You may recall the name Oscar Romero. He was the Catholic archbishop of San Salvador during the terrible days of bloodshed, violence and oppression in the nation of El Salvador. Thousands of people went missing, presumed murdered, and Oscar Romero was horrified to find that Children were dying because their parents couldn’t pay for simple medicines. And he used the resources of the diocese to help and his own personal resources.
People were living in poverty. Those who demanded justice were killed, including religious leaders. And in 1979 the number of people being killed rose to more than 3000 per month. The corrupt government did nothing to stop the violence. And Oscar Romero had nothing left to offer his people accept faith and hope. He continued to use the radio broadcast of his Sunday sermons to tell people what was happening throughout the country, to talk about the role of the church, to offer his listeners hope that they would not suffer or die in vain.
And then, as he was saying Mass on the 24th of March 1980 a paid gunman entered the church and shot him in cold blood. Amazingly, minutes before his death, he’d said to the congregation, Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like a grain of wheat that dies. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies. A remarkable hero.
Archbishop Oscar Romero and his death proved one thing very clearly, that loving others can be costly. He gave voice to those without a voice and stood up and encouraged those who lost all hope, a truly wonderful story of inspiration.
The Reality Behind Love
And for me, this is where the rubber hits the road. If you say you love someone, how do you prove it? Loving others is not about liking everyone we meet. It’s about putting the needs of others before our own or valuing their inherent worth and acting for their benefits – not something that comes naturally to us.
Love is not merely an emotional response, and it’s not something we can generate on our own. God calls us to demonstrate what’s called ‘agape love‘. This type of love is one that takes action, that’s willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Are you prepared to live like that. I don’t think many of us are quite that willing. If we’re totally honest, we are self-centered, concentrating on our own needs and issues, let alone anybody else.
It can be difficult for us to love others. Sometimes we misunderstand what true love is. It’s difficult because they’re human, we’re human and we tend to think of love as primarily an emotional response. Problem with that is, we cannot always control our emotions, but we certainly can control what we do. But the emotions themselves, they just happen and loving others can be very difficult. A common phrase to refer to those people that we find ourselves challenging to love is ‘extra grace is required‘. But even people we generally like, they can sometimes be difficult to love.
God’s love for us is a sacrificial love, the kind that sent him to the cross to die for our sins. He didn’t save us because we were special or lovable. He saved us because his love caused him to sacrifice himself for us. The Bible in 1 John 3 (18-20) says,
“let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth, this then, is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence. Whenever our hearts condemn us, for God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.”
Yeah, it’s easy to love ourselves. It’s hard to love others, but loving others as we love ourselves doesn’t teach self love. It teaches us to extend to others the same kind of personal consideration that we already are naturally inclined to give to ourselves.
Now, the next time you find it difficult to care for the unlovely remember God’s actions. We must love our neighbour in the same way that we love and care for ourselves, putting the needs of others above our own needs, never simple or easy. But with the Holy Spirit’s presence, it can be done. And then we will be fulfilling God’s command for our life.
Dear God, I need the reminder every day. The loving others can be costly, uncomfortable, unpleasant. But dear Lord, that’s the way you want me to live. Give me courage and grace. I pray in Jesus’ name.