Friday, February 26, 2016

Seven sermons of Mercy


#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy
In his last seven Sunday homilies, Blessed Oscar Romero holds up Mercy as the quintessential message of Lent. “There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, no enmity that cannot be reconciled if there is conversion and a sincere return to the Lord,” Romero exhorts. (March 23, 1980 Homily.) “This is the voice of Lent!” Let us review the outstanding notes of this great homiletic cycle.

God sees us with the eyes of a merciful father. “This is the tenderness of God: he is tireless in forgiving, relentless in love”, assures the martyr. (Hom. 16 Mar. 1980). The tenderness of God surmounts the challenges and difficulties of the moment. “And this Lent, celebrated amidst blood and pain among us, must presage a transfiguration of our people, a resurrection of our nation.” (Mar. 2, 1980 Hom.)
As Pope Francis reminds us that reminds us of the words of the Lord, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Mt 9,13), Archbishop Romero warns that fasting and penitential practices must lead us to perform works of mercy: “but more than these official, legal things, I invite you to live a Lent that is not so much about not eating too much meat, or something else, but in abstaining ourselves and sharing with those who have less what little we have. To live the experience of participation, of love, of charity. To make our Lent first of all a great exercise in reconciliation with our enemies. To learn to forgive, to prepare ourselves to rise with Christ in love in the next Passover.” (Feb. 17, 1980 Hom.).
Our model of mercy is God’s attitude toward us, and Archbishop Romero provides concrete examples of this tenderness and loving gaze. First is the incarnation of God in history, His active participation and presence. “Christ is ours, Christ is a Salvadoran for us Salvadorans. Christ is risen here in El Salvador for us, to find from the power of the Spirit our own idiosyncrasies, our own history, our own freedom, our own dignity as Salvadoran people.” (Feb. 24, 1980 Hom.)
God is patient and generous with us despite our faults, and our slowness in responding to the call to conversion. God is understanding: “And it indicates the tenderness and patience of God that he awaits: perhaps another year, maybe tomorrow.” (Mar. 9, 1980 Hom.). As the cutter that saves a fig tree that does not bear fruit, God waits with us for good results. “God takes care of each person with the love that the gardener cared all year long for the fig tree to produce fruit as the threat of elimination hung over it.” (Id.)
God’s mercy is revealed in the parable of the prodigal son. “Rather than preach when it comes to this parable, I would prefer that we sit quietly and remind ourselves that these pages of the son are our own individual story. Each of you, as well as I, can see in the parable of the prodigal son our own history, which always comes down to the project we were saying from the Old Testament: a loving God who has us in his house and a rash and capricious break by us to go seek the enjoyment of life without God—sin. And an awaiting God, waiting for the day when the son returns.  And when the son finds himself in misery, and the abandonment of men, he remembers that there is no greater love than God’s. He comes back, and that God whom he expects to find resentful or turning his back, he finds turned toward him with open arms that are willing to celebrate the return”. (Mar. 16, 1980 Hom.).
The mercy of God is also revealed in his attitude to the adulterous woman. “We must take note in this gospel, which is what we have to learn,” Romero preaches, inviting us to observe the attitude of Jesus toward the sinner. (Mar. 23, 1980 Hom.). This is the criterion to strike the right balance between mercy and justice. “A delicateness with the person. As sinful as she might be, he distinguishes her as a child of God, the image of the Lord. No condemnation, but forgiveness. Nor does he abide the sin; he is harsh in rejecting sin but he makes a distinction: condemn the sin and save the sinner.” (Id.)
With respect to Salvadoran society (and every society), Blessed Romero urges that the law of mercy be applied to achieve reconciliation with God and reconciliation among men. “I invite you, brethren, as Pastor, to listen to my words as an imperfect, coarse echo; but do not look at the instrument, notice instead He that sends me to speak to you: the infinite love of God,” Romero entreats. (Mar. 16, 1980 Hom.). “Repent, be reconciled, love one another, act as a baptized people, a family of children of God!” (Id.)
Blessed Romero is merciful to all, even to the rich. “I wish to make a call—a fraternal and pastoral one—to the oligarchy, to be converted and to live, and to assert its economic power in happiness of the people and not in disgrace and ruin of our population,” he exhorts. (Feb. 24, 1980 Hom.). Romero does not preach the destruction and downfall of the powerful class, but its conversion so it can have life in full—“to be converted and to live” and be a protagonist of “the happiness of the people.” Romero makes his call to reconciliation extensive to the various sectors of Salvadoran society with targeted appeals to each segment: the government, popular opposition groups, those in armed insurrection (Mar. 16, 1980 Hom.), and finally, the army (Mar. 23, 1980 Hom.).
The last sermon of Blessed Romero on the subject of mercy in Lent was not a requirement addressed to all of us, but his own act of submission. “With Christian faith we know that at this time the Wheaten Host becomes the Body of the Lord which was offered for the redemption of the world, and in this cup the wine becomes the Blood that was price of salvation,” he prays in his last words. (Mar. 24, 1980 Hom.). As he spoke these words, he stared at the assassin, about to shoot the bullet that would snuff out his life. “May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for men also nourish us to give our body and blood to suffering and pain, like Christ, not for self, but to bring harvests of justice and peace for our people.” (Id.)
In apocryphal words attributed to the martyr as he lay dying, there was one last preaching on the subject. “May God have mercy on the assassins!” This closes the circle: God does not desire sacrifice, but mercy.

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