Tonight was the second evening of the parish Lenten Mission. We have brought in a Jesuit who happens to have had the most profound influence on my faith journey. This afternoon some of us gathered in the Educational Centre to watch the film, Romero, the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Romero’s journey is the theme of this year’s mission. I have seen the film before and sometimes when I direct retreatants I have them watch it as a third or fourth week meditation.
Romero’s transformation is remarkable. A bookworm that the Church and government thought would be a perfect puppet turns a country on its head and to this day calls us all to look at what is possible should we open our hearts to the least of these. In tonight’s mission, we heard that Romero was a man of prayer who sought the heart of God. Initially, he did so with some rigor but eventually, through a chain of events, we see his heart cut to the quick and a new man emerges. This one sides with the poor and the oppressed. He slowly interacts with the people and sees the repression firsthand with new eyes after his Jesuit priest friend, Fr. Grande, is assassinated.
Fr. Grande inspired Archbishop Romero and was a catalyst for a major life change. Tonight, the congregation was invited to consider a person that we were grateful for on our own journey, someone who had inspired us on our faith walk. Dozens of people flitted through my mind, including the facilitator of the retreat. As many of you know, I have traveled the world, sometimes serving instead of holidaying. I believe I owe it to this Jesuit, who at the daily 5:15 evening mass decades ago, would preach in a way that stirred my young heart. He challenged all of us to have a preferential option for the poor, as any good Jesuit should. My life has never been the same. I started attending the parish in 1985 and two years later I boarded a plane for my first trip to Africa. The purpose of the final week of the 19th Annotation had sunk in long before I even knew about the Exercises.
I hold the card that we got tonight and wonder how I can choose just one person to be grateful for inspiring me on my faith journey. As the Mission facilitator explained what the homework assignment was I thought of the great cloud of witnesses from my parish that have helped to shape me. I have been remarkably blessed by the elders of my church who have invited me into the community and asked me not just to sit in the pews but to come alive and thrive within and beyond the walls of the church. How can I thank just one person? How incredibly blessed am I to be part of something so amazing?
Tonight as I head to bed, I am so very grateful for all the people who have shaped my faith journey, including Archbishop Romero, even though I have never met him. We are the body of Christ and we do not walk alone. Praise be God!