Saturday, May 23, 2015

Blessed Romero of the Americas

The image above depicts in iconic form the martyrdom of Blessed Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, shot and killed while saying Mass on March 24, 1980. Here I have placed this Salvadorian artwork in a setting with a red background and an olive cross.

Today, May 23, 2015, Archbishop Romero was raised to the honors of the altar. It has been a day of great joy for the people of El Salvador and countless others all over the world.

It has fulfilled a longstanding hope of my own, and I hope it will lead to a greater appreciation and a deeper study of this exemplary and heroic Catholic bishop.

Blessed Oscar Romero's legacy is only beginning to be understood. The image that expresses the culmination of that legacy, of course, is the devastating, bloody photograph taken moments after Romero fell at the altar during the offertory, pierced by an assassin's bullet. It is raw and inescapably jarring:

Martyrdom is a great grace in the mystery of God's plan, but attempts to comprehend it in the categories of this present age inevitably break down. It is not surprising that Romero is held in great esteem by the world in general. He is regarded as a heroic defender of human rights, and this is certainly true. But in order to really understand the significance of his witness, it is necessary to appreciate the profound grace that shaped his way of looking at human persons and the world.

Blessed Romero died for his faith. It was his conviction that in Jesus Christ eternity intersects with the present moment. The glory of Christ transfigures all of the labor of daily life in this world. Christ "raises up" in eternity all the efforts for God's goodness, justice, truth, mercy, and wisdom that we make each day, in union with Christ's offering of Himself.

It was the glory of Christ the Redeemer that motivated all of Archbishop Romero's courage and love, and that convinced him that he needed to risk everything on behalf of the people entrusted to his care. Blessed Romero didn't die for some abstract ideal of justice, nor to advance any political ideology. He died because he allowed his faith to shed light on the circumstances he faced, moving him to recognize and to insist that his people deserved real, concrete justice and that the Gospel required their cries to be heard.

Romero judged that it was his duty as bishop to denounce the oppression of the poor. He understood himself as a shepherd who was responsible before God for all his people, especially those who had no voice of their own. And he insisted that it was his duty, and therefore his right, as a bishop to denounce in the name of Christ the evil perpetrated by those who held worldly power.

He was always ready to promote peaceful and constructive protest, dialogue and reconciliation, and to mediate for solutions in his troubled country that were both realistic and uncompromising on human dignity.

The world has changed in many ways since 1980. The Americas have changed in many particular circumstances and in the challenges they face (though the poor still cry out to heaven for the bread that is theirs by right).

What remains is the need for Catholic bishops with evangelical courage and love, who cannot be bought for money or prestige, who care not whether they are applauded or condemned or ignored by the image makers of society, but only that the mercy of Jesus might be communicated to the poor and suffering, to human hearts made for God.

The world needs Catholic bishops who will speak Gospel truth to worldly power, in season and out of season, ready to witness with their blood. Blessed Oscar Romero has shown them the way. He has shown all of us that the hope of Christ is the enduring and fruitful way to perceive and engage the needs of our society.

Blessed Romero of the Americas, Pray for us!

"As a Pastor, I am concerned about being present with those who suffer."