As we journey through this reflective time of Lent, reflecting on love, sacrifice, transfiguration, pain, fear, and redemption, we also take the time to ponder our friendships, especially around death.
March honors the legacy and witness of Archbishop Óscar Romero, a prophetic voice who called for change in church and society—a voice for peace in the midst of a wilderness of violence. A timid and soft-spoken, rule upholding, “let’s not make waves” bishop, Romero became the Salvadoran’s people messiah of justice, a healing presence at a time in which political and social factions filled streets with blood, and the wailing cries of families with relatives who were now desaparecido (missing).
Like Jesus, like many saints, and like many holy ripple sparkers, Romero came to understand and claim his role not by keeping it safe, but taking a risky, radical, revolutionary leap of faith later in life—like many of us, it was a journey of back and forth in understanding his purpose in life.
The timid bishop became a lioness protecting her pride.
Reflecting on his life and the Gospel narratives of the passion and resurrection, I was struck by the power of friendship. Romero embraced his mission following the death of his close friend Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who struggled in solidarity with the campesinos (rural laborers) and spoke out against the oppressive military regime. His murder, and the murder of those traveling with him, sparked a passion within Romero to set out continuing Rutilio’s work of setting all ablaze in solidarity with the vulnerable and marginalized in society. The silencing of Rutilio, broke the silence of Romero.
Prophets are said not to be fortune tellers, but awakened individuals who are present in and to the present. The prophetic life, witness, and death of Rutilio opened Romero’s eyes to be able to proclaim a message of truth in the face of oppressive powers within the Church and society—a voice that would later be silenced, but whose resonance and spirit lives on today.
The death of a friend dramatically, profoundly, and radically transformed an individual.
In connecting this to the Gospels, I wonder what the death of Jesus did to Judas Iscariot? The other Apostles ran and hid; the women faithfully, defiantly, and badassfully were there every step of the way (Mary truly taking the bumper sticker “from womb to tomb” to a whole other level). But what of Judas?
Many have villainized him, reducing him to just “the traitor.” What was happening in his mind, spirit, soul, and heart? Did Jesus’ death spark something in him? Did it open a new path or challenge him to embrace a new mission despite his past, a path that would be difficult but also hope filled? Tragically, the death of his friend Jesus (an execution similar to Rutilio’s two millennia later) did not awaken Judas or mend his shattered spirit—rather, it left him more broken, believing the only way to end the pain was to take his own life.
Two men impacted by a friend’s death—two different paths.
One was broken into wholeness, and the other shattered into annihilation. As we meditate on the mysteries of this holy and solemn season, as we try to inhabit the space of those in the Gospels, and as we seek inspiration in the witnesses of our ancestors, how will we, how have we, and how are we responding to the death of Jesus and of those closest to us? Are we being sparked into revolutionary wholeness on the side of solidarity and justice, or are we being fractured into complete desolation?
During this time, may we lift up all who mourn, all who are hurting, and all who are coping—may the passion guide us all to radically and peacefully resurrect!
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