauty in these communities. The missionaries relied on the belief that the beauty, truth and goodness in human endeavors point to the Ultimate, to God, and will lead people to conversion and the rich, full life of the Gospel.
This approach is one that St. Roque shared with St. Francis de Sales, who remarked using a homespun image, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” The attitude stands on confidence that the attractiveness of God will do more to bring people to faith and good life than any amount of argumentation, appeals to guilt, or force. Roque is remembered also as one who worked along side his people, building, farming, healing, and teaching, as well as preaching and leading prayer.
Eventually Roque Gonzalez y de Santa Cruz gave his life with two companions, Juan de Castillo and Alonso Rodriguez, in a remote Reduction. The martyrdom was a tragic end to his life of service, but he really gave his life each day to his people for God, and we can still learn from him.
Make the World
At their highest point, as many as 100,000 indigenous people lived in 57 settlements in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. They continued until 1768 when the Jesuits were suppressed in Spanish and Portuguese dominions, and the greed of the colonial masters destroyed the communities. The movie The Mission focuses on the events that led to the end. In the movie, after the San Carlos Reduction had been brutally destroyed, and the Indians and Jesuits massacred, the final scene of the movie ends with the papal representative, Msgr. Altamirano, musing with a colonial leader. The legate had agreed to close the Reductions in exchange for promises that Spain and Portugal would not expel the Jesuits from their dominions and thereby shut down all their good works there. Altamirano thought he was sacrificing these communities for a larger good. In the scene, we watch him realize how deeply wrong he was. He speaks with the official about how these communities were a clear example of God’s kingdom begun on earth and how awful it was that they were dismantled in a violent way. The official partially agrees with him, saying that it was unfortunate, but inevitable, “because we must work in the world; the world is thus.” Then the prelate replies, “No, Senhor Hontar, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it.”
The example of the St. Roque and the Reducations challenges us and encourages us to do our part cooperating with God to make his kingdom in justice, peace, compassion “now as it is in heaven.”
This Latin America Jesuit and St. Hugh of Lincoln have no connection except that they, like all the saints, took the gospel seriously and made it real in their time and place. His world was very different from our own: medieval Europe, which is often treated either as a fairytale world or as dark, ignorant, and corrupt. The Middle Ages should not be romanticized or dismissed, the life of this man of his world has a lot of wisdom and inspiration to offer us in ours.
Rooted in Christ
St. Hugh (c.1140-1200) was a French monk and a member of the strict, monastic order, the Carthusians. He flourished in that life of silence and prayer. Hugh was chosen to establish the first Charterhouse in England, part of the penance of King Henry II for his involvement in the death of St. Thomas a Becket. As abbot, he distinguished himself by organizing the new monastery very effectively. On several occasions he had to oppose the King on issues of justice and Church jurisdiction. In setting up the monastic foundation, the King acquired land by various questionable means; Hugh insisted that he compensate fairly all the people whose land was given for the order, “to the last penny.” Another example: Henry frequently delayed nomination of bishops in order to claim Church revenues for his own purposes. This was particularly notable in the large Diocese of Lincoln, without a shepherd for 18 years. Hugh’s involvement in this justice issue, and his reputation for goodness and able leadership, led Henry to promote him as bishop of Lincoln. It should be mentioned that the king also relied on Hugh for counsel and spiritual guidance, despite the honest fraternal correction (or perhaps because of it.)
I quote Sarah Thomas in Butler’s Lives of the Saints to again illustrate St. Hugh’s deep commitment to justice, in this case related to a minority group facing an outbreak of religious fundamentalism:
“Another salient characteristic was his fearless concern for justice. During the third Crusade, (1189-92), for example, there was a nasty epidemic of anti-Semitism in England, amounting to persecution. In Stamford and in Northampton, as well as in Lincoln, Hugh, alone and unarmed, faced an armed and vicious mob, and managed somehow to lower temperatures and persuade the rioters to spare their intended victims.”
I would like to suggest that fearlessness and gentle strength we can observe in the lives of both these saints was connected very directly to their commitment to contemplative prayer and liturgy that grounded them in Christ for whatever they needed to face in work and service. A similar commitment to contemplative prayer and the liturgy in our lives will also inspire us to work tirelessly for justice and peace in our world.


St. Hugh of Lincoln, pray for us.
St. Roque Gonzalez, pray for us.
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