Fr. Kevin F. Burke, SJ
Fr. Kevin F. Burke, SJ
Fr. Kevin F. Burke, SJ, is associate professor of systematic theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in California.

Called to Be Human Beings

From the distance of 25 years, the brutal murder of six Jesuit priests, a mother and her daughter appears with dramatic clarity as a horrific, dehumanizing crime. Yet it is so much more. With profound evangelical irony, the UCA massacre reveals something beautiful, something essential, about what it means to be a human being. Jon Sobrino, SJ, puts it this way: “What I appreciate most about my brother Jesuits is that they were human beings … And being human means, first of all, to live in the real world in which we live.” In a brilliant poem entitled “Vocation,” Denise Levertov echoes this insight. She points to the martyrs and then enjoins:

Watch! Hear them!
Through them alone
we keep our title, human,
      word like an archway, a bridge, an altar.

On this 25th anniversary of the UCA martyrs, we touch the sacramental logic of remembrance. For recalling them awakens us to the ones for whom they died, the ones Ignacio Ellacuría named “crucified peoples,” the ones whose acts of witness will never be canonized but who, in the mysterious logic of the Gospel, are held in the very center of God’s gaze. This anniversary impels us to make an option for them, to build a different future for our world with them. The paradox implicit here should not be missed: in the remembrance of the martyrs we are not only or even primarily remembering the past. Rather, we are remembering the future for which the martyrs lived and died. Such remembrance expresses faith in the God of life who triumphs over death. It fuels protest against the injustices of our history and moves us to remake history. It invites us to become, in Ellacuría’s words, “contemplatives in the action of justice.” In the remembrance of these martyrs, we discover our own vocation to be human beings.

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Sioux Spiritual Center
The Sioux Spiritual Center, nestled amid the hills of western South Dakota, is the heart of the Diocese of Rapid City’s efforts to develop native clergy and leadership on the reservations.