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Redemption

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  • Mimi

    What rich beautiful food. Thank you.

This article is a chapter from the book The Scandal of Redemption, excerpted from Oscar Romero’s homilies during his three years as archbishop of El Salvador.

Christ incarnates the whole history of salvation. He had told the Samaritan woman, “The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, for God seeks worshipers in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). On this night, the night before his execution, one of the most serious accusations against Christ was repeated before the Sanhedrin. He had said he would destroy the temple and in three days rebuild it (Matt. 26:61). The Gospel makes it clear that the temple to be destroyed was his body because his body was the temple where the covenant, God’s victory, and the liberation of the people of Israel would take place (John 2:21). He was temple, victim, priest, and altar. He is the totality of redemption.

In Christ, our Lord, becomes incarnate all the gratitude of the people of Israel to the God who freed them. In Christ, our Lord, becomes incarnate all the patriotic hope of Israel and all the hopes of humankind. This night Christ, our Lord, senses that he is “the lamb who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) and that his is the blood that will seal with freedom the hearts of all who truly want to be free. From this night on he is the priest who lifts adoration to the Father and brings from the Father forgiveness and blessings for his people.

Tomorrow, Good Friday, the torment of Christ culminates with his crucifixion, but from this  evening on, the memorial of that passion remains here with us. Christ dying on the cross is the Lamb whose blood marks the hearts of those who believe in him; they will be free and will not suffer the torments of sin. He is the one who comes to take away the sin of the world, the one who comes to fill our hearts with hope. Sisters and brothers, blessed are Christians this night as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in this cathedral, and also in the parish churches, in the chapels, and in the communities throughout the archdiocese. Today we form part of the Israelite family that slaughters the Lamb who is Christ himself and that eats his flesh, which is our communion: “Take and eat, for this is my body that is given for you. Take and drink, for this is the cup of my blood, which will be shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 22:19–20).

“The Servant of God is like a lamb led to the slaughter; he bore the iniquities of all people! We saw him, and his appearance was beyond that of mortals. He was so horrifying that people turned away from him in disgust and in fear. He was killed as no one had ever been killed before. He was tortured beyond limits and humiliated to the depths” (Isa. 53:2–4, 7). Inspired by God, the prophet Isaiah anticipated by seven centuries what is happening this afternoon: the humiliation of the Lamb.

These are unparalleled words. That is why I said that instead of talking we need to love, to meditate, to behold – with repugnance if need be – what has remained of Christ’s appearance. He has become like a worm that squirms in the dust of the earth, amid saliva and blood, afflicted with incredible pain, truly made an outcast of humanity. It can hardly be described. This Good Friday each one of us needs to contemplate that victim with the eyes of the soul and consider how our sins have left him. For Christ does not suffer for his own faults; Christ made himself responsible for the sins of all of us. If you want to measure the gravity of your sins, simply look at Christ crucified and say in all honesty, “I have left him like this. I killed him. To cleanse me of my filth he became filth. To cleanse me of my abominations he became abominable.” The word seems almost blasphemous, but it is spoken by the sacred scriptures: “The one who had no sin became for our sake sin; he was cursed and punished by God (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). This is Christ, the lightning rod of humanity. On him were discharged all the lightning bolts of divine anger to free us who were the ones who should have been struck down because we caused the curse each time we sinned.

Yes, in Christ is revealed the mystery of love, how God has loved us, as the apostle writes: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). What father hands over his son so that a prisoner or slave might be saved? That is what the eternal Father has done; he gave us his Son, his Word, his life, and in Christ we can recover God’s life. Sins are forgiven because Christ became the price for our debt, and now we can all die with the hope of heaven because Christ has offered to open for us the gates of heaven even though we are sinners. We need only repent and be converted and return to him who says, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

In Matthew, Chapter 20, God appears as the one who takes the initiative. He goes out looking for workers. Sisters and brothers, do you think that we are here in the cathedral by our own initiative? In one sense we are because we are free, and nobody has forced us to come. But this is how God’s grace works: he made us free, and he follows up our freedom with his motivating grace so that we’ll use this freedom to look for him. Therefore, the initiative to come to Mass starts with God who gave us freedom and who also motivates us to do what is good. People don’t come to church to hold a meeting; they come to adore God. People don’t come to church out of political curiosity; they come with devotion in search of God. How wonderful it is to know that the Lord is searching for us all the hours of our lives!…

How rich is God in forgiveness and mercy! Before God we have no privileges or rights. If we have served God from our earliest years, then blessed be God! We have used our life well. But that doesn’t give us the right to feel that we are owners of the church. Even if we are bishops, even if we are priests, we may be more in need of God’s mercy than sinners who have just converted and who by their love are perhaps closer to God than those who think they own the church. God is kind. No one can judge his initiatives. Appeal to his mercy; beg like the good thief just to be remembered, and God will do more than remember you….

That’s what our God is like. Blessed be God who lets us know that he calls us at every hour and at every hour is ready to receive us, no matter what crimes we have committed. That is why I repeat again what I have said here so often before when by the radio I have addressed those who are responsible for so many injustices and so much violence, those who have caused weeping in so many homes, those who are stained with the blood of so many murders, those whose hands are tarnished with torture, those who have hardened their consciences and feel no pain at seeing beneath their boots so many people humiliated, suffering, perhaps near death. To all of them I say, “Your crimes do not matter. They are ugly and horrible. You have violated the highest dignity of the human person. But God calls you and forgives you.”

