Skip to main content

Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 21, 2024

Today’s Invitation

Today we invite you to explore the reality of ecological martyrdom, on this Earth Day; engage the Christian lineage of ecomartyrs with the help of Saint Óscar Romero and the Latin American bishops of Medellín; and embody solidarity with these martyrs through the example of Berta Cáceres and the artwork of Alexander Serpas.


Commentary by Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo PhD

Fourth Sunday of Easter


Reading 1

Acts 4:8-12

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke up:
“Leaders of the people! Elders!
If we must answer today for a good deed
done to a person who was unable to walk,
and explain how this person has been made whole,
then you and all the people of Israel must realize
that it was done in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead.
In the power of that Name,
this person stands before you perfectly sound.
This Jesus is ‘the stone rejected by the builders
that has become the cornerstone.’
There is no salvation in anyone else,
for there is no other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we must be saved.”

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 118

Response: It was the stone rejected by the builders That has proved to be the keystone.

Alleluia! I give thanks to You, O God, for You are good, Your love is everlasting!
I would rather take refuge in You, O God, than rely on people.
I would rather take refuge in You, O God, than rely on rulers.
R: It was the stone rejected by the builders that has proved to be the keystone.

I thank You for having heard me, / You have been my savior.
It was the stone rejected by the builders / that has proved to be the keystone.
This is Our God’s doing, / and it is marvelous to see.
R: It was the stone rejected by the builders that has proved to be the keystone.

Blessings on the one who comes in the Name of Our God!
We bless You from the house of Our God.
I thank You for having heard me, / You have been my savior.
I give You thanks, O God, for You are good. / Your love is everlasting!
R: It was the stone rejected by the builders that has proved to be the keystone.

Reading 2

1 John 3:1-2

See what love Abba God has lavished on us
in letting us be called God’s children!
Yet that in fact is what we are.
The reason the world does not recognize us
is that it never recognized God.
My dear friends,
now we are God’s children;
but it has not been revealed
what we are to become in the future.
We know that when it comes to light
we will be like God,
for we will see God
as God really is.

Gospel

John 10:11-18

Jesus said:
I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd would die for the sheep.
The hired hand, who is neither shepherd
nor owner of the sheep,
catches sight of the wolf coming
and runs away, leaving the sheep
to be scattered
or snatched by the wolf.
That is because the hired hand works only for pay
and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd.
I know my sheep
and my sheep know me,
in the same way Abba God knows me
and I know God —
and for these sheep
I will lay down my life.
I have other sheep
that do not belong to this fold —
I must lead them, too,
and they will hear my voice.
And then there will be one flock,
one shepherd.
This is why Abba God loves me —
because I lay down my life
only to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down freely.
I have power to lay it down,
and I have the power to take it up again.
This command I received from my Abba.


The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.

Read

Explore

The front lines of environmental justice


The Fourth Sunday of Easter this year falls on the eve of Earth Day, a day dedicated to motivating and mobilizing our communities to safeguard the environment and seek human and planetary flourishing for our own generation and generations to come. Earth Day has been commercialized and coopted in many ways, just like so many other holidays rooted in radical movements for justice, peace, and liberation (MLK Day, International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Labor Day to name a few!). To counteract this cooptation, we should be ever attentive to the real people on the ground around the world who have been on the front lines of environmental justice movements fighting to defend their lands, waterways, atmospheres, and ecosystems from ecologically destructive extractivist projects, along with the present and pending effects of the climate crisis. 

For example, African American communities that inaugurated the contemporary environmental justice movement in Warren County, North Carolina, continue to fight for a healthy environment and climate justice. The Standing Rock Sioux and other Indigenous communities continue to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fossil fuel industry more broadly. And across the Americas and around the world, multiracial coalitions persistently resist extractivist projects like metallic mining, logging, intensive monocrop agriculture, hydroelectric dams, and the privatization of water. These movements are all met with serious opposition by brokers of global capital and local corruption, which places the lives and livelihoods of land and environmental defenders at risk every day. In many contexts, this work places land and environmental defenders in danger of intense smear campaigns, violent persecution, and even assassination. In fact, since the turn of the century alone, thousands of land and environmental defenders around the world have been assassinated as a result of their work to protect the earth and its inhabitants from exploitation and destruction by profit-driven, extractive industries. The world has rejected these defenders, but their witness to an alternative world characterized by just and equitable flourishing for human and more-than-human creation is the cornerstone of a livable future for us all.  

