LENT, A PREPARATION TO CELEBRATE

THE EASTER COVENANT

 

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent

April 1, 1979

 

Readings:

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Hebrews 5:7-9

John 12:2-33

 

 

Note:  Before the Archbishop’s homily, the Somascan Fathers, in the presence of the community that had come together around their Bishop, expressed their loyalty and fidelity to Bishop Oscar A. Romero.

 

Words of Bishop Romero

 

Dear members of the Somascan community and dear young men and women who are educated in the charism of this community, I want to thank you, first of all, for this wonderful testimony that you have proclaimed here in the Cathedral.  It is a testimony that coincides with the ideals that we preach.  A preference that is not exclusive, but a gospel preference for those who suffer, for the poor, for those who were dear to the heart of Saint Jerome Emiliani, a true son of the Church, just as true Catholics are dear to the heart of Christ.  I would hope that this beautiful gesture of the Somascan Fathers, concelebrating with their Bishop this morning, would be well received by all our beloved priests, religious and faithful and that together we might all build the true Church of Christ that is on pilgrimage here in the Archdiocese.  Indeed, the voices of the Scriptures that we have just heard invite us to do just that.

 

-The Covenant has given continuity to our preparation

 

During the Sundays of the Lenten season we have reflected on the meaning of the covenant.  On the first Sunday of Lent, we spoke about the covenant that God established with Noah after the flood; on the second Sunday, we spoke about the covenant that God made with Abraham, promising him that all nations would be blessed through him; on the third Sunday of Lent, we saw the people at the foot of Mount Sinai where God once again established a covenant with his people who responded: we will do everything that the Lord has told us (Exodus 24:3).  Thus the Decalogue was ratified.  Last Sunday, this covenant was seen in one of its most dangerous and difficult situations, the Babylonian captivity, yet once again a remnant of Israel arose, a remnant that continued to live in fidelity to the Lord.  Thus we arrive at today, the fifth Sunday of Lent and we reflect once again on the covenant.

 

Today Jeremiah interprets the meaning of the Covenant and announces a New Covenant

 

Today, however, one of the most sensitive prophets raises his voice --- Jeremiah.  He not only understood the commitments supposed by the Old Covenant, the covenant of our ancestors --- as the prophets referred to it --- but he also views the covenant from the perspective of a future that is drawing near.  He is the first person in the Bible to speak of a New Covenant that will be fully realized in Christ, the fullness of all God’s promises.

 

This is not understood without Christ’s Paschal Mystery

 

How wonderful, my sisters and brothers, that in eight days, we will begin the celebration of Holy Week and today a prophet indicates for the us the meaning of Holy Week, the meaning of Lent.  It is like the Old Covenant that is now renewed with the promise of a Covenant that will be sealed, not with the blood of animals, but with the spotless Lamb who takes away the sins of the world:  Jesus Christ.  This is the New Covenant that is foretold, the Covenant that Christ will seal.

 

Christianity is not just a moral doctrine.  Christianity must be lived as a history, an interpersonal history… related to the Covenant, that is, a communion of life of the People of God…

 

I invite all of you who are listening to these words to try to understand the Christian religion not only as a series of truths that must be believed or a series of commandments that must be fulfilled or even worse, as a series of prohibitions --- it should not be like this.  When religion is seen as dogma, or moral laws, or prohibitions, I can then understand why people feel weary and do not like religion.  We are not dealing with some theory.  What is beautiful and attractive about the Christian religion can be seen when it is viewed, as we have done during this Lenten season, as a covenant.

 

What is a covenant?  It is a communion of life, a history that is developed in communion with the life of the One who gave us the fullness of life.  People do not adore God because of some theoretical command that fulfills the law nor because they are commanded to do so by the Decalogue.  People do not put aside certain things because they are immoral, rather all of this, that which is moral and immoral, that which is holy and evil, true and false, as well as all theoretical concepts, become part of a vital relationship, an interpersonal relationship.  People come to a realization that God has established a covenant with them

 

Now we can understand why the covenant is compared to marriage:  husband and wife do not live the laws of marriage as some precept or code of conduct, rather they live these laws with love and dialogue, through relationship and interpersonal commitment.  How beautiful will be that day when all Christians look at God with the same love that spouses look at one another and try to please and gratify one another.  If there has been some misunderstanding or infidelity or exchange of unpleasant words, all of this can be forgiven.  Lent and Holy Week invite us to view our religion from this perspective.

