Agape talk: 24th of March 2015 “Doing God’s will-Saying ‘YES’”

The following talk was given to the Charismatic Prayer Group Agape, Divine Master Chapel, 24th of March 2015
With the celebration of Vespers this evening, the Church begins the celebration of the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Indeed it is a celebration! The first word of Archangel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary was Rejoice. And the feast of Annunciation is, first of all, a feast of quiet heavenly joy—joy over reconciliation with God, joy over the return of grace to earth. Annunciation is also a feast of triumph of humility, purity and chastity, a feast of unshakable faith in the power of God and in His unlimited love toward us his children.

We see this unlimited love every day as we look at the Cross, at the outpouring of Jesus for us.
The Gospel which was given to us for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, was that of the Gospel of John, Chapter 12 which had the image of the grain of wheat. We read: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains but a single grain.” The image of the grain of wheat dying in the earth in order to grow and bear a harvest can be seen as a metaphor of Jesus' own death and burial in the tomb and his resurrection. In Jesus’ day, farmers would drop one grain of wheat at a time. It was quite a laborious task but just like back then, so now, sacrifice is part of life. To get bread, you have to thresh some kernels. To get wine, you have to crush grapes. To obtain new life in union with Jesus Christ, the old life has to be threshed and buried. Jesus knew that the only way to victory over the power of sin and death was through the cross. There is a great paradox here. Death leads to life. When we “die” to ourselves, we “rise” to new life in Jesus Christ. What does it mean to “die” to oneself? It certainly means that what is contrary to God's will must be “purified” or “put to death”. God gives us grace to say “yes” to his will and to reject whatever is contrary to his loving plan for our lives. Jesus also promises that we will bear much “fruit” for him, if we choose to deny ourselves for his sake. Throughout the history of our Church and in more recent times, there have been Christians who have become the grain of wheat who die so that others would have life and that the Church may continue to flourish and bear fruit. We continue to hear the stories of our brother and sisters in Christ who are killed for their faith, for the name of Jesus.
Throughout history, the voice of the prophet is one of the vehicles through which God speaks to the community and to the world. Today, we commemorate one of these prophets. On this day, 35 years ago, evil men in El Salvador tried to silence the voice of a prophet. Today is the 35th anniversary of the death, the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Archbishop Romero gave his life, in the words of Pope John Paul II, “for the church and the people of his beloved country” of El Salvador. His death from an assassin’s bullet on March 24, 1980, crowned a life of service as priest and bishop. I claim this date as being special to my life story because it was the month and the year that I was to grace the world. However God had another plan and myself being a little precocious, I arrived a little earlier on January 24th. It continues to be a day where I remember Archbishop Romero. His great motto was ‘Love must win out’. Less than 6 weeks ago, Pope Francis declared Oscar Romero a martyr, killed in hatred for the faith and the ceremony of beatification will take place on the 23rd of May 2015 in San Salvador.

During his three years as Archbishop of San Salvador, he became known across the world as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering. Oscar Romero’s humility is the fruitful ground of his confidence. He was a man with trust, an unlimited trust in Jesus Christ. We see in him a man who had fixed his eyes on Jesus and thus can walk safely amidst the pain and suffering of his people. This was the life of Oscar Romero. My personal admiration for Romero goes back to a discernment weekend which was held in this community back in 1997. I remember it vividly because that weekend we watched the movie entitled simply ‘Romero’. The story of this heroic pastor was life changing for me. At a certain point of his journey, Romero is shown literally at a crossroads. We see him fall to his knees and he utters a simple prayer: “I can’t, You must, I’m Yours, lead me!” It was the prayer from a heart that didn’t know what to do in the face of such injustice, death and despair. He was the pastor and his sheep, his brothers and sisters, continued to be slaughtered and torn from his grasp. In the face of these words, I found myself in tears because I realised that that simple prayer echoed the sentiments of my own heart. I had been rebelling against the Lord for a long time in responding to the call to religious life and I was tired. Romero’s prayer had become my prayer. “Lord, I can’t, You must, I’m Yours, lead me”. If I was to embark upon the journey of trying consecrated life, it had to be upon fully surrendering to the guidance of the Shepherd. This simple prayer has been my lifeline on many occasions, a call back to reality and to see that I need to be guided and that I can’t do this on my own. We can’t live life on our own. It is a prayer which I whisper often each day when words fail me in prayer or don’t seem to carry me as they usually do.
In one of his homilies Romero wrote: Faith consists in accepting God without asking him to account for things according to our standard. Faith consists in reacting before God as Mary did: I don’t understand it, Lord , but let it be done in me according to your word. These are the words of our Mother Mary: let it be done in me according to your word. It is one word: Yes! A life programme! Surrender all! Fiat! Amen! Let it be done.  Believe it or not, the word YES is the most powerful prayer you can make. It is our ‘Amen’. How many times a day do we say ‘Amen’? This is saying that, “I believe God that you probably know what’s best for my life . . . for my life more than I do, and I’m willing to trust you with my life. And I’m willing to go along with what I understand to be your plans for my life.” But why is it so hard to say ‘YES’ to God’s will? It seems engrained in us to say ‘NO’. Many of you who have had children know the defiance of a small child when they learn the word “NO”. It becomes the default response to everything.

