Blessed Oscar Romero

Today is a day many people have been waiting for a very long time: the beatification of Oscar Romero, one of my great heroes.

Romero’s path to sainthood, however, has not been without controversy.  There are some who during his life viewed him (and some who continue to view him) as a Marxist or, in one commentator’s words “a poster boy for the left-wing cause.”

I think there is no better answer to the charge of Marxism than the words Romero spoke during his homily on the feast of the Ascension in 1977, three years before his assassination.  The message of the bishops in the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, he preached

condemns this false understanding of tradition that wants to present the Church as simply spiritual – a Church of sacraments and prayers but with no social commitment or commitment to history.  We would betray our mission as pastors, if we were to reduce evangelization to mere practices of individual piety and the participation in non-incarnated sacraments.  The Pope says: Evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 29).  My bothers and sisters, let us not place our faith in some corner and reduce it to some private place and then live in public as though we had no faith.  The Council said that this divorce between faith and our private life is one of the great errors of our time (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 43).  So great is this error that in the name of this error, the Church is called subversive because she wants to lead Christians to a faith commitment in their concrete life.  My dear Catholics, let us study this right doctrine and wisdom of the Church.  Then we will understand that priests and Christians who live their Christian commitment in the world are far from being communists or Marxists or subversives.

Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us!




Being Prophets in Today’s World

This past Wednesday I had the reflection spot at our Weekly Manna gathering and I spoke on a topic I’ve written on and spoken about before: our call to be prophets and to (in John Neafsey’s words) cultivate our capacity for prophetic imagination.

I used one of my great heroes, Oscar Romero, as my starting point and ending point. Romero was someone who possessed a deep understanding that prophets are not special people who are different from the rest of us, but rather that the people of God “are a prophetic people” by virtue of the presence of God’s spirit within us.

Romero also illustrates the painful reality that there is a cost to living a prophetic life. Shane Claiborne (another of my heroes) observes wryly that “prophets usually get killed,” and Romero was assassinated for speaking the truth to power.

In my talk I spoke about what it means to be a prophet and to possess a prophetic imagination…and about what that means in our world today.

You can access a recording of my Weekly Manna talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 13:30.)

Oscar Romero: Martyr, Friend to the Poor, Prophet of Justice

In 1977, Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of El Salvador an appointment that pleased the government of that country, but disappointed many priests in El Salvador, especially those openly aligned with Marxism. Romero was somewhat conservative and generally was not a rock the boat kind of guy.

But something happened to change Romero. Only a few months after he became Archbishop, a progressive Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, who was a personal friend of Romero and who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor, was assassinated. His death had a profound impact on Romero, who later stated, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.'” Romero asked the government to investigate the death of his friend, but they ignored his request.

From that point on, Romero was a changed man. Rutilio’s death helped Romero grow into his role as a voice for the voiceless. He became a strong voice against the violence and injustice that was being perpetrated on the people of El Salvador.

In one of his sermons, Romero warned, “If you live out a Christianity that is good but that is not sufficient for our times, that doesn’t denounce injustice, that doesn’t proclaim the kingdom of God courageously, that doesn’t reject the sins humankind commits, that consents to the sins of certain classes so as to be accepted by those classes, then you are not doing your duty, you are sinning, you are betraying your mission. The church was put here to convert humankind, not to tell people that everything that they do is all right; and, because of that, naturally, it irritates people. Everything that corrects us irritates us.”

As Romero recognized, “it is easier to preach lies, to conform to the situation so as not to lost your advantages, so that you always have friends that flatter you, so that you have power.” Nonetheless we are called to speak the truth, even when doing so means personal loss. That takes enormous courage and enormous faith, of which Romero is a powerful model.

That kind of courage has consequences. On March 24, 1980, Romeo presided at a special evening mass. That evening he proclaimed from the Gospel of John, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” As he concluded his sermon, which preached the need to give one’s life for others as Christ did, he was shot in the heart and died almost immediately.

Romero was tireless in his call for solidarity with the poor and oppressed, a voice for those who had no voice. He was strident in his denunciation of violence and called for a culture of peace and an end to the killings that were destroying his country.

On this anniversary of his assassination, we remember Oscar Romero, martyr, friend to the poor and prophet of justice.

