Friday, April 13, 2012

Finding the Risen Lord

Second Sunday of Easter Year B

Archbishop Oscar Romero has become a modern icon of prophetic resistance against social injustices and infringement of civil liberties. He spoke out loudly against the injustices that was taking place in his homeland, El Salvador. Salvador's wealthy elites, the ruling class and landowners, controlled the armed forces and the notorious 'death squads' - hired thugs who tortured, raped and murdered anyone who showed the slightest opposition to the system. Trade unionists, innocent peasants, community activists, their friends and families were killed by the thousands. Corpses were buried in shallow graves, dumped onto street corners and tossed into garbage dumps. By 1980 more than 3,000 people a month were being murdered.
In his weekly radio sermons he told the oligarchy to halt the killing, using his position to challenge the 'unjust economic structures' which he saw as the root causes of the conflict.

This effrontery did not sit well with the oligarchy. Repeated death threats were issued against the Archbishop - to no avail. Once when questioned by a Guatemalan journalist as to whether he feared the possibility of assassination, his reply was this: 'I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador... if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, then may my blood be the seed of liberty and a sign that hope will soon become a reality.' As if he had already prophesied his death, Archbishop Romero was assassinated whilst celebrating mass at a hospital chapel on 24th March, 1980.

How do we testify to the Risen Lord? How can we become witnesses of his resurrection? Shouting loudly that “He is Risen” isn’t very helpful. There are many doubters out there, just like Thomas in today’s gospel. The message of the gospel, the good news of the resurrection cannot just be announced in words. The world seeks verification to this claim of ours. First and foremost, the message of the resurrection must be announced through our lifestyle.

Today’s reading explains this lifestyle – a life of a person who believes that Jesus is the Christ. It is a life definitely not lived in isolation. To be a Christian and to be a loner is a contradiction. A Christian is called to give witness to his faith through his community. It is the way he lives in community that marks him out as a true believer and an effective witness of Christ to the world.

The early Christians did exactly this. Many were amazed and impressed by their love for one another and the way they lived in community. In the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that “the whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.” The good or welfare of the community was more important than personal pleasure of its individual members. This was how they testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus by their commitment to live and struggle with this communitarian dimension of their faith. The locus for the proclamation, sharing and living out the Word of God was in the community. The locus for service was in the community. The locus for celebrating the Eucharist was found in the community. The locus for learning to relate with others, learning how to listen, to accept, to forgive was found in the community. The reason for this was that the Community now had become the extension of the Risen Christ and sacrament of His saving presence in the world.

Living in community is not easy. Jesus did not say that it was. When Jesus appeared to his disciples on the evening of the day of his resurrection, he did not start with these words: “I am here. From now on all your problems will be solved. From now life would be perfect. From now on your community will be perfect.” Jesus did not promise any of these things. On the contrary, Jesus promised peace in spite of the difficulties that his disciples may experience. The first words he spoke to his disciples were these: “Peace be with you.”

Jesus promised peace of heart in spite of the hurts that his disciples will experience at the hands of others and hurts that they will continue to inflict on others. Peace does not mean the absence of conflict. Peace does not mean that we must agree on everything. Peace means recognizing that the risen Lord is in our midst. Peace means knowing that Christ is present even in our difficulties and problems, our unhappiness, our conflicts in the community. Peace means that Christ has gifted us with the Holy Spirit and the power and mandate to forgive each others’ faults. Jesus did not give us a solution to all our problems and whatever conflicts we may experience in the community. Rather, Jesus gave something better – the power to forgive. Jesus breathed his Spirit on his disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”

As Christians, if we claim that we love God and that we love Jesus, we must also be able to love our brothers and sisters, beginning with those in our families, our community and then with the whole of society. How do we do this? First, by recognizing that community life is impossible without Christ. We must recognize his presence in our brothers and sisters and in our community even when its hard to see Christ in the other. Second, we must look at our own wounds and the wounds of our brothers and sisters. We must recognize that we are all broken people. We are hurt by one another and continue to hurt one another. We can begin to understand and then forgive the person that has caused you hurt, when we remember that he is also hurting. Third, Jesus has given us the power and the ability to forgive one another. Forgiveness is necessary because our community is not perfect. Forgiveness is necessary because we are still not perfect.

Today, as we continue to walk with the resurrected Christ, let us renew our commitment to him to be his witnesses to the world. Let us renew our commitment to build community and strengthen the bonds of unity therein. Let us learn to recognize Jesus in each other, recognize our hurts and finally be able to forgive each other from the bottom of our hearts.

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