Romero and Paul VI: Anyone Can Build Up the Kingdom!
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
October 15, 2018

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on October 14, 2018, at St. Austin Catholic Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30.

Today is an exciting day in the Catholic Church! Earlier today, in Rome, Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero were canonized! And a few days ago, my dear brother Fr. Tom Gibbons, as vice president of Paulist Productions, got to present Pope Francis with a newly digitized copy of our 1989 movie, Romero. We’ll talk more about them – Paul VI and Oscar Romero, not Tom and Francis – in the homily.

In our gospel, a man who has been faithful to the commandments asks Jesus what more he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus tells him that he needs to sell his possessions, he is crestfallen. When Jesus says this, perhaps we are crestfallen, too. But all is not lost. I’d like to think that Jesus knew what was holding this particular man back in his ongoing quest for holiness, and that is why Jesus suggested that this man sell all his possessions. 

Clearly, many of you have obligations to other people that cannot be fulfilled if you became missionaries like us Paulist Fathers. I think the more important question for us to ask ourselves today is: what is holding me back in my journey of discipleship? Is there an obvious “next step” that I’ve been afraid to take?

When Pope John XXIII was growing up, he despaired that he was not as holy as St. Aloysius. But eventually, he had a revelation: it wasn’t that he wasn’t as holy as Aloysius; he was different from Aloysius. As the good pope later explained:

I am not St. Aloysius, nor must I seek holiness in his particular way, but according to the requirements of my own nature, my own character and the different conditions of my life. I must not be the dry, bloodless reproduction of a model, however perfect…. If St. Aloysius had been as I am, he would have become holy in a different way.

Now, you’ve heard probably heard plenty of homilies on our gospel passage today extolling the virtues of religious life, the life of nuns, brothers, and priests like me who give up their possessions and their homes to travel wherever Christ calls us. It’s a wonderful life, and I am convinced that several people in this parish are called to it. However, I think that such a homily focuses too narrowly. At the time of Jesus, people mistakenly thought that wealthy people were holy: their wealth was a sign of God’s favor. So, it was a big shock for the disciples to hear Jesus declare that wealth was an obstacle to entering the kingdom of God. 

Each of us is called to a life of holiness. God has given each of us different gifts. I’m not called to be Aloysius or John XXIII. God has given me different capacities and placed me in different circumstances than either of them. And for each of us, different challenges and temptations hold us back on the path to holiness. If you ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and asked him what more you needed to do to inherit eternal life, what would he say to you? 

No, really. Take some time and think about it. If you had a good one-on-one conversation with Jesus about your life of holiness and you asked him what one thing you should change, what would it be? 

And if you haven’t had a one-on-one conversation with Jesus in a while, why haven’t you? We have another term we use for “one-on-one conversation with Jesus.” It’s called prayer.

We need to continue to have these conversations with Jesus throughout our lives. And we need not be scared to have them. Mark notes that Jesus looks on the rich man with love. The author of our first reading says that once he received God’s wisdom, all good things came to him. 

Today, the Church canonized two people who were long destined for Church leadership. However, almost immediately after being placed in positions of leadership, God called them to give up their preconceptions of how they were called to lead. These men clearly prayed for God’s wisdom and acted upon it. Frankly, it is only today, roughly 40 years after their deaths, that the Church is officially endorsing the different courses they took, directed by the Holy Spirit.

Many people expected Giovanni Montini to be elected pope in 1958, but there was one problem: he hadn’t been made a cardinal yet. So instead, the conclave chose an older man to serve as a “caretaker” pope for a few years, preparing the way for Montini’s election in the next conclave. Well, that “caretaker” pope turned out to be none other than John XXIII, who convened Vatican II, perhaps the most radical event in the history of the Church in over 400 years. In 1963, less than a year after Vatican II began, Montini was elected as Paul VI, the first pope of the modern era. He led a very different church than the one that existed in 1958, being the person most responsible for determining how to carry out the reforms begun by John XXIII. Paul VI may have been criticized for some of the specific choices he made, but our understanding of the role of the pope today – both as enacted by John Paul II and Francis – was formed by Paul VI.

Oscar Romero was made archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 because he was considered the “safe” choice by the both the political and church elites of the country of El Salvador, as well as by the Carter administration. When other priests were protesting the violence and oppression against the poor in El Salvador, Romero had remained mostly silent. But when a priest friend of his was assassinated only three weeks after he was made archbishop, Romero was guided by God’s wisdom to radically change his approach. He became the greatest champion for the poor and oppressed in the nation. His radio broadcasts covered the news of killings and disappearances that the government was trying to suppress. Romero was himself assassinated less than three years after becoming archbishop, while in the middle of celebrating the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Even then, both Church and state were reluctant to proclaim him a martyr, because they worried that Romero’s canonization would anger powerful people within both institutions.

We all have different paths to holiness, and the Holy Spirit will guide us to follow our paths. Once, when John XXIII was visiting a hospital, he asked a boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy said he wanted to be either a policeman or a pope. “I would go in for the police if I were you,” John said. “Anyone can become a pope, look at me!”

Anyone can build up the kingdom of God. Look at Paul VI. Look at Oscar Romero. Look at us!