No matter the cost

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This coming week, we will mark the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero. His life offers a key to understanding the readings of this last "ordinary" Sunday of Lent. According to those who knew him, Romero was always a faithful priest and bishop, totally dedicated to being a pastor and servant of God. His area of growth in holiness, like ours, was to amplify his perspective, to understand with the heart of God. Before speaking more of him, we turn to today's Scripture.


Fifth Sunday of Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

First, Jeremiah assures his people that their infidelity has not led God to abandon them, but to re-form them. Instead of giving them rules to follow, God wants to infuse their hearts with the fire of divine love. This is not a new covenant, but rather an offer of the grace to understand God's will anew -- from the inside out. When the covenant is scripted on their hearts, they will share the very passion of God.

While that may sound like a wonderful deal, we should be aware that it is also extremely costly.

That's the point of our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. There we hear that Jesus, the Son of God, had to struggle to live his vocation. And the struggle wasn't just a passing moment. The author minces no words: Jesus prayed with shouts and tears, as a beggar before God.

The author of Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience through suffering. Does that mean that the Son of God didn't know how to obey? No, it means that the Son of God was fully human; his obedience, like that of every other person, had to be incarnated, lived out in his own personal history.

This reading leads directly into our Gospel scene where Jesus teaches his disciples about growth in obedience, about how listening with his heart led him to fulfill God's will. Jesus explains that his moment of glory is about to arrive and does not hesitate to say that he knows what it will cost. He then teaches his disciples what it means to "hate" the life this world offers.

What Jesus is hating, what he will face down and defeat, is everything motivated by death: both the desire to kill and the urge to escape mortality and suffering. The Son of Man knows that the reality of death seems to circumscribe life and can lead us to believe that we must grasp everything we can while we have the chance. Fear of death and human limitations is what leads us to cling to anything we can get our hands on, to seek the immortality of power, fame or fortune. Such grasping is what Jesus calls loving the life of this world, and that is what he calls us to reject.

Jesus revealed the futility of grasping to evade mortality. Hating his life in this world caused him the double anguish of facing his own pain and of beholding the tragic, willful blindness of those who rejected him, the tenacious obstinacy of people whose unconscious or hidden fears led them to do violence against him. The suffering of his physical pain would pass, but the grief caused by the perversion of human nature that caused it was enduring.

Today we can look to Romero for a more contemporary expression of the love of God and neighbor that guided Jesus. Romero's core desire was to love and serve God through his priestly vocation. That never changed. What changed was his perspective. Becoming archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, thrust him into a new reality and a new consciousness.

Like Jesus, Romero confronted tragic violence, brought to a white heat by the murder of the poor and their priests. That suffering irretrievably altered his perspective. He learned that evangelical obedience demands listening and acting: listening to the cries of the victims in the light of the Gospel, then acting in the name of God.

Thus he came to the ultimate test of his faith: Did he believe in the love of God's poor and persecuted enough to risk everything?

We know the answer. His love of people who were poor, his faithfulness to the Gospel, led him to confront the people who had become captive to their own wealth and power. Risking his life day after day, he spoke out and walked with his people. Romero gave living witness to what it means to hate the life of the world. His life became a walking, talking profession of faith. Nothing could have been more fitting than his martyrdom during the eucharistic celebration that proclaims the death and resurrection of Christ.

This leaves us with one question. Are we willing to risk the cost of having God's law written on our hearts?

[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]

A version of this story appeared in the March 13-26, 2015 print issue under the headline: No matter the cost.

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