Romero on Lenten Sacrifice
It is so easy for my “Lenten discipline” – the quotations are to indicate how little “Lent” there is sometimes in the discipline – to devolve into a chance to drop a few points, quit an annoying habit, or spend a little less money. I never mean for that to happen, but somehow Lent seems provide an opportunity to prod me to self-improvement in the guise of true self-denial. When I feel that urge, I often reach for this quotation from Archbishop Oscar Romero who unfailingly redirects my Lenten focus from myself to those around me.
Romero also helps me wrestle with one of the more challenging elements of the gospel. In today’s gospel reading, we hear Jesus admonish the crowds to take up their cross and follow him. But what does that mean for those who are suffering? How can they take up the cross? These are important questions in part because of the way these words of our Lord have been misused to sanction abuse. And so I again look to Romero and find him help me along the way by reminding us that Jesus’ cross gives meaning “to the sacrifice that is everyday life” for those who are poor, in need, or suffering. Perhaps the cross is not something we look for, but is given to us, and only by being open to bear the cross for others can we find the strength and faith to bear it at all.
Lenten fasting is not the same thing in those lands where people eat well as is a Lent among our Third World peoples, undernourished as they are, living in a perpetual Lent, always fasting. For those who eat well, Lent is a call to austerity, a call to give away in order to share with those in need. But in poor lands, in homes where there is hunger, Lent should be observed in order to give to the sacrifice that is everyday life the meaning of the cross.
But it should not be out of a mistaken sense of resignation. God does not want that. Rather, feeling in one’s own flesh the consequences of sin and injustice, one is stimulated to work for social justice and a genuine love for the poor. Our Lent should awaken a sense of social justice.
Oscar Arnulfo Romero, from The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1988).