Lent, a preparation to celebrate the Easter Covenant

 

Here we are not spectators of a people who lived centuries ago.  The people of Israel, Abraham and Moses celebrating the covenant established with God, can appear as an event that occurred on some distant horizon, far removed for our present history. But let us now look at ourselves.  We are the people who have inherited the promises made to Abraham, the commitments of Moses and the renewal announced by the prophets.  Saint Paul said:  all of this would make no sense without the great reality of Christ and his redeeming sacrifice (cf. Hebrews10:14).

 

Let us approach Holy Week not with some historical reminiscences but with the attitude of a present commitment.  Let us bring everything into our celebration of Holy Week, our name, our sins and miseries, our illusions and hopes, our plans and failures, our family and friends, the whole nation of El Salvador with all its many difficult problems and injustices and abuses but also with the many people who pray and hope.  This is our concrete history as we approach the celebration of Holy Week in this year of 1979.  The Lord has not abandoned us.  Each year the Lord invites us to celebrate the New Covenant.

 

  1. Interiority, a characteristic of the New Covenant

(It is a Covenant that does not consist of exterior laws, written on stone tablets, but rather consists of an interior attitude in the heart of each person.  This is the typical characteristic of what we call Holy Week: a covenant of the spiritual life, a covenant of intimacy).

  1. Christ, the author of the New Covenant
  2. Through Baptism, the New Covenant becomes ours

(Therefore, I invite all of you, together with me, to renew the grace of Baptism).

 

  1. Interiority, a characteristic of the New Covenant

 

a)       The person and the mission of Jeremiah

 

In today’s first reading, we must reflect on who this prophet is who speaks to us?  The person and the mission of the prophet Jeremiah is one of the most interesting in the biblical-prophetical writings.

 

- A delicate temperament, exposed to the cruel vicissitudes of the history of his people

 

He is a man with a sensitive temperament.  A man who did not want to offend anyone and yet the tragic situation of circumstances obliged him to speak displeasing words.  No one suffered as much as Jeremiah when he had to place before the people their infidelities to God’s Covenant.  No one suffered as much as he when he had to announce that this people would have to suffer the consequences of their sin and that a just God would punish them.

 

-He understood best the commitments demanded of the Covenant

 

No one understood like Jeremiah that this Covenant, established by God with Noah, Abraham and Moses, asks the heart to examine the legalism, morality and traditions that annulled the spirit of the Covenant.  No one like Jeremiah understood the meaning of Jesus’ words: It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail (John 6:63).

 

-His charism (experience)… interiority

 

Therefore, his mission must be in accord with his charism.  Charism is an individual’s experience of God.  Charism is a grace that enables one to value the temperament and mission that has been conferred upon him, thus giving him a unique experience and sensation.

 

b)      Message

 

-Remembering the history of the Old Covenant: fidelity and love of God

 

The verses that have been read today are like the flower of the entire book of Jeremiah:  The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt (Jeremiah 31:31-32).  This is the first thought and reflection that Jeremiah presents to us this morning.  It sums up our reflection during this time of Lent.  Remember the history of God’s love for humankind!  Always faithful!  A beautiful expression, I took them by the hand (Jeremiah 31:32) --- like a father who takes the hand of his child or like a mother who embraces her child who was lost and brings that child home.  What gentleness!  This is the faithful, untiring love of God.

 

-The people’s infidelity and lack of love

 

Even though I was Lord, they broke my covenant (an elaboration of Jeremiah 31:33).  This is our response.  This is the sad story and history of the Old Covenant.

 

-What should the New Covenant look like:  interiority

 

Therefore the prophet goes on to state:  I will make a new covenant… I will place my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31,33).  Here we see that we are dealing with an interior covenant.  God is not going to place upon the tired and burdened shoulders of the people of Israel new stones with more laws.  Indeed the laws appear to be stones, especially when the people are tired.  How heavy are the laws!  I am not going to write laws in stone, rather I will write them upon your heart.  I will dwell within you and transform your interior (an elaboration of Jeremiah 31:33).

 

This is the message of interiority that the Word of God invites us to live.  We are asked to make our religion more than a set of laws and dogmas and theories.  Indeed we are invited to make a personal, intimate option that moves beyond exterior practices, places and things.  Let us not cling to that which is exterior but make our religion a sincere search for intimacy with God where love, justice, truth and sincerity blossom as the fruits of this intimacy.

 

My sisters and brothers, every day we experience this ---in our friendships which are not based on external gifts.  Let us not pay so much attention to the outward signs but rather let us place a great value on sincerity, esteem and love.  This is the kind of relationship that God establishes with humankind and even though there will be a hierarchy and external realities, these are not substantial.  Our beautiful churches and magnificent rites are useless unless we have hearts that speak to the Lord with love and friendship.

