Unless a Grain of Wheat Archbishop Romero

I was once called upon for help to clear the cupboards of someone who had died. I couldn’t believe the kind of articles which had been treasured and so lovingly hoarded over many years.

There was a child’s blue dummy, the plastic end had been bitten through; there was a veil from the face of a new born baby, used at one time to keep a sailor safe at sea, (so I was told) and so many other items of sentimental value. These items must have been of great value to the owner, but to us with a job to do and with no real understanding of the memories behind them, they meant very little, so out they went.

We can be such hoarders, especially with our lives. We are given talents, gifts, invaluable experiences and lessons learnt by our mistakes, certain qualities of character all of which we can share with others, but we often don’t.

What is it that stops us from doing so?

There once was a man who had a lot going for him. He rubbed shoulders with the big and the powerful, he was acquainted with the military leaders, the president and the big business men of his country.

He was talented, fairly well off and important in his own right. He hated any involvement in trouble, he liked the easy life, and was in a position to put down dissensions which rose form the common people, because of the authority he held within the church. He was an assistant bishop, and about to become an archbishop, when he visited one of the towns in his care to celebrate a Eucharist there.

There the people protested about the treatment they had been receiving at the hands of the government, and with their bibles in one hand and their newspapers in the other, they vented their angry feelings onto him.

He was clearly annoyed with them. He told them he was not pleased, and that it was wrong to be so disobedient to the church authorities, so dissatisfied, and that they should not seek to mix politics and religion.

Again they challenged him, waving their bibles at him, and he said, ‘I am right, because I am a bishop!’ The Eucharist was suspended, because he felt it was impossible to continue in that kind of belligerent manner.

Later when he was Archbishop he went back to the same place, to the same people and apologised.

For events changed him. Within weeks of his induction, he actually witnesses security forces spreading death and destruction, when the common people objected to fraudulent elections.

He began listening to the complaints of the poor, he heard their grief, and he opened his eyes to see what was happening first hand, and he could no longer keep silent

This shy and timid man began to speak out against the injustices and the killing.

‘We haven’t got power, we haven’t got anything, but we have got something greater, we have the TRUTH!’ he cried out!

Some days later his closest friend was killed, and this act completed his conversion.

No longer was his life like a single grain of wheat in a metal box like this one!

From wanting to preserve and save his own life, and live in safety and security, he became fearless in his preaching. Crowds flocked to the cathedral to hear him, and applauded and cheered after his homilies, because he was specific in his condemnation of the government; he named each victim, each town; he called to account the perpetrators of violence; he spoke out against the soldiers who were murdering their own country folk. He became the people’s champion.

Yet he was criticised by some of his brother bishops in the church for causing trouble, they reported him to the Pope but he could not keep silent.

In one of his homilies he said to the people,

‘We cannot segregate God’s word from the historical reality in which it is proclaimed. That would not be God’s word. The bible would just be a pious history book in our library.

It is God’s word because it enlightens, contrasts, repudiates, praises what is going on today in this society!’

It’s very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world; we may speak a very spiritual word, but it may be a word without commitment to history, a word that sounds in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems, starts no conflicts. What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks genuine Church, is when the word, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims to the people and denounces: proclaims God’s wonders to be believed and venerated, and denounces the sins of those who oppose God’s reign, so that they may tear these sins out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of ther laws-out of the structures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity.

He went onto say that God’s word has to be a word that touches today’s wound, today’s injustices, today’s victims, and this is what causes problems…

Archbishop Oscar Romero did not hold onto life, he did not hoard what he’d been given, but he had become fully open to the will and purposes of God flowing through him. The treasures of courage and truth and compassion spilled out from him each day, they were in no way wasted.

Not long after this homily, as he was celebrating the Eucharist, in front of his flock,he was shot, and he immediately fell to the floor, beneath the crucifix.

One of his flock commented, It was as though the Lord had spoken to him and said,

‘I don’t just want you to offer bread. Now you are the victim, you are my offering.

A statue now stands of him, along with those of nine other twentieth century martyrs, including Maximilian Kohlbe, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, over the West door of Westminster Abbey.

He no longer belongs only to the Salvadoreans, he belongs to all of us.

…unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains all by itself alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life is losing it; and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life. If anyone will serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there will my servants also be.

The blood of the martyrs since the time of Jesus death, has been the seedbed of the Church.

Like Jesus, they have been willing to enter the dark earth, and be covered over, entombed for the sake of truth and freedom and goodness.

A seed not planted, remains sterile and useless, it has safety and security, it has warmth and comfort. But it is dead, like a fish floating in water, going along with the flow. To be truly a servant of Jesus is to enter the struggle, rather like the journey of a salmon fighting its way up river!

How we love to have those home comforts in our day and age.

Drink, eat, be merry we tell ourselves for tomorrow we die.

Get what happiness there is now, you’re a long time dead.

But will we ever rise for Christ’s sake, having ever died to self…selfish ambitions, self fulfilment, selfish pleasure.

What kind of conversion do we need to transform our lives?

How like Jesus are we really?

Which of his purposes do we fight for, which of his people do we seek to save from oppression and misery, which causes do we give ourselves to?

How converted are we really?

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified in us, today. But how long must he wait, before we fulfil our true calling, before we even give thought to clearing our cupboards of all the unnecessary things, the rubbish which we have accumulated on our journey of life?

How many seeds will arise up from the soil? Will we have proved ourselves faithful, and will we leave this world a better place?

What real treasure will we take with us when we journey on to eternity?