As a child I grew up in a house without air-conditioning, a small, three-bedroom ranch with few windows. Air-conditioning made my mom sick, so there was no chance we would have one in the house. One year my dad finally convinced her to let him put a window unit in the garage, which, in the warm weather, became our summer room. When my mom said, “Yes,” my dad and I could barely contain our excitement.
The comfortable, cool times lasted about a month before my mom came down with bronchitis. So, we went back to wet towels around our necks and cold drinks on the shaded patio, aware that comfort is relative, and many times our feelings of being physically uncomfortable are more minor inconveniences than serious problems.
I forgot that lesson when the air-conditioner in my car stopped working last fall. Navigating the cooler weather was fine, but with summer upon us, I found myself whining every day: “I am so uncomfortable!” bemoaning the fact that I could not afford to fix the problem or buy another car.
In those times of feeling sorry for myself, I felt my conscience being challenged by the reality of so many people who live every day with a level of discomfort that I will likely never experience, those whom Pope Francis has described as “faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration” (Message for the First World Day of the Poor, 2017).
For the rest of us, if we are lucky, our occasional discomforts lead us to a state of spiritual discomfort necessary for our growth in faith. Scripture was clear that Jesus was a master at making people feel uncomfortable, especially those who needed a radical change of heart and mind.
Years ago, one of my adult students reminded me that in life, as in faith, there is nothing more dangerous to our development than being comfortable.
A small group of my students had gathered to discuss conversion and view the movie, “Romero,” the powerful story of El Salvadoran bishop St. Oscar Arnulfo Romero and his commitment to social justice and the poor. It is a disturbing movie, not only because of the violence, which was an historical reality, but because it challenges us as Christians to a moral vision that moves us from complacency and calls us, as Church, to live what Jesus lived and preached through a preferential option for the poor.
A timid, orthodox, predictable bookworm, Bishop Romero was elected as archbishop by conservative bishops who believed he would not make waves in a land ravished by conflict in the struggle for land reform. Just one month later, following the brutal death of his friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, along with two parishioners, Archbishop Romero experienced a turning point that would stir up its own storm leading to his assassination on the altar three years later as he raised the consecrated host and prayed.
Soon after Fr. Grande’s death, the archbishop would say, prophetically, “We must learn this invitation of Christ: ‘Those who wish to come after me must renounce themselves.’ Let them renounce themselves, renounce their comforts, renounce their personal opinions and follow only the mind of Christ, which can lead us to death but will surely also lead us to resurrection.”
When the movie was over, I found one of my students sitting in silence, tears streaming down her face. I sat down next to her and asked if she was OK. She took my hand and said, “I hate when you do that. I was comfortable with the way I lived my faith. Now I’m not.”
The cost of discipleship.
Mary Morrell is the author of “Let Go and Live,” and “Things My Father Taught Me About Love,” both available as ebooks on Amazon.