 

I feel this way when I see you here in the Cathedral, especially when I see that you have come here to strengthen your relationship of love with the God in whom we have placed our trust.  When I preach, I want it to be understood that I simply desire to foment this relation of faith and hope and love of the people with their God.  In you, Lord, I trust.  I trust in you, Lord; you are my God (Psalm 31.15).  I am truly pleased to see that communities and men and women seek to establish this relationship of intimacy with their God.

 

-A living knowledge, not just a theoretical faith or teaching

 

In the context of this intimacy and interiority, the Word of God states: No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the Lord.  All, from least to greatest, shall know me (Jeremiah 31:34).  Look, not even the magisterium of the Church, with all its beauty, used by the Pope and the most humble catechist to orient us, is sufficient here.  Where is God?  How must God be served?  How must God be loved?  In the New Covenant, God tells us: all of this is extra and a help but what is primary here is that each person learn how to know.   In Hebrew, the verb to know has the meaning of a lived experience --- to know is to experience that which is pleasing and this kind of knowledge guides and directs human life.  It is the faith of the one who says:  I believe and I accept what God says, not as some theory, but as a handing over of myself to God.   This is the attitude of the person who stands before God and says:  I believe in you, Lord, not only in what you say, and I hand my whole life over to you.

 

This is what the New Covenant is all about.  We will no longer need someone to tell us what we must do or what we must believe.  We will always need to reflect on whether we are living according to the standards of true faith and morality.  The Pope and the magisterium of the Church will always be necessary.  These will always be the touchstones that enable us to see if our following of Jesus is authentic.  But we will no longer act, however, out of fear of punishment or to remain on good terms with someone.  Rather we will act because we experience that God fulfills us and the doctrine of the Church fulfills our aspirations.  We will try to live according to Christian moral principles because in this way we discover the most authentic paths to encounter God.  This is the interior dimension of our faith.

-Reconciliation and peace with God

 

Finally, we speak about the interiority of forgiveness.  Today’s reading concludes with these words:  I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).  Test these words if you have not already done so.  During this Holy Week, go to confession!  Allow your conscience to repent!  I cannot explain this to you with words, but the Bible has already clearly stated this.  Therefore it is not necessary that I say this again, and in fact, no one can really explain this.  We must experience this reality and it is lived by those who have felt this and acted in this way.  The greatest sinner who might be listening to me (perhaps, that is I) can experience this reality when he confesses and is sorry:  Lord, I have sinned and I no longer want to sin.  Cast aside all my hypocrisies, selfishness, materialism, arrogance and sensuality.  Cleanse me, Lord!

 

This kind of gesture together with the words of the priest who speaks in the name of Jesus: I absolve you from your sins, enables us to experience the words that were spoken today in the Bible:  They will know me.  They will know me with a simple and practical knowledge of a friend.  They will know that they have lost my friendship, but they have returned to embrace me.   No one can explain this reality to anyone.  It is like the boyfriend who has broken the relationship with his girlfriend and then once again they come together to renew their relationship.  It is like spouses who have fought but later join together and make the family happy.  No one can explain these realities.  They must be lived.  Lent and Holy Week invite us to experience the interiority of forgiveness.

 

  1. Christ is the author of the New Covenant

 

What is the basis for Jeremiah to promise this happiness of the New Covenant?  He foretold this, but we have the privilege of seeing this realized in Jesus Christ.  The second reading and the Gospel are in harmony with the reading from Jeremiah and they explain what Jesus came to do.

 

a)       Relation between the New Covenant and Easter

 

Therefore, my sisters and brothers, I would like to add another concept to our reflection, a concept that will be the theme of Holy Week:  the Easter Passover.

 

-Easter is the feast of the Covenant

 

The Covenant is celebrated with an annual feast that is called Easter.  The Passover Mystery, the Passover that was celebrated by the Jews involved the slaughter of a lamb and the eating of this lamb in a family setting.  This is what God had commanded on the night that God promised to free the people from Egypt:  Go and procure lambs for your families, and slaughter them as Passover victims.  Then… sprinkle the lintel and the two doorposts with this blood… Seeing the blood…. the Lord will pass over that door.  (Exodus 12:21-23).  The sign of the blood delivered them from punishment and gave them forgiveness.  At each Passover celebration when the elder of the house broke the bread, he reminded the other family members: This is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt; when he struck down the Egyptians, he spared our houses (Exodus 12:27).  They relived the Passover, the Covenant.

 

-In the Passover Christ transferred the old to the new

 

For this reason, Jesus took advantage of the Passover celebration.  According to Jewish law, the Passover was celebrated sometime in March or April.  Christ gathered his disciples together in the environment of the Passover.  In this Passover setting, Christ is going to shed his blood and so he says: This is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant (Sacramentary, Words of Institution).  Christ gives us this example of uniting these two inseparable concepts:  the New Covenant and the Paschal Mystery.  Christ sheds his blood and then will be raised to new life --- death and resurrection --- two sides of the Paschal Mystery that seal the New Covenant of the Christian people.