The readings for today all speak of rejection, lack of recognition by the world, and even suffering and death for the sake of love and salvation. As we traversed through Lent and the Easter Triduum just a few short weeks ago, we remembered how Jesus was rejected and scorned by the world for his radical vision and concrete embodiment of an alternative world in which all people have life in abundance, a world that he followed his Jewish tradition in naming the reign of God. This first century Palestinian Jewish man laid down his life freely, for the sake of bringing this vision to fruition and inaugurating a beloved community in which the love, justice, peace, and liberated existence of divine life reign “on earth as it in heaven.” 

As we contemplate this pascal mystery of death to life, cross and resurrection, our faith tradition tells us that the one who was rejected by the world becomes the cornerstone, and that the power to lay down one’s life is met by God with the power to take it up again. This is the good news of Easter! Martyrs of social solidarity and liberation, like Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Blessed Rutilio Grande, are indeed the cornerstone of contemporary faith communities committed to justice and liberation across Latin America and beyond. So too are ecological martyrs like Chico Mendes, Dorothy Stang, and Berta Cáceres, “seeds” that have multiplied the effects of their lives and commitments in the individuals and communities that carry on their legacies. May their witness inspire all of us to recommit our own lives to honoring the earth and its inhabitants every single day by defending our common home from all that which threatens its sacred beauty and life-giving capacities. 

Commentary by Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo PhD


Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo is the Edith B. and Arthur E. Earley Associate Professor of Catholic and Latin American Studies and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. A constructive feminist theologian rooted in the Catholic tradition, her teaching and research places Christian theology in conversation with human resilience and resistance to vulnerability and violence, especially in contexts of social injustice and ecological degradation. Gandolfo’s most recent publications include Ecomartyrdom in the Americas: Living and Dying for Our Common Home (Orbis, 2023) and the co-authored book Re-membering the Reign of God: The Decolonial Witness of El Salvador’s Church of the Poor (Lexington, 2022). In addition to her research and writing, Dr. Gandolfo enjoys teaching theology at Wake Div and finds great delight (and challenge) in the many adventures of her other full-time job – raising four school-aged children.
Explore

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Environmental Justice

How should Christians and people of good will respond to the witness of land and environmental defenders? How might we cultivate solidarity with their commitment to and struggle for environmental human rights and ecological flourishing for all of creation? How might we participate in the resurrection of those who have fallen in this struggle? These are questions I asked in writing my own book on ecomartyrdom, Ecomartyrdom in the Americas: Living and Dying for Our Common Home (2023). Theologian Michael E. Lee’s framework for responding to the martyrdom of the “revolutionary saint” Óscar Romero can be helpful for framing our own response to ecomartyrdom today. In Revolutionary Saint: The Theological Vision of Óscar Romero, Lee bases his analysis on Romero’s own response to martyrdom in his context, and on the three-fold approach to poverty taken by the Latin American bishops at their landmark meeting in Medellín, Colombia in 1968. 

First, just as the Latin American bishops advocated denunciation of material poverty as a sinful injustice that cries out to the heavens, Lee argues that our response to martyrdom should before all else be grounded in an understanding of violent deaths today as the catastrophic and sinful martyrdom of reality itself. The violent pillage of our common home, the displacement of human beings from their homelands and territories, and the exploitation of human bodies to do the work of extractivist labor – these are all realities of violent death that witness to the world as it really is. Borrowing the language of the martyred Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuría, Lee reminds us that the crucified people reveal that which needs to be resisted, denounced, opposed in the world. Ellacuría, Romero, and Lee all privilege the human victims of history when they name the crucified people as “martyrs of reality,” but we can add to their number the untold ecological “martyrs” of extractivist violence – forests, rivers, wetlands, entire mountaintops, and the millions of species that are being wiped from the planet in the midst of this 6th great extinction. Lee tells us that Romero’s own theological response to the martyrs of reality is “listening to the voice of blood.”

The second dimension of Lee’s framework for responding to martyrdom parallels the Latin American bishops’ understanding of spiritual poverty and draws on Romero’s own spirituality of martyrdom. Our response to martyrdom, Lee argues, should involve “the utter devotion and dependence on God” that marks the calling to spiritual martyrdom shared by all Christians. Though not all Christians will be called to die a martyr’s death, and the language of “spiritual martyrdom” runs the risk of pietistic escapism, Lee helps us to understand that Romero “saw spiritual martyrdom as a recognition of one’s duty to live for others that comes from the insight of dependence on God” (198). Placing this call to dependence on God in conversation with Pope Francis’ call to ecological conversion in Laudato sican bear great fruit for cultivating a life-giving, hope-filled response to ecomartyrdom and the continued struggles of land and environmental defenders today. 

