Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 6:17, 20-26
February 17, 2019

Amazonia isn’t a country. It’s the region surrounding the Amazon River. If it were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world, close in size to the Continental U.S., encompassing over two million square miles. It spans much of the northern part of the continent of South America, crossing several national borders. This region covers a major part of Brazil.

Usually referred to as the Amazon Rainforest, 20% of the world’s fresh water passes through the many rivers that flow through this area that is home to 50% of the world’s plant species. Because it is one of the largest rainforests remaining on the planet, it is vital to the exchange of gases between the biosphere and the atmosphere. Simply put, it enables Earth to breathe.

The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could leave the entire world in the condition described by the Prophet Jeremiah in today’s First Reading: A barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of seasons but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. But, this is a reflection on The Beatitudes, not a geography lesson or a lecture on ecology.

One of nine children born into a farming family from Dayton, Ohio, Dorothy Mae Stang entered the Sisters of Notre Dame right out of high school. She taught in Catholic schools in this country for a number of years. Her dream, however, had always been to serve as a Christian missionary. In 1966, her ambition was realized when her religious community sent her to work in Brazil.

She quickly became embroiled in social justice issues, a voice on behalf of the millions of indigenous peoples and peasants who live within the rainforest. The poor and the marginalized of society, as well as the rainforest itself, were then, and remain today, in desperate need of a strong voice to raise world awareness to the injuries being inflicted on both. Profiteers involved in illegal logging operations, land speculators, and cattle ranchers, in collusion with corrupt politicians were and continue to inflict irreparable harm on the rainforest.

Systematic deforestation not only hurts the human beings that call Amazonia their home, but actually threatens humankind worldwide. And so, Sr. Dorothy’s religious “habit” was an ordinary tee-shirt with a warning printed across the front: “The Death of the Forest is the End of Our Lives.” By 1990, her efforts secured her a place on a death list with a bounty placed on her head…not 30 pieces of silver…but $25,000.00. But, this is a reflection on The Beatitudes, not a biography. Still, the conclusion of her story is worth knowing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2005, Sr. Dorothy Stang was on her way to yet another gathering to promote the causes that were so dear to her heart. She was accosted by two thugs. They asked her if she was armed. She said yes, and pulled out her Bible that she always kept with her. She began to read the Beatitudes, whereupon they fired six shots, killing her.

There is no geography when it comes to suffering. The welfare of every human being should be a matter of grave concern to every person who considers themselves to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Moreover, every Christian should be well acquainted with the story of Sr. Dorothy Stang’s life, ministry, and martyrdom. It is a Christ story. It is a Gospel story.

Her life and death shine a brilliant light on The Beatitudes. She was the blessing that God sent to the poor, and oppressed, and victimized and suffering. She was Christ to the Amazonians. She was hope to her people and hope to our planet.

Sr. Dorothy Stang rightly believed that “The Death of the Forest is the End of Our Lives,” but the death of Sr. Dorothy Stang is not the end of hope, because Christ is The Source of all hope. Hope in Christ does not disappoint.

Clearly, God does not call everyone to missionary life, or to the death of a Christian martyr. Nevertheless, all who are baptized in Christ are called to bring hope to the hopeless, comfort to the grieving, and to give voice to the issues that threaten those things which are contrary to God’s will and God’s ways.

Disciples like Sr. Dorothy Stang not only inspire us, but also teach us how to embrace our duties as disciples. We begin by arming ourselves with The Gospel. Our most effective defense against injustice, oppression, greed, and tyranny are The Beatitudes.

Woe to those who go out into the world without this shield.