 

b)      Christ is the author of the New Covenant because in obedience he accepts a painful death

 

Christ is the author of the Covenant.  Therefore I want to call to your attention the words of John Paul II which appear in his new encyclical Redemptor Hominis.   When he speaks about this sacrifice of Christ, the Redeemer of humankind, he says:  The redemption of the world, this tremendous mystery of love in which creation is renewed , is, at its deepest root, the fullness of justice in a human Heart --- the Heart of the First-born Son (Redemptor Hominis , #9).  It is too lofty a phrase to be understood in all its greatness.  Christ, as he offers himself to the Father in the sacrifice of the cross, is offering in the heart of a man the fullness of justice.  From that moment, God, in justice, must forgive every sinner who asks pardon of Christ.  This is done, not because of the merits of the repentant sinner, but because through Christ the fullness of justice is offered.

 

Why?  Look closely at this concept.  Because sin is disobedience, while on the other hand, redemption is an obedience unto death.  For this reason, Christ is the Redeemer because he obeyed his Father, not only with an heroic obedience, but also with a divine obedience.  He allowed his pain and his body to be sacrificed in order to pay for the disobedience of all people.

 

Therefore, the prophet Isaiah says:  The Lord laid on him the guilt of us all (Isaiah 53:6).  Burdened with our miseries, he goes up to Calvary and hands himself over to be sacrificed.

 

-Today’s readings describe for us the face of suffering and obedient death

 

-It is not an impassive Christ

 

Look at the second reading as Saint Paul writes in the letter to the Hebrews:  he offered prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 4:7).  It is necessary that we accustom ourselves to the protagonist of Holy Week and look at him as he is presented in the Bible.  Today, the second reading presents him with prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 4:7).

 

Let us complement this vision with the words of the gospel, where Christ, in an apparent vocational crisis, cries out:  I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say? “Father, save me from this hour?”  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour (John 12:27).  Look at the instinct of self-preservation!  Christ is not insensitive.  He is a man like us, skin and bone, nerves and muscles.  He feels what anyone would feel when they are taken away by the National Guard and brought to a place of torture.  What is felt?  I have heard terrible testimonies --- but what is all of this in comparison to Christ who will experience all the torments of torture that terminate with his body being hung on the cross?

 

-Today the agony of Gethsemane is anticipated

 

My sisters and brothers, tonight we anticipate the night in Gethsemane.  In our Christian reflection today, let us not forget the image of Christ, his face bathed in tears, crying out in tears to the one who could save him.  He cries out as one who has already been crushed:  I am troubled now… Father, save me from this hour (John 12:27).  But his reaction is one of obedience:  it was for this purpose that I have come to this hour (John 12:27).  This is the beautiful sacrifice of Christ, who voluntarily and obediently hands himself over to the Father.

 

Let us deepen our reflection on the passion of Christ that we will contemplate during the Way of the Cross and the celebration of Holy Week with this thought:  all of this would have been of no avail if it were not animated by obedience.  The soul of Christ’s passion is the obedient handing over of himself to the Father.  It is in this sense of making amends that he offers himself: if it is necessary to experience so many lashes in order to obtain forgiveness for so many sins of the world, then let them whip me.  If it is necessary that they weave a crown of thorns and pierce my forehead as they beat this crown onto my head, if this is necessary to obtain forgiveness for my sisters and brothers, then let it be done.  If it is necessary to experience the horror of having my feet nailed to the cross and my side pierced with a lance, then let it be done, for in this way my sisters and brothers will be redeemed.  This is the beauty of Christ.  What is most amazing is that he substitutes himself for the sinner that you and I are.  We are the ones who ought to suffer and be punished and cast into hell and separated forever from the Father.  But Christ wants to take on all our faults so that we might be reconciled.  Thus, the obedience of Christ that paid for our disobedience, must also be our obedience.

 

c)       Christ is the author of this Covenant because the Resurrection guarantees its efficacy

 

I have said that through his obedient death, Christ is the author of our Covenant.  But do not forget the other side of the coin, for I am most concerned that we keep this in mind.  Christ is the author of our Covenant and guarantees all our hope because he is Risen.  The resurrection is the proof that the power of God has accepted this sacrifice and has given Christ new life so that he will never die again:  the resurrection.