It is perhaps here that those who see themselves as workers hired at the first hour feel disgusted and ask, “How is it that I’m going to be in heaven with those criminals?” Sisters and brothers, in heaven there are no criminals. The greatest criminals, once they have repented of their sins, are now children of God. In Jesus’ time the respectable folk kept pointing at the prostitute Mary Magdalene even when she was weeping for her sins: “Look, if he were really a prophet, he would realize who that woman is who is touching him” (Luke 7:39). But Christ came to her defense: She is no longer a sinner for she has loved much and she has repented of her faults; she is already Saint Mary Magdalene (Luke 7:47). The sins of the past no longer count; they dissolve. That’s why Christian justification is called rebirth. That’s what Christ told Nicodemus: “If you are not born again…” (John 3:3). All those who repent of their faults leave behind the evil of their past lives as if shedding an old skin and donning a new one; they now have nothing to do with what was left in the past! Think of how the butterfly is born again as it leaves its cocoon and becomes a new creature. Blessed be God! This is the generosity of God.

The redemption planned by God is reaching all people without any exception. It is reaching even those who feel they are sinners, those who feel that their sins are unforgivable. Who knows if my words are reaching the person whose hands are bloody with Father Grande’s murder or the one who shot Father Navarro? Who knows if I’m being heard by those who have killed and tortured and done so much evil? Listen, there in your criminal hideouts! Perhaps you are already repentant. You too are called to forgiveness! Whenever I have cried out against violence, I have always added something about repentance for your sins so that you become children of God. Paul preached to the Romans, a pagan people among whom crimes and injustices abounded, but he told them, “This redemption in Christ is summoning you, but it summons you in Christ, in Christ brought by the Virgin.”

This redemption is a redemption from sin, sisters and brothers, for that is what the angel told Saint Joseph, “You are to name him Jesus because he will forgive the sins of the world” (Matt. 1:21). That is the starting point of Christian liberation. When we struggle now for human rights, for freedom, for dignity; when we feel that the church’s ministry means showing concern for those who are hungry, those who have no school, or those who suffer exclusion, we are not departing from God’s promise. He comes to free us from sin, and the church knows that the consequences of sin are all these injustices and crimes. That is why the church knows that she is saving the world when she undertakes to speak of such things.

This is a night of triumph, a night of victory, but not a victory that leaves the enemies crushed under hatred and bloodshed. The victories achieved by bloodshed are detestable. The victories won by brute force are brutish. The victory that truly triumphs is that of faith, the victory of Christ who did not come to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:28). The triumph of his love is a peaceful triumph. Death’s triumph was not definitive. The definitive victory is the triumph of life over death, the triumph of peace, the triumph of joy, the triumph of the alleluias, the triumph of the resurrection of the Lord!

But in this triumph there are two aspects, two phases. Don’t forget that. The first phase is Christ’s, and he is already crowned with absolute victory; he is the king of life and of eternity. Saint Paul tells us, “Christ has risen, and death has no hold on him” (Rom. 6:9). In him redemption has reached its peak. But tonight we are going to renew our baptism as Christians, and we know that for us the victory still lies ahead as the object of our hope. The banners of suffering and pain and sin and death are still raised over our world. This does not mean that Christ’s death and resurrection were a failure because of human wickedness; it just means that this is the time of the church. From the resurrection of Christ until the second coming how many centuries will pass? We do not know, but we do know that with the resurrection of Christ the victory over sin and hell and death has been guaranteed and that God has asked his church to administer this victory of Christ in the hearts of every person. That is the reason for this tremendous work of evangelization, the labor of reconciling people with God, the work of bringing the blood of Christ to the hearts of all, the work of planting the love of God in the midst of hatred, the work of sowing peace among the nations, the work of promoting justice in human relationships and respect for the rights of those sanctified by the Lord’s redemption.

As long as Christ had not risen, the minds of the disciples were missing a key. There was no way to explain the behavior, the doctrine, the miracles, and all the marvelous works of the Redeemer without the resurrection. Everything about Christ remained a mystery until the moment that he had often announced, “My hour has arrived” (John 17:1). Why would he say something like that? “The Son of Man will be handed over, and they will maltreat him and crucify him, and on the third day he will rise” (Mark 9:31). They had heard his words, but they could not understand why the Son of God made man should have to undergo debasement. The disciples experienced a great crisis in their faith before they experienced this great revelation….

Redemption is necessary, and it comes only by the light of the dying Christ. But the mystery becomes even more obscure when Christ ends up dead on the cross. So ends the life of the just man! Is it worthwhile being good and ending up crucified? Must we remain so passive and do without the aggressive strength that can overcome the injustices of the world by force of arms? Could not God send an army of angels to do away with all the persecutors of Jesus and his church? Such questions reveal the small-mindedness of those who want to fix the world’s problems by using violence. Instead they should reflect as John did at the tomb of the risen Christ, and finally understand. For now Christ has risen; now his enemies have fled in terror. Some tried to silence the voice of the resurrection by scheming: “We’ll tell people that while you guards were sleeping, they stole the body away” (Matt. 28:13). But who can cover the sun with a finger? The resurrection is a sun that is already shining.

golden sunrise over hills
Contributed By photo of Archbishop Oscar Romero Oscar Romero

During his three years as archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero became known as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering.

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