Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
From the time I began to read the lives of saints in the seminary, I have come to admire many of them. Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila were among some of my favorites. However, my hero all through seminary was not a canonized saint - Archbishop Oscar Romero. That changed today. Nov 14, 2018 will remain and red-letter day in my priestly life. After 35 years of anticipation, today, Archbishop Oscar Romero was canonized by Pope Francis.
I would like to reflect on Saint Oscar Romero from the perspective of today’s scripture readings.
1. Jesus Makes the Obvious, Apparent. In today’s gospel reading from Mark, When the man came up to Jesus and addressed him as “Good teacher,” Jesus responded by saying, “No one is good but God alone.” Does this mean that Jesus was not God? Why does Jesus respond in this way? In speaking this way, Jesus was trying to make the obvious, apparent. Let me explain. It was the recognition of the fact that Jesus was a “Good teacher,” that brought the man to Jesus. His question was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus answered him and said, “No one is good but God alone,” Jesus was inviting the rich man to look deeper than the question he was asking. Jesus was trying to make the obvious apparent. In reality, he was kneeling before Eternity Himself. God himself was standing in front of him. As a man who prided himself on keeping all the commandments, he should have been able to get deeper. Sadly, the rich man could not recognize the Divine. He walked away! What a tragedy! What stopped the man from recognizing that Jesus was God? Was it his riches? This precisely is the point of Mark’s story. He wants the readers to identify that which stops us from truly recognizing Christ in our daily life.
2. Becoming a Disciple. The conversion that Jesus seeks in his followers is precisely the story of saint Oscar Romero. He was ordained a priest in Rome in 1942. In 1970, Romero was appointed an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of San Salvador, and in 1977, he became the Archbishop of San Salvador. During this time, the economic condition in El Salvador had become unlivable. The right-wing junta had taken over the country and it unleashed a wave of human rights abuses. Initially, Romero was just another archbishop. The leaders of the right-wing oppressive regime were the only people content with Romero’s appointment because he was a pro-establishment cleric. Romero’s conversion came about when a Jesuit priest and friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande, was brutally murdered for trying to empower the people through small faith-communities. His death had a profound impact on Romero. Standing over his bullet ridden corpse, Romero said: "When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead, I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.” He did. Romero became a fearless champion of human rights, speaking against the atrocities of the government. In February 1980, Romero wrote to the then President Jimmy Carter, to not provide increased US military to the El Salvadoran government. Carter ignored Romero's pleas and military aid to the Salvadoran government continued. On March 23, 1980, Romero delivered a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights. His voice bellowed out of radio speakers across El Salvador, “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression!” On the evening on March 24, he was celebrating mass in a small chapel. A red automobile came to a stop on the street in front of the chapel. A gunman emerged from the vehicle, stepped to the door of the chapel, and fired two shots. Romero was struck in the heart and died at the altar. There were about 200,000 people at his funeral, but none of the other bishops of El Salvador or anybody from the Vatican was present. This is the story of the conversion of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Unlike the rich man in today’s gospel, Romero did not walk away. He did not let power, riches, and fear come in the way of his following Jesus as a radical disciple.
3. You Can Simply Walk Away! Today, if you were to kneel in front of Jesus to ask the same question that the rich man asked, what do you think Jesus would say to you? What keeps you from following Jesus radically? Is it your wealth, your politics, your choices, or even your own self? Reflect on this question this week. You have yet another choice… like the rich man, you can simply walk away!
- Fr. Satish Joseph