Fresh from the Garden: A reflection on the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, by Justin Smith

I was pissed at first. Well, not exactly. When I saw some of the first photos of the aftermath of the murders I was sad, initially, and disgusted on a physical level. Those bastards, I thought, enjoyed watching them suffer. This wasn’t a calculated silencing of political opponents. This was a party, to the soldiers. It took me sometime to calm down from that. It was the same rage I felt when I was told the soldiers at El Mozote skewered babies with bayonets. How could such a culture arise in the military that so easily turns men into monsters?

The garden represented something different. It calmed me down, for one thing. It was shocking at first to know that the front lawn captured in the background of so many of the photos was that close to us, to me. Now the bits of brain and blood were replaced with roses. I know that it might have been disrespectful, but I wish the martyrs were buried here rather than the stone chapel a block away. They don’t live on through plaques in a wall, unmoving. They live on in the garden, in the voice that saw this place of death and said, “Pongan rosas.”

Sometimes, when confronted with a grave, I talk to the person buried there- it’s pretty one-sided. This time, however, I talked to God. In that moment, I was scared about the prospect of serving God in such a dramatic way. I didn’t want to be the subject of one of those gruesome photos. Sometimes, we all want the fundamental concept of Prosperity Gospel- that serving God leads to physical rewards- to be true. But, like Jesus, we are called to take on the suffering of the world, to put our dedication to God above everything else. And every now and then, we are called to prove it.

I ended that experience with the Jesuit garden feeling a desire for commitment. I’m still not sure what that looks like, but I want to keep that feeling alive. A few hours later, during a reflection, I wrote this poem in an attempt to channel that same emotion.

Please, Lord, help me to bear the weight

Of the burden of belief in you.

Never leave my side

Grow me into something beautiful

And fitting for your Kingdom.

Now I know what I would do if in their shoes.



Of course I would. Without you, Lord, I am centered around myself.

So help me be a man for others.

And if that means my brothers will be praying ‘round my grave

So be it.

8 thoughts on “Fresh from the Garden: A reflection on the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, by Justin Smith

  1. So glad you are having this experience, Justin. Discipleship means sacrifice and Jesus never hid the cost. Matthew 16:24-26

  2. Wow, Justin. You are such a powerful sign of the power of faith. Thank you for taking these things into your heart. So real.

  3. Justin, I was so moved by your prayer. You’ve really opened your soul and heart on this trip, and I feel lucky to share your experiences through this profound reflection.

  4. Keep living the fourth J-Money!! Living love is a game changer…. Keep being you!

  5. Justin,
    I am moved by your reflection and your commitment to serving our Lord. It can be a challenge sometimes, in our society, to stand strong in our faith but your passion for Christ is evident in your words. You are, and will always be, “a man for others” because of how you choose to live.

  6. Thanks for the reflection, Justin. Your “prosperity gospel” is a challenge for us all.

  7. Justin,
    What a contemplative opportunity for you in our world that can be so harsh! May the Lord fuel your desires to please Him, even through realities that are difficult. Your poem reveals much. Well Done!

    Have a good Senior year!!

  8. Wow Justin. So be it, indeed. What a thoughtful reflection. Proud of you, my friend.

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