 

Therefore, those Christians who only celebrate Holy Week until the time of the Burial Procession, have mutilated the Paschal Mystery.  The Burial Procession is not the terminating event of our redemption.  For this reason, I now invite all of you to make Easter the climactic celebration of Holy Week.  I invite you to participate in the Easter Vigil, where our faith enables us to see Christ rising gloriously from his suffering --- just as he is presented here, in today’s readings.

 

When the reading presents Christ with his face bathed in tears, speaking about the outcome of his prayer, his words must be understood as a paradox: he offered prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard (Hebrews 4:7). Sarcastic!  He was not heard.  The Father allowed him to experience the height of pain.  If he was heard, why does the reading continue to say:  when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 4:9).  The gospel reading also does not terminate with this critical moment in the messianic vocation of Jesus, but immediately states after the expressions of fear:  I am troubled now… [but] it was for this purpose that I have come to this hour (John 12:27).  The prayer at the beginning of the gospel reading concludes with the words: the hour has come when the Son of Man will be glorified (John 12:28).

 

-The consummation and the glorification

 

Two biblical words: the letter to the Hebrews refers to consummation and the gospel speaks of glorification.   How are we to understand the fact that Jesus, horrified at the thought of his passion, speaks to us about being glorified?  My sisters and brothers, it is necessary to understand this, for without this we cannot understand the mystery of Redemption.  Christ became the salvation of humankind and his glory is now immense:  from his place in heaven, he sends us his life, his spirit.  We place all our trust in him because he submitted himself to death, but from death, he passes over to life.  This is consummation.  Christ is able to say:  the glorification began in Gethsemane.   The consummation of this work began with the pains of the passion.  A risen Christ, who had not passed through death, would not have all the merit that he now has.  A passion without a resurrection would be a failure.  These two realities are integral parts of the Paschal Mystery that we must now live. The Church lives for this:  the Paschal Mystery, the obedient death of Christ and the resurrection as God’s affirmation that he has accepted this act of satisfaction.

 

The resurrection would not be so joyful, if death had not been accepted.  The victory of Christ would not be so complete if there had been no bloodshed on Calvary or an empty tomb that allows us to see the glorious Christ after having witnessed the burial of a humiliated Christ.  This is the mystery of Christian redemption:  to die in order to rise up to new life.

 

  1. Through Baptism the New Covenant becomes ours

 

a)       The New Covenant for a New People of God

 

The baptism of each one of us, your baptism and mine, is a baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  When we were baptized, the priest, the minister of God, marked our life forever with the obedient death of Christ and the glorious resurrection of the Lord.

 

All those who have been baptized bear the mark of the death and resurrection of Christ.  Therefore it is during this time of Lent and Easter that we ought to return to our baptismal commitments.  As I told you before, formerly baptisms were celebrated during the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday.  During Lent, the catechumens were prepared for this celebration.

 

Today, the Church desires all the baptized, all Christians, to renew the beauty of their Baptism during this Lenten Season.  On Holy Saturday evening, in one of the most beautiful ceremonies of the Liturgy, we will renew our baptismal commitment and our faith.  From the altar we will ask --- and I hope there are many Christians, especially young people, present at this ceremony --- Do you renounce Satan?  Yes, we do.  Do you believe in God?  Yes, we believe.  (Sacramentary, Renewal of Baptismal Promises during the Easter Vigil).  Indeed the baptized say:  I make this mine.  I accept the redemption of Christ.  I trust in this redemption and not in the passing things of this life, but in Christ, the truly powerful, the truly wealthy one, the eternal, the beautiful, the One who is all things for all people.

 

-Jesus’ Passover from death to new life is the process for all Christians

 

Baptism incorporates us into the mystery of the Paschal redemption.

 

Today’s gospel, which was written for Christians, tells us this.  We must remember that while John is recounting an event of the life of Christ as he draws near to his passion, yet this event is being reflected on many years after the actual event occurred.  The same occurs when an historian writes about events years after they have happened.  He is writing in another era, surrounded by other people.  Saint John is being helped by the Christian community to reflect on the meaning of the baptismal commitment.

 

We could say today that we, as Christians, on this Sunday in the year 1979, are reflecting on the mystery of our baptism that incorporates us into the Paschal Mystery of Christ.  We can draw some conclusions, in the sense that Christ is speaking today and perhaps his words reflect the thinking of that former community that reflected on the meaning of their baptismal commitment.

 

Therefore, let us listen to these words, for they are the result of accepting the reality of redemption and seeking baptism:  Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:24).  The gospel continues: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.  The Father will honor whoever serves me (John 12:25-26).  These words are spoken for us!  They are not simply the story of something that occurred twenty centuries ago!  This is the Paschal Mystery incarnated in the Body of Christ and we are that Body of Christ today --- the community of baptized persons living in 1979!