Elevating Smallness to Greatness

I recently read a beautiful sermon given by Oscar Romaro on Pentecost Sunday in 1977. In it, he suggested that the “most beautiful dimension” of the human vocation is the ability to speak with God. Without prayer, he suggested, Christians cannot understand the depth of the meaning of the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” and, correspondingly, the true meaning of being a human person. He explained

To pray is to understand the mystery that I am, man/woman, and I have limitations. These limitations being forth the divine essence with whom I am able to dialogue. If I had in my power the ability to make a friend to my liking – a friend to whom I could transmit all my thoughts, my freedom, all that I am in order to be able to establish a dialogue with this friend, then from my hands would spring forth a creature who at the same time I would make my partner in conversation. But this is impossible; among human persons this is simply impossible. But God, who created heaven and earth, has the ability to create a partner in conversation, to create a being whom he has constituted the ruler of creation, one who interprets the beauty of the sun and the stars, who interprets the joy of life, who feels the anxiety of his/her smallness and speaks with the One who is able to give comfort, with the Author of all things. This is prayer. This is the ability of the human person to understand that he/she has been made by someone powerful, but he/she has been elevated to be this One’s partner in conversation, elevated to speak with him.

In prayer we recognize something very important about ourselves and about God. We are not God; we exist in dependence on God. But, God gives us a dignity, giving worth and meaning to our humanness, inviting us to enter into dialogue with Him – in our prayer and in our work in the world. We are small, but in Romero’s words, “our smallness will become great and powerful if we are humble, loving and trusting in the name of the Lord.”

A Model of Forgiveness

Do you have someone you have trouble forgiving? Is there some slight or injury done to you by another that you nurture some resentment about? If the answer to those is yes, you are not alone.

Forgiveness (a subject about which I’ve written before) is something that is often difficult for us. Yet is is something that is asked of us as Christians. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When Jesus gives instruction for forgiveness, Peter asks how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus’ response is seventy times seven.

I just read a homily by Oscar Romero that offers a useful lesson on this subject. Romero was preaching at the funeral celebration of Father Alfonso Navarro Oviedo, who was assassinated in the church where he was pastor. It was no isolated occurrence for Romero to be preaching at the mass of someone assassinated in El Salvador; just the previous day he presided over another one.

He began his homily with a story that he called a legend that became reality in their midst.

There is a story about a caravan that was traveling through the desert and being guided by a Bedouin. They had become desperate and thirsty and were searching for water in the mirages of the desert. Their guide said: Not there, over there. He had spoken these words so many times that the members of the caravan became frustrated, took out a gun and shot the guide. As the guide was dying, he extended his hand one last time: Not there, over there. He died pointing the way.

Even after they took an act that would mean his death, the Bedouin was still able to care about the wellbeing of his charges. Likewise the priest at whose funeral Romero was preaching, Father Navarro “died forgiving those who shot him.” Sharing the testimony of the woman who cared for the priest as he lay dying, Romero said

She asked him what hurt, and Father responded: I have no pain except the forgiveness that I want to give my assassins and to those who shot me and the only sorrow I have is sorrow for my sins. May the Lord forgive me! Then he began to pray.

Could I die with forgiveness on my lips if someone brought about my death? I want to say yes, but the more honest answer is probably, I hope so. But if Father Navarro was able to forgive those who killed him, is it really asking too much for us to forgive those who have done far less to us?

Remembering Romero

Today is the 30th anniversary of the murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. On March 24, 1980, Romeo presided at a special evening mass. That evening he proclaimed from the Gospel of John that “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” As he concluded his sermon, which preached the need to give one’s life for others as Christ did, he was shot in the heart and died almost immediately.

Romero was tireless in his call for solidarity with the poor and oppressed, a voice for those who had no voice. He was strident in his denunciation of violence and called for a culture of peace and an end to the killings that were destroying his country.

He was criticized by many for being too political in his sermons. But that was a criticism he would not hear, believing that it was the mission of the Church to “save the world in its totality and to save it in history, here and now.” He exhorted that “We cannot segregate God’s word from the historical reality in which it is proclaimed. That would not be God’s word… It is God’s word because it enlightens, contrasts with, repudiates, or praises what is going on today in this society.” His duty, he believed, was to help people to apply the Gospel to their own lives and to the reality of the world in which he lived. “We turn the gospel’s light onto the political scene, but the main thing for us is to light the lamp of the gospel in our communities.”

Today we remember Oscar Romero, martyr, friend to the poor and prophet of justice. May we remember him by heeding his call.

Workers, Not Master Builders

One of my birthday gifts from my husband was a new book by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Become the Answer to our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals. One of the first things I came across as I flipped through the book is a prayer of Oscar Romero’s that I have read in the past, but am glad for the reminder of. It is a wonderful prayer for those of us who are so often impatient with slow progress, who want to bring the world to Kingdom today (if not yesterday), and who sometimes think we have to do it all on our own. Romero reminds us in this beautiful prayer of our need to remember that we are workers, not master builders and that we may not always get to see the fruits of our work. In his words, today I pray

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

As I contemplate these words, I’m reminded of a line in Pope John Paul II’s homily during World Youth Day in 2002: “Even a tiny flame lifts the heavy lid of night.”