Third and finally, Lee echoes the Latin American bishops’ call to voluntary poverty in his account of how “martyrs of solidarity” like Romero (and the ecological highlighted here) are persecuted because they make a choice to stand in solidarity with the martyrs of reality. “They die because their witness induces a hatred from those principalities and powers that feed on victims. The martyrs of solidarity are those who bear the brunt of this hatred because of their love for their fellow human beings” (172).  It is important to note here that it is often the martyrs of reality themselves who make this choice to remain in solidarity with their own people, stay on their land, protect the ecosystems in which they make their home, all the while standing fast in the face of danger. With his account of these “martyrs of solidarity,” Lee thus ties all three senses of martyrdom together: 

“[T]he martyrs of solidarity respond to the testimony given by the martyrs of reality and in doing so inspire others to concretize the disposition of spiritual martyrdom in our world today. It may not be in dramatic fashion. It might even be, as Jesse Jackson used to say, simply declaring to a dehumanizing system, ‘I am somebody.’ However, the martyrs of solidarity invite everyone to be honest with reality” (173).

Moreover, martyrs of solidarity like Romero and the ecomartyrs featured here challenge, inspire, and empower us all to enter into concrete, committed solidarity with the causes for which they lived and died. In the case of ecomartyrs, this means entering into active solidarity with the contemporary struggles of land and environmental defenders in both our own communities and in the many communities around the world with whom our own fates, our humanity, and the future of the planet are inextricably intertwined. 

Engage

A Contemplative Exercise


This Embody section draws from the companion website to Ecomartyrdom in the Americas at www.ecomartyrdom.net 

Visit the site for many resources for contemplation and action.

A Witness

Berta Cáceres (1971 – 2016)

Berta Cáceres was born on March 4, 1971, in La Esperanza, Honduras to a family of Lenca heritage. The daughter of a midwife who was a humanitarian and activist, she traveled to El Salvador to support the Salvadoran revolution in the late 1980s. Having witnessed the ravages of war firsthand, Berta returned to Honduras seeking paths of nonviolent transformation that would resist socioeconomic injustice and defend Indigenous peoples and rural territories from extractivism.

 

In 1993, Berta co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which successfully resisted multiple extractivist projects in the mountainous regions of Honduras. Berta reclaimed her family’s Indigenous identity and insisted on the rights of the Lenca people to defend their sacred lands and waters. With her leadership, COPINH also promoted the full incorporation and leadership of women and LGBTQ+ folks in the work of the organization. In Berta’s estimation, the struggle against the extractivist paradigm of neoliberal capitalism could not be separated from struggles against patriarchy and racism. 

For over two decades, Berta and other members of COPINH were targets of smear campaigns and death threats to themselves and their families. As extractivist projects proliferated and hydroelectric dams were popping up throughout Honduras, one river particularly at risk was the Gualcarque River, sacred to the Lenca people and essential to the life of the Río Blanco community. When construction for the Agua Zarca dam began in 2012, it was clear the company had violated the rights of Indigenous peoples to prior, free, and informed consultation regarding the use of their sacred and life-sustaining river. COPINH organized resistance to the project and eventually blocked the road to the construction site for two whole years, even in the face of harassment and violence, including the murder of Tomás Garcia in 2013. 

Berta was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her role in the struggle against the Agua Zarca dam project, a struggle that continued when Berta returned home from receiving the award. She had a trip scheduled to Europe to put pressure on international banks and corporations to divest from this project and others like it, but the trip never came to pass. In the late hours of the night on March 2, 2016, Berta Caceres was shot to death in her home in La Esperanza. She was forty-four years old, just two days shy of her forty-fifth birthday. Berta lives on in the work of COPINH, in her daughters who continue her struggle, and in her prophetic words shared across the world on YouTube videos, posters, murals, t-shirts, and more. As many of those devoted to her legacy declare: “Berta did not die, she multiplied!” Berta’s Goldman Prize Acceptance Speech is an apt way to conclude this contemplation on her witness and that of all the martyrs who, in her words, “gave their lives in the struggle to defend the goods of the natural world.” 

Video of Berta Cáceres’ Goldman Environmental Prize Acceptance Speech, 2015: https://youtu.be/AR1kwx8b0ms?si=fBoabGak5Qob-VnG 


Art

Alexander Serpas: “Ecomartirio, Voz de la Tierra, Fuerza de Vida”

Videos of the artist interpreting the artwork can be found at https://ecomartyrdom.net/the-art-of-memory

Image description: Against a colorful, stained glass-like background of earth and sky, the people stand in front of a bulldozer, blocking its path from the river.



Embody