 

To each one of us Christ is saying:  if you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I do.  Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.  Let yourself be killed.  Do not be afraid.  Those who shun suffering will remain alone.  No one is more alone than the selfish.  But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest.  You will have the deepest satisfactions.  Do not fear death or threats, the Lord goes with you.

 

Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives ---that is, those who want to get along, who do not want commitments, who do not want to get into problems, who want to distance themselves from a situation that demands the involvement of all of us --- they will lose their lives.  What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably, with no suffering, not getting involved in problems, quite tranquil, quite settled, with good connections politically, economically, socially --- lacking nothing, having everything.  To what good?  They will lose their lives.  But those who for love of Christ uproot themselves and accompany the people and travel with the poor in their suffering and become incarnated and allow themselves to feel the pain and the abuse of others--- they will secure their lives, because the Father will reward them. 

 

Brothers and sisters, God’s Word calls us to this today.  Let me tell you with all the conviction that I can muster, it is worthwhile to be a Christian.

 

Events of the Week

 

The Church has given us some insights as to how we can live as Christians at this present time.  We cannot close our eyes and say: Medellin and Puebla and Vatican II are useless, rather we must study the content of these documents.  Today, those who have been baptized must be willing to do these things and so for this reason, we will incarnate here our doctrine and reflection.  You will be the critics of the things that I speak.  I have told you that you must learn to read the newspapers.  Where is the truth?  Where is the lie?  What is the hidden message behind what is being reported?

 

Church Events

 

At this time I present to you the Church that we are trying to construct with its center of unity, the Pope.  This week the Pope has spoken about the true meaning of sharing with others.  Sharing is not simply giving alms, but sharing and opening the heart toward others, especially those most in need.  The Pope has spoken these words to us because many times we feel satisfied in tossing some coins to those who are poor.  This, however, is not what God wants.  God wants us to share, even in our poverty, with those who are also poor.

 

Our clergy are going to gather together this week, Tuesday, in San José de la Montaña and celebrate a Penitential Service, during which the priests will confess to one another.  As all good Christians should do, the priests are going to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  If we are sinners --- and there are enough people who will say this to us --- then we must also be penitents and ask for forgiveness.  At this moment, in the name of all my priests, I beg pardon for not having shown all the fortitude the gospel asks in serving the people that we must lead, for having confused them at times, softening too much the message of the cross, which is hard.  Therefore we are going to ask for forgiveness.  I ask you to pray for our priests, especially on Tuesday, so that they can be true Christians.

 

I also want to speak to you about our celebration of Holy Week.  Just a few modifications.  The first refers to the celebration of Palm Sunday on next Sunday.  The blessing of palms will take place in the Church of El Calvario and from there we will leave in procession.  We will celebrate the Mass in front of the Cathedral.  Another modification refers to the celebration of Holy Thursday and the Procession of Silence which many people profane rather than avail themselves of this time to give worship to God.  I want to invite you to give this procession a Christian meaning so that we can  truly give homage to Christ on this tragic night of his trial.  Therefore, on Radio YSAX we are going to be supporting this procession from 10:00pm to midnight.  If any town or village wishes to join in this reflection, then you can set the time for your Procession of Silence to coincide with the time of the procession here in the Cathedral.  Also in order to alleviate the congestion that occurs during the procession in Concepción where many people participate and thus making it difficult to maintain order, the parishes of San Salvador are organizing times of reflection or processions.  In this way we can all mediate on the message of the passion of Christ during these two hours.

 

On Good Friday, the Burial Procession will take place from 6:00pm to 9:00pm and Radio YSAX will support all those parish processions that wish to take advantage of this transmission.  Also on Good Friday, at 11:00am, we will celebrate the Station of the Cross inside the Cathedral.  Then on Holy Saturday, we will gather in front of the Cathedral to celebrate the solemn Easter Vigil, the triumph of Christ.  This celebration will also be transmitted by radio.

 

I want to thank UCA Editores for publishing my Third Pastoral Letter and the First Pastoral Letter of Bishop Rivera.  It is part of a book, and is accompanied by other very interesting studies.  This book is called The Church of the Poor and Popular Organizations.   I highly recommend this book to you because, thanks to God, our Pastoral Letter provides much orientation.  Also, having commented on the letter, it will be more understandable.  You will find this book at the doors when you leave the Cathedral.  We have also begun to publish a series of pamphlets entitled The Pastoral Letters Series.  Here the context of the Pastoral Letters is explained in a very simple and understandable style.  Again I thank UCA and I greet you and pray that this service, that you have rendered to the teaching of the Archbishop, will bring you abundant blessings from the Lord.

