Faces in the Colosseum (For the Martyrs of the 20th Century)

I.
It is hard for those who have never known persecution,
And who have never known a Christian,
To believe these tales of Christian persecution.

(T.S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock”)

When we saw the trains go by,
We did not ask who rode in them.
When we saw the churches close,
We must confess we didn’t miss them.
When we saw the smoke stacks on
The horizon we asked no questions.
When Maximillian Kolbe died,
We swear we were not anywhere near him.

II.
It is hard for those who live near a Bank
To doubt the security of their money.

(T.S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock”)

For how, from our seats at the front of the bus
Can we see the commotion behind us?
And how, when our walls are padded within
Can we hear the dull screaming without us?
And how, when our land is rising in pride
Can we stop to lift up the lowly?
And how, when we block our noses to death
Can we bear to endure its stench?

And how, when in Memphis, a shot pierced the sky
And down went MLK, down to the ground,
Could we see that sharp mirror
And the voice that spoke through it,
Saying, I am your hate?
Saying, I am your mind?

III.
It is hard for those who live near a Police Station
To believe in the triumph of violence.

(T.S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock”)

And nice men and women went down to vote
And put their nice votes in the nice ballot box,
And churches closed up their shuttered windows;
And a Franciscan Priest opened up his church house
To the children of Zion in the cold.

And Prisoner #16670
Gave up his life for the man with the wife
And the children, who cried out their names; and the Priest
Lay down and died in his stead.

IV.
Do you think that the Faith has conquered the World
And that lions no longer need keepers?

(T.S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock”)

But all this is past for now we all know
Better than then, for now we can see
With eyes open wide. Now we know better.

Now our arms stay open to receive
All in their thrall. Now we can see.
(But the lions still purr in their cages.)

V.
Do you need to be told that whatever has been, can still be?
(T.S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock”)

When the righteous of Gentiles died in the camps,
Were you there? Were you there? Did you see them?

When the Doctor who dreamed took a shot to the cheek
Did you still hear his wide dream resounding?

When the good book was burned,
When the churches were razed,
When God’s people hid underground,

Did you see, did you see
Your face in the glass?
Did you see past the vast
Colosseum?

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