 The Pope also underlined the importance of not taking things for granted and asked people to remember, three key words, sorry, excuse me and thank you.”
Often I wish I could always muster a classy ‘yes’ like Mary’s. “Let it be done with me according to your word” is a far cry from my usual “OK Lord, if you say so.” More than often, that is our response. The Lord knows we try to do the best we can but He has made us for so much more, we are made for the fullness of life. Pope Francis once summed up the Annunciation like this: “God surprises us, God asks us to be faithful and God is our strength.” Yes, God surprised Mary, but despite this she was able to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, be it done onto me according to your word”. God does surprise us, He wreaks havoc with our plans, but He also says “trust me, do not be afraid. God is loving, but he also demands that we be faithful in following him. Mary was that faithful follower. She said her “yes” to God both in moments of joy and sorrow.” It is our duty is to walk with God always, even in moments of weakness, even in our sins. That is what it means to be “a full-time Christian.” Pope Francis said that Mary gave praise and thanks to God because she knew deep in her heart that God was her strength. Everything is his gift. He is our strength!

Mary said ‘YES’! Ordinary people say yes to God and do both ordinary and extraordinary things as a result. By saying “yes” to God, we are essentially saying that He is the most important thing in our lives, and that all good things spring from that wonderful fact. Mary is the ultimate model of this. As religious sisters, we often reflect on the life of Mary so as to imitate her. In our Congregation, all of us in religious profession receive the name ‘Mary’ so that we are constantly reminded that we have Mary as our model in all things. At the time of Profession we take a leap in faith, just as Mary did! Mary had to let go of her plans and say “Yes” to a life of faith. In spite of her awareness of her own unworthiness and littleness, she had to say “Yes” to become the mother of God and also all that it would entail.  She was asked to let go of her plans and let God take over her life.  Mary’s “Yes” was to culminate at the foot of the cross. Mary understood well that she would never completely understand! Even in her limited understanding, she trusted in God and said “Yes” to God's plan.

More than often, we are afraid to say 'yes' because we are afraid of failing. What could you do if you stopped telling yourself “no” and simply tapped into the power of yes, which is ultimately handing over oneself to God. Yes, this means not being in control, which many of us are not used to. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Then ask yourself, “What is the best thing that could happen?” We have to believe that God only wants the best for us. Yes, three letters, a tiny word but huge potential! Potential enough to be the bridge between Heaven and Earth, the birth of a Saviour King! God is waiting for your 'Yes' in the little things and the big things of life! To say ‘Yes’, we must have a humble heart.
Jesus teaches us that humility is not condescension, reaching down to serve someone inferior to me. Humility is a choice that lets us give others the gift of love. Therefore, serving one another isn't just a duty or an obligation. It's a great privilege. It's a privilege to serve God's people with the resources and abilities He gave us according to their needs, not ours.
Mary’s fiat, as it is called was a yes to the Unknown. These are the only yeses that really count. A yes to the Unknown—this was the fiat of Mary as she accepted the impossible message of the angel. This was the ‘yes’ of those Wise Men following the star to only God knows where. This was the ‘yes’ of Jesus as he accepted baptism by his cousin John. This is my yes to the Lord as He continues to lead me to different places, to different communities and to meet different people along the pilgrimage of life.

We can say that there are three elements of Mary's 'yes':
1) One 'yes' does not last a lifetime: the ‘yes’ she pronounces at the Annunciation is renewed at the birth of Jesus, at the Presentation, in the daily ups and downs of life, it is purified during the Passion and death of her Son, it is rewarded on that Easter Sunday when He rose from the dead. I often joke and say that my daily 'yes' is when the alarm clock goes off in the morning. It costs me a lot to get up at 5.30 am and make my way to the chapel but I know I need to begin the day with a sure foundation and in the presence of the One who loves me so as to face whatever might spring up thoughout the course of the day.

2) Our 'yes' is more than often given in the ordinary things in life, amidst the pots and pans than in the extraordinary. It is saying 'yes' to go a different way which is not necessarily my way but to trust that it is the best way. This takes guts but more so it takes complete abandonment to the One who leads the way. To go a different way to often tread a new path and prepare the way for others.

3) Our 'yes' is a free and freeing 'yes': it frees us and it frees others. A response that is given out of coercion or fear or holds back is not free. But the Lord can work with us, if we are willing to let Him mould our lives. Nothing is impossible for God.

Going back to Archbishop Romero, he was very conscious that Resurrection does not come without the Cross: He wrote: “We should not wonder that a church has a lot of cross to bear. Otherwise, it will not have a lot of Resurrection. An accommodating church, a church that seeks prestige without the pain of the cross, is not the authentic church of Jesus Christ.”
This final passage that I am about to read was spoken only minutes before Romero’s sudden death; as he concluded a homily during a service in a San Salvador hospital, he was killed by an assassin who entered the chapel from the back door and shot him. His last homily was a Lenten programme. May it become our Lenten programme in these last days of our Lenten journey as we enter into the Week of Passion.
He wrote:
“No one can quench the life that Christ has resurrected.
Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred
raised against him and against his church can prevail.
He is the victorious one!
Just as he will thrive in an unending Easter,
so we must accompany him in a Lent and a Holy Week
of cross, sacrifice, and martyrdom.
As he said, blessed are they who are not scandalized
by his cross.
Lent, thus, is a call to celebrate our redemption
in that difficult combination of cross and victory.
Our people are well prepared to do so these days:
all that surrounds us proclaims the cross.
But those who have Christian faith and hope
know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador
lies our Easter,
our resurrection.
That is the Christian people’s hope."  (Oscar Romero- MARCH 24, 1980)