 

During this past week two vital organizations of the Archdiocese have met.  The Senate represents the priests and allows the Bishop to consult with them when problems arise in the Diocese.  The other group is the Pastoral Council which is composed of priests, religious and laity who help the Bishop in the pastoral ministry of the whole Diocese.  This group is working well and offers its services to the Archdiocese.

 

I want to thank in a special way the National University.  The Faculty of Sciences and Humanities has invited me, together with Father Jesús Delgado and Father Octavio Cruz, to participate in a roundtable discussion on the theme: the role of the Church in Latin America.  My dear sisters and brothers, with great joy I am able to speak to you about the reception that was given to the Church in this great cultural center and the attention that we were given by the many people who filled the hall and overflowed into the corridors.  The interesting questions that followed our presentation indicate the wisdom that is in this center of such great responsibility.  They do not place the Church on the margin but rather listen to her and listen to her directly.  They do not allow themselves to be influenced by ill-prepared and slanderous reports, but as we witnessed Wednesday at the University, they are willing to listen to the Church.  After the roundtable discussion the Rector of the University and others spoke about a concern that revolved around the issue of making the University a cultural center for our people.  I call upon all people, professors, students and organizations, not to allow yourselves to be manipulated in a way that you might lose a center, such as this, that is a great hope for our country.  Let us be true patriots and make the university a distinguished center for our country.  The Church is willing to do her part in this work.

 

As we do on the first of every month, we will celebrate a Holy Hour today at 5:00pm, at Divinia Providencia Hospital.  I beg you to come there and pray for our country.

 

In the name of the family of Jaime Apolonio Baires, I invite everyone to participate in a Mass here in the Cathedral on Wednesday at 5:00pm to celebrate the one month anniversary of the death of our brother.  Let me share with you some of the beautiful words that his mother wrote:  The morale of our family is high.  We are united and strengthened in our sorrow.  Our son has died, horribly tortured, but we fervently pray that his death might contribute to the triumph of justice and peace for our people.  Jaime loved the people and struggled in solidarity with them.  Even in our sorrow, we consider ourselves fortunate to have been able provide our son with love and attention during his final moments and accompany him to his final resting place. After a family member has been captured, so many families do not know the whereabouts or the state of health of their loved ones; they do not know if their loved ones are still alive or where their remains are buried. 

 

I also ask you to pray for Oscar Armando Interiano, who was found dead in the Guija Lake on February 26th.  I recommend him to your prayers.

 

Civil Events

 

There are three aspects of our civil life that as Church we are called to reflect upon.  This has been a week of violence that we could call selective violence. On the one hand the FPL (Popular Liberation Forces) assassinated, in Santa Ana, a retired Major of ORDEN (Nationalist Democratic Organization).  Also found assassinated were: in Cabañas, an official involved with ORDEN; in San Miguel, an ex-Justice of the Peace and an ex-Assembly Representative; and two Treasury Police officers. Besides these we must mention some other events, perhaps not part of this selective violence, but they could certainly be numbered as part of this violence.  I have been informed that in Tres Calles, a village in the Diocese of Santiago de María, a new military operation was undertaken.  This operation was similar to the one that took place on June 21st, 1975 when I lived there.  Juan Francisco Ostorga, 19 years old, was tortured and taken to an unknown place.  This event is part of a story that I clearly remember.  Juan Francisco was a child when, four years ago, soldiers arrived at his housed and killed his father, Alberto Ostorga, and his three brothers, José Alfredo, Jorge Alberto and Héctor David.  Who could have told Juan Francisco that now his time had arrived?  At that time I asked the Government to give an indemnity to his family.  Naturally this never happened.  On the other hand, torture continued to arrive as if some kind of family sin had to be eradicated.

 

A university student was also captured by the National Police --- Fidel Nieto Laínez.

 

A very cruel act occurred in Cinquera: a pregnant woman who was unable to flee with the other members of her group was killed.

 

Some sorrowful letters arrived from a campesina:   I am the mother of Carlos Martínez Caranza who was captured on May 17th, 1978.  We have looked for him everywhere but still we have received no further news about him.

 

From Upatoro, two mothers write: We are the mothers of Julio Ayala and Víctor Manuel Rivas, captured on April 24th, 1977 by five Treasury Police officers.  At the present time we do not know their whereabouts.  We ask that they be set free because we are sure that they have not committed any crime.  If they had, they should have been brought before the courts.

 

Another woman says: I am the mother of Miguel Angel Rivas Mendoza who was captured on March 30th in Ciudad Arce.  She also has received no further news about her son.

 

At the last minute, here in the Cathedral, I was given the names of other people who have been captured, but I do not have these names with me at this time.

