The Gospel readings we’re encountering right now are about the difficulties of discipleship—how hard it is to be a follower of Christ.
Last week, you’ll remember, several people made excuses for not following Jesus. Our Lord made clear that nothing could be more important than proclaiming the kingdom.
Next week, we encounter one of the most powerful parables of discipleship, the story of the Good Samaritan, which challenges us to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
But in the middle of this, this Sunday, the Gospel is more pragmatic. Jesus gives practical advice for what it means to spread the Good News—what to wear, what to carry, what to say. And he warns his followers: “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”
Discipleship, he suggests, can carry a high price.
If you want a timely reminder of that, look no further than an exhibition happening this weekend in Los Angeles.
At the cathedral there, they are displaying relics from three remarkable holy men: Saint Thomas More, Saint John Fisher, and Blessed Oscar Romero.
All three gave their lives for their faith—but one, Oscar Romero, is a martyr of our own time. When he was Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero spoke out courageously against the military-led government that was persecuting the poor. He condemned torture and executions. And he paid for that outspokenness with his life. In March of 1980, he was gunned down by assassins while celebrating Mass.
The relics of Romero that are on display in Los Angeles include two notable items: a handkerchief stained with his blood…and a surprising relic of the modern age, a microphone.
The microphone was one he used when speaking on the radio, broadcasting homilies and speeches to the people.
When the military junta assassinated Oscar Romero, officials clearly hoped to silence the voice that microphone carried.
But now, it has only grown louder.
Thirty six years after his martyrdom, Romero speaks to us of courage in a time of persecution, and freedom in a time of oppression.
It is a voice more of us need to hear.
This weekend, the same weekend his relics are on display, we conclude the “Fortnight for Freedom,” the annual event sponsored by the U.S. Catholic bishops, reminding us that one of the freedoms we cherish the most, religious freedom, is not something any of us should take for granted.
“I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” The wolves of the world today are many. Often, they are subtle. Pope Francis has spoken of the “polite persecution” that Christians now face— as he put it, “when someone is persecuted not for confessing Christ’s name, but for wanting to demonstrate the values of the Son of God.”
Even the most benign professions of faith are considered by some to be hostile.
Every Christmas, I make it a point to walk down to Station Square in Forest Hills and see the nativity scene set up by the train station. I thank God that I live in a neighborhood where I can still do that. In Santa Monica, California, they can’t. Several years ago, atheists sued to prevent displays of religion in a public park there. Nativity scenes have since been relegated to private homes and churches.
That’s just one obvious example.
Others continue to make headlines.
There’s the conflict over the HHS mandate, requiring religious institutions to fund an activity—contraception—that goes against Catholic teaching.
There are the rulings in several cities that have forced Catholic Charities out of the adoption business because they refused to place children with same sex couples or couples who are unmarried.
There are immigration laws that have forced Catholic and Christian institutions to stop providing pastoral care to immigrants.
There are the laws in New York City against small church congregations—banning public schools from renting out their facilities on weekends to churches.
And this election year, there are voices demanding that we turn away immigrants and refugees to this country, based solely on their religion. This, too, no matter what the motivation, is a threat to religious freedom.
As we prepare to celebrate another 4th of July, we give thanks to Almighty God for the freedoms we enjoy that so many other countries do not. We are blessed to be able to worship here openly every Sunday; there are places around the globe where fears of terror and violence have closed churches or driven them underground.
But we can never take that freedom for granted—or eventually, it could be taken away.
The gospels these weeks remind us of our common call to be disciples of Christ—and our call to proclaim the kingdom of God, in season and out of season, when it’s popular and when it isn’t.
We are called to be courageous.
We are called to bear witness.
We are called to love—even, especially, those who do not love us.
Oscar Romero once put it another way. The man who used a microphone to proclaim hope and justice to the poor and oppressed once said his mission belongs to every one of us.
“Each one of you,” he said, “has to be God’s microphone. Each one of you has to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as there is someone who has been baptized…Where is your baptism? You are baptized in your professions, in the fields of workers, in the market. Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the church is. There is a prophet there.”
Blessed Oscar Romero added:
“Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.”
My friends, I can’t put it any better than that.
Let us be prophets.
Let us have the courage to profess our faith in word and in deed to a world that would prefer we didn’t.
In a world that so often doesn’t want to hear the word of God, a world that covers its ears and turns its back, let us be heralds of the kingdom, heralds of mercy, heralds of hope. We need to speak out, and speak up, for what we believe.
To paraphrase another great saint: God has no voice today but ours.
Let us be God’s microphone.
Photo: Vatican Radio/AFP