Thank you to Pastor Robert Drake for his sermon on St. Oscar Romero this evening at Mass. Here is his sermon:
How appropriate to die during Lent.
How appropriate to consider a small seed, a grain of wheat falling into the
earth, dying, and then sprouting anew, bearing much fruit.
How appropriate to hate my life so much
that I willingly give my life to Jesus Christ.
How inappropriate each of those statements.
They are inappropriate because they are overly simplistic.
39 years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while in the middle of consecrating the Eucharist. March 24, 1980. Lent.
Easter that year was April 6.
It would be overly simplistic of me to suggest that Romero was
like a grain of wheat dying in a field and bearing fruit.
It would be overly simplistic of me to suggest anyone of us could “hate”
our life to such a degree
that we would be as willing as Oscar Romero to give it up.
How overly simplistic to read Romero’s writings and immediately take them to heart. In a 1977 mass, Romero said,
“Christ the Redeemer needs human suffering, needs the pain of those holy mothers who suffer, needs the anguish of prisoners to suffer tortures. Blessed are those who are chosen to continue on earth the great injustice suffered by Christ…”
Romero’s words, like the man himself, are more complex.
Likewise, John’s words in the Gospel reading are more complex.
I do not think “hating” our life is what the Apostle John had in mind when he wrote,
“those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
John uses the Greek work “μισέω”, correctly translated, “hate.”
Though this English word does a poor job encompassing
John’s full meaning.
John does not want us to “hate” ourselves in the psychological sense. Rather, John intends a more relational aspect of the verb “μισέω”.
He wants us to disown,
to reject everything in our life that is not dedicated to Jesus Christ.
John seeks an exclusivity in our life, an exclusivity in our spiritual life. John calls us to a life separated from the world in a spiritual sense
and joined to the life of Jesus, also in a spiritual sense.
We disown our life,
renounce our life,
reject our life, in favor of our eternal life with Jesus Christ. Now.
Not later, not in the life to come, but in this life now, here on earth.
But, we do not disown our obligations in our physical world,
for our society, or
to our neighbor.
We do not “μισέω” our physical needs
nor do we “μισέω” the needs of the poor.
This distinction, between the spiritual and the corporeal,
between the eternal nature of spirit
and the temporality of human physical needs,
this is why Romero is a complicated figure, is why his death cannot be
symbolized as the grain of wheat dying to bear fruit.
When he received an honorary doctorate from the
Catholic University of Leuven in February of 1980,
he gave a speech in which he talked about the persecution of the church.
But he noted that not all parts of the church were under attack, not all parts of the church were being persecuted.
Only those priests,
only those bishops,
only those nuns who put themselves on the
“side of the people, and went to the people’s defense” were under attack.
He closed his speech with the following sentence,
“Here again, we find the same key to understanding the persecution
of the church: that is, the poor.”
By which he meant, when the church sides with the poor,
the church suffers persecution.
But in a complicated way, Romero was careful to avoid the Marxist materialism that undergirded Latin American Liberation Theology.
In June 1977 he preached that
Christians have a Gospel-inspired right to public, political organization,
and to make collective decisions about their life in society.
But then, lest he betray his exclusivity to Jesus Christ,
lest he betray his “μισέω” for this life, he wrote,
“Be careful not to betray those evangelical, Christian, supernatural convictions in the company of those who seek other liberations that can be merely economic, temporal, political. Even though working for liberation, Christians must always cling to their original liberation.”
Both the Apostle John and Saint Oscar Romero call us to
distance ourselves from this life even as we cleave closer to our poor neighbor.
With the shooting in New Zealand,
with nationalism rising around the globe,
and with white supremacy rising in America,
today we must all cleave closer to our neighbor and remember our
“original liberation” in Jesus Christ. Amen.