 

My sisters and brothers, all of these cases, and others that escape me right now, --- for just this week I counted in the newspapers 12 people who were either assassinated or murdered --- but all of this tells us that these extremes are excessive. I invite all of you, even the extremists, to reflect.  The right looks at the left and sees only terrorism.  The left looks at the right and sees only reactionaries.  A different perspective would enable us to make distinctions.  Not everything on the left is terrorism.  They make many just demands.  The act of asking for social justice and higher wages does not make them terrorists.  Union movements and other legitimate organizations should not be repressed simply because they are considered “leftist” and therefore their members labeled as terrorists.  We must distinguish.  If it is fanatical violence, then as we have said before, we are not in agreement with any of this.  But if they are just demands, then they must be heard.  Just as everything from the right is not a pronouncement of the Flange (the facist Party in Spain) for there are honorable voices, very good and honorable capitalists who attempt to dialogue and understand, and participate and put in practice the Church’s doctrine.  Salvation is very serious!

 

Extremism, with its myopic vision that sees everything in opposing colors, is very dangerous.  To the left and the right, I want to speak to you the words that are written in the Medellin document concerning peace: We would like to direct our call in the first place to those who have a greater share of wealth, culture, power.  We know that there are leaders in Latin America who are sensitive to the needs of the people and try to remedy them.  They recognize that the privileged many times join together, and with all the means at their disposal pressure those who govern, thus obstructing necessary changes.  In some instances, this pressure takes on drastic proportions which result in the destruction of life and property (Medellin Documents, On Peace, #17)  It is here that the words of Paul VI are cited: this often provokes explosive revolutions of despair (Medellin Documents, On Peace, #17; Paul VI. Homily of the Mass on Development Day, Bogatá, August, 1968).

 

Another aspect of our civil life this week was the petition to reform the Work Code.  A more comprehensive and broader law is necessary in order to resolve our conflicts.  The Ministry of Work, CUTS (an organization of unionized workers), and the Chamber of Commerce have spoken about the need to reform the Work Code.  I am happy to say that the Church is in agreement with this petition.  I repeat this call to the lawyers and to the union leaders.  Any reform, however, must take into consideration the interests of the unions, as well as the interests of the capitalists.  Only in this way can we write a law that is truly just.

 

A series of conflicts continue.  Through the findings of arbitration, the strikes of Route 5 and 28 were resolved.  Also the strike at La Delicia is being resolved.  A new strike, however, has begun at the mines of San Cristóbal.

 

Finally, in the rural areas, they have received news about a new legislation concerning the leasing of land.  We have to study the content of this law.  We are, however, given new hope if this is a law that, as the Assembly stated, has an imminently social objective.   But we are also concerned, for during the same week when we received the above news, we were also told that there is a group of campesinos who want to place their petition before the Ministry of Agriculture and the Banco de Fomento Agropecurario.  They are requesting greater facility in obtaining credit, lower prices for leasing land and consumer goods.  The campesinos requested meetings with both institutions but they have not received any respone. They have tried to publish their petition in the newspapers but for them, there is no space.  This is a clear example of what we have called institutionalized violence that prevents the campesinos from expressing themselves and defending their interests.  We would hope that just laws would take into consideration the desires of this large sector of our country.  We hear that the land owners and the farmers of vast land holdings are treated justly.  May this same justice be given to everyone --- this is want we want!

 

There are other dimensions of our national life.   I want to take a moment to call to your attention an aspect of our sexual and matrimonial morality for this week we saw the publication of the fact that there are fourteen children between the ages of 2 and 15 who have been abandoned by their parents and are now living in Tutelar de Menores.

 

Seven hundred thirty-seven workers have gone to Saudi Arabia to obtain work.

 

We have seen an explosion in the birth rate and there will be no solution to this problem until we provide an adequate sex education and an education that deals with the customs of our people.  I call upon everyone to review and reflect on God’s law, the right of marriage, fidelity in marriage, honest living by young women and men.  Let us not live in libertinage that endangers not only our individual social well-being, but also the well-being of the whole nation.

 

Reflections to bring to the altar

 

Thus we have incarnated the Word in the very complex reality of our nation, acts of violence and love, acts of prayer and vengeance --- this is a reflection of the complexity of the life of our people.  The New Covenant has much to tell us as we approach Holy Week.

 

My dear sisters and brothers, let us prepare ourselves and live this Eucharist together with Christ who gave his life for us and who invites us to follow his example as he lovingly and obediently handed himself over to death.  Furthermore, Christ invites us to look for solutions to our problems, not on paths of hatred and vengeance, but on the paths of the Crucified One.  Love will make us free!