Recently, the Church officially raised to the altar of holy ones, the 20th century archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. His life as a good shepherd was the embodiment of one of the cornerstone principles of the Catholic Church’s social ethic of a ‘preferential option’ for the poor. Criticized by the political elite of El Salvador as well as conservative brother bishops with the canard of being a ‘Marxist’ and a follower of the discredited ‘theology of liberation,’ Romero transcended such simplistic labels in his utterly Christ-centered, love for the poor, disenfranchised and marginal of society. However, he was unwilling to be content to just give lip-service to such love. He was willing to put his life on the line as he spoke truth to power on behalf of those who had no voice nor power. As a prophetic witness to this foundational truth of the Gospel, he literally laid down his life in martyrdom.
God’s word today presents us with the Biblical foundation for God’s preferential option for the poor. In gratitude for the hospitality of the poor widow Zarephath, Elijah, the great prophet, provided for her needs and would not permit her to die of starvation or want.
Jesus in today’s Gospel, castigates the duplicity of the religious elite of his time, the scribes, as he points to the sincerity and simplicity of the widow who was willing to give from her scarcity to the Lord.
The courage to speak truth to power in whatever age has never been an easy reality. Invariably, it is the stuff of suffering and even martyrdom. Yet, it can be the truest measure of Gospel conviction especially when done on behalf of God’s ‘little ones,’ the poor and the powerless, the disenfranchised, the marginal and underserved in our society.
The wisdom of this Gospel message comes to us at a providential time as the Bishops of our Country gather for their annual meeting this week in Baltimore. Once again, our Church has been rocked with destabilizing scandal in the continuing wake of incidents of child sexual abuse at the hands of priests and bishops and the inability on the part of some in authority to honestly and conscientiously root out this scourge in the life of the Church.
Pope Francis has time and time again pointed to the cancerous poison of ‘clericalism’ that insidiously feeds a mentality that the religious ‘elite’ of our time, those invested with sacramental ordination, are somehow immune from the consequences of failing to safeguard the sheep. Many in power have sadly forgotten the Gospel maxim that ‘to those who have been given much, much is required.’
We have undoubtedly reached a crossroads where God’s little ones can no longer suffer at the hands of those who might lack the courage to confront with honesty the consequences of these actions, as well as take the necessary steps to ensure that all of God’s little ones are safe and free from the danger of exploitation within the House of the Church.
Fortunately, while much progress has been made in Dioceses across our land and here in our own Diocese of Orange, to safeguard the vulnerability of God’s little ones, much remains to be accomplished. While we understandably look to the leadership of our Church to courageously set the example of integrity at the service of truth, as God’s people, all of us share in the responsibility of birthing a new age of corporate responsibility in being good and faithful stewards of our sisters and brothers of whatever age. For that grace, let us pray for both courage and wisdom.