Change is Possible!

Homily, Change is Possible!
Feast of San Óscar Romero (2021)
Seminary of the Southwest
Austin, TX

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Reading:

Psalm 31:15-24
John 12:20-26

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
“Señor, queremos ver a Jesús.”

En el nombre del Padre, y el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo. Amén.

Problem: Can this world change?

This might come as a shock to you, but growing up I was a shy, goody-goody, teacher’s pet little mama’s boy.  It was my mission to never get into trouble and to always follow the rules. In fact I remember one of the only times I got in trouble at school was in kindergarten when I talked in the library just to tell a friend that he wasn’t supposed to be talking in the library. Ms. Gutierrez, the librarian, had looked over just at that moment and I’m sure she gave me the gentlest of corrections—my green apple on the bulletin board probably turned yellow—but in that moment my world came crashing down and right there in the library I started sobbing. And what did I say, “I want my mommy!” Honestly that was a lot of my childhood. Crashed my bike, “I want my mommy.” Stomach hurt, “I want my mommy!” Bullied at school, “I want my mommy!” I knew that when not all was right in the world, mommy could make it better.

Well, all is not right in the world. And like the Greeks in our gospel this morning who come to Philip with a request, and like little Derek crying in the library, “queremos ver a Jesús”—“we want to see Jesus.” 

We see and experience violence in this world and we long to see Jesus. We hear that even under President Biden our border detention centers are filling up with children and we long to see Jesus. We read that our city will be voting to take away tents from people who already don’t have houses and we long to see Jesus. We watch in horror as anti-Asian, misogynist, white supremacy takes the lives of eight people in the streets. And 10 more lives lost to senseless gun violence less than a week later. 

We want to see Jesus. Queremos ver a Jesús. 

Oddly the Scripture doesn’t give a reason for the Greeks’ request to see Jesus. Did they really just want to see Jesus? Or did they also want to say something to him and what did they want to say? I can’t help but wonder if in the midst of the violence in their world behind their desire to see Jesus was a hope that he could answer a question. A burning question. A question that fuels our own desire to see Jesus. A question our hearts hope Jesus can answer. 

Can this world change? ¿Puede este mundo cambiar? Can we change? Podemos cambiar?
Can I change? Puedo cambiar?

Óscar Romero: a Miracle of Change

Hoy celebramos la Fiesta de San Óscar Romero—We celebrate the feast of Saint Oscar Romero who was assassinated in 1980 behind the altar of a hospital chapel near where he lived immediately after having preached on our gospel passage from this morning, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

Monseñor Romero was a Salvadoreño, [but not a Jesuit] and an archbishop, but most of all he was a champion for the poor and oppressed in El Salvador in a turbulent and violent time. 

The pastoral, theological, and spiritual influence of Saint Oscar Romero for la gente salvadoreña and for people throughout Latin America and the world cannot be overstated, and after almost 40 years, despite being a controversial figure for some powerful figures in the Church, Monseñor Romero was canonized a saint by Pope Francis on October 14, 2018. 

In order to be canonized a saint the person has to have a verified miracle associated with them, and there is a beautiful testimony about a women’s healing that was used for Romero’s official process. But for me the real miracle of San Óscar Romero is that a man of privilege and defender of an elite patriarchal institution changed. Imagine that! When does that happen?? Óscar Romero cambió. 

It was only the last three years of Romero’s life that he was known as a champion to the poor. Before that Romero had dedicated his life to being a quiet and faithful priest of the Church, committed to solely spiritual matters and staying out of the material issues of economics and politics. He had become a pastor to the elite and was appointed first as bishop and then as archbishop specifically because the government-allied patriarchal structures of the Church counted on his allegiance to the status quo. Everyone knew that Romero was perfectly capable of turning a blind eye to the suffering of los campesinos y los pobres en El Salvador. But Romero changed! Romero cambió. Like the single grain of wheat which grew to bare much fruit, Romero was transformed!

Promise: Change is Possible!

La buena noticia de la vida de San Óscar Romero y nuestro evangelio hoy es que el cambio es posible. The good news of the life of San Óscar Romero and of our gospel today is that change is possible. The basis of the whole Christian faith is this: change is possible. El cambio es posible. We have a lot of theological words to describe this idea—repentance, conversion, resurrection, salvación, liberación—but ultimately the gospel we proclaim to the world is this: It doesn’t have to be this way. Change is possible. El cambio es posible. 

Practicing Letting Go and Loving Others

But how? It happens when we let go of our addictions to self-preservation and open ourselves to the imagination of God who is dreaming of a far greater, more just, creative reality than what we have created for ourselves. 

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains [unchanged,] just a single grain; but if it dies, it [changes, and] bears much fruit.” The Scripture goes on, “The man who loves his life will lose it—,” 

Normally we like to be inclusive in our scriptural translations but in a society that needs change—in a society where too often women are quite literally forced to lose their lives so that men can love theirs, I think retaining the gendered language here is apt. “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” 

The world is in need of change because we are in need of change—because I am in need of change, and the world will change when each of us—and most especially those of us with a great amount of social privilege, let go of self-preservation and commit ourselves to the love of others. Necesitamos abandonar nuestras adicciones a nosotros mismos y amar a los demás.

That was the mission of San Óscar Romero in his last years and it was his dream for the Church and society. Growing up I always thought conversion was a one time event, but Romero understood that the Christian life is about continual conversion. It’s about continually giving ourselves over to self-examination and communal love. The Church is called to be a people of conversion—a people of change. Somos llamados a ser un pueblo de conversión. As Romero says in his own words, “I call to everyone: Let us be converted so that Christ may look upon our faith and have mercy on us.”

Prayer: Be the change!

So here we are today, with the Greeks who came to Philip, wanting to see Jesus. Wanting to see change in the world. Wanting to see change in ourselves. Queremos ver a Jesús. 

The only answer Jesus gave them, and the only answer Jesus is giving us, is his own death and resurrection. His own transformation. His own change. And he calls us to follow him. 

So as we enter into Holy Week—
al entrar la semana santa—
and reflect on the transformation of Christ—
y reflexionar sobre la transformación de Cristo—
let us follow him and seek our own transformation—busquemos nuestra propia transformación—
as we join him in transforming the world with the transformative power of love—
para transformar el mundo con el poder transformador del amor.

I close with Romero’s own words:

“Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can” Romero, September 25, 1977). Amen.

Vayan en paz para amar y cambiar el mundo! Go in peace to love and change the world!