The Third Sunday of Advent
16 December 2012
St. Michael’s Church, Ardaghey, 10.00 am.
My dear friends,
A lone gunman stepped out of the car. He rested his rifle on the car door and aimed it at the Church. Through the wide open doors he could see right up the long aisle to his target, a priest who was just finished his homily at Mass that morning. A shot rang out which ended the life of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, in Central America. It was 24 March 1980, almost thirty three years ago.
During the previous three years, Oscar Romero had preached the gospel to his people, and had spoken courageously about all the evils that were destroying his country. The Archdiocese had a radio station, and he used this to speak to and reach his people. The poor welcomed him as the voice of those who had no voice. The rich and powerful of his fellow countrymen publicly denounced him as a communist and an enemy of the state.
Romero pointed out to them that he never preached violence except the violence of that love which left Jesus nailed to the cross, or the violence we may have to do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness. The authorities often tried to jam his radio transmissions but he never gave up, and the poor of El Salvador hung on to his every word. He said to them that most people would be content with nice pious aspirations that are not too demanding, but he claimed that if these rarely hurt anyone, likewise they rarely helped anyone either. The Gospel, he said, was demanding, challenging us to be courageous even if it ultimately cost us our blood.
This sounds very like the message which John the Baptist brought to his contemporaries. Just like with Archbishop Romero, many of his hearers regarded John as a messenger from God; others dismissed him as a madman and a troublemaker. The Gospel reading tells us that the people asked John, “What must we do to make ourselves ready to meet the Lord when he comes?” He answered each group in the context of their own life and work, whether they were soldiers, tax collectors or ordinary citizens. He gave simple Gospel answers. They were to share with the poor. They should never exploit others for money or power or position. He told them that true wealth, true influence and true power were spiritual in nature and not matters of money and force.
Some twenty centuries later, and in our own time, Oscar Romero and the Church give the same message to their people. The Church, in passing on the self-revelation of God through Jesus Christ, tells us not to sin by misusing money. It says to those with political power – do not misuse your political influence nor your power. In any human life, we can be tempted to misuse our power over others, and this misuse of power can bring great suffering to many people.
So what must we do? John the Baptist told the tax collectors not to charge the people excess, which many of them were doing to boost their income. He told the soldiers that, even if their pay and conditions were relatively poor, it was wrong for them to use extortion and intimidation to squeeze more money from the people. True religion is not a matter of following customs and rituals. Rather it is a matter of living and witnessing to what is good and right in daily life, whatever the personal cost. Playtime was over. It was no longer enough to go through the religious motions. It was time to stand up and be counted as God’s people with God-centred lifestyles. It is not good enough for the religious believer to do good only to those he likes and ride roughshod over others who are in his way.
If we have no sense of God, or no sense of justice, we will most likely fall into lazy ways of living. The Gospel will be no more than a storybook. It will have no power over us, to touch our hearts or bring us to life. During the Advent season of 1978, Oscar Romero said, “Advent should help us to discover in each brother or sister we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each poor person in need, the face of Christ. They are Christ; and whatever is done to them, Christ will take as done to him.” A bullet ended his life, but could not still his voice. The voice is the voice of conscience which speaks inside all of us. It is ultimately the voice of God, speaking through human instruments.
The voice still asks, “What must I do?” I have to admit that the way I celebrate Christ’s birth is, if I could recognise it, a demonstration of what I believe to be the more important values in life which affect not only me but many others. Christmas time may be saying to me “Follow me,” and may find me lacking in courage, conviction and generosity. I may not be strong enough to stand up and be counted for what is good and lasting in the world that God loved so much that he sacrificed his only son for it. “The Lord your God is in your midst, he will renew you by his love.” So said Barach. John the Baptist repeated the message, as did Archbishop Oscar Romero.
+Liam S. MacDaid
16 December 2012