Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Courage of Saint Oscar Romero

Lately, many of the entries on my blog have focused on specific people who I think are worth noting for a variety of reasons. These people are very different—not surprisingly there are saints and popes, but there are also scientists, rock stars, politicians, baseball players, and my own dear father.

They are different in many ways, but they have in common their humanity, their courage in different circumstances and on different levels, and in most cases their afflictions and/or deaths.

I am deeply moved by people who show courage in the endurance of affliction, people who do well—sometimes even to the point of heroism—that which is so awful and overwhelming to me, which I can only manage very badly.

I admire courageous people.

I admire the courage of newly canonized Saint Oscar Romero. The Archbishop of San Salvador was martyred in 1980 because of his persistent preaching of the gospel of Christ's justice and love against oppression of the poor by the criminal oligarchy of the long suffering nation of El Salvador.

Romero, however, challenges anyone who tries merely to admire him. He insists that we too can and must be courageous, not from our own innate capabilities, but by being instruments of Jesus and letting His power work through us.

For me—a man who loves too much my own comfort (and just because sometimes I lack certain comforts doesn't mean I'm detached from them)—Romero is a provocation. The more I study him, the more provoking he is.
He did not seek political power, much less revolution. What he preached, fearlessly, was the need for real, concrete justice for people who had a right to it. He preached the love of God, but he knew that his flock could not respond to God's love and at the same time ignore (much less condone or participate in) the systematic abuse of human persons made in the image of God. 
Because Romero's episcopal ministry was animated by this prophetic realism, he defied worldly classifications. It was evangelical courage that enabled him to think and act outside of everyone's boxes. He followed Christ intensely: being entrusted with ecclesial authority in a country that was already on the threshold of a horrific civil war, Romero followed the narrow path even though it meant being misunderstood by some and hated by others.

He followed Jesus Christ and was faithful to Him. He trusted in Him. He obeyed Christ and loved Christ in the Church. And for Oscar Romero, "Christ in the Church" was found in the Eucharist and the sacraments and prayer, in unwavering fidelity to Catholic teaching and tradition, in communion with (and loving obedience to) the Bishop of Rome, and in the faces of the Salvadorian people entrusted to him, especially the poor who were denied their basic rights as human persons and subjected to all manner of injustice, humiliation, and violence.

Romero saw Christ with simplicity of heart. We are the ones who make it so complicated. Still he had much to say that is provocative, even today, to those of us with divided hearts. Christ died for all of us, even for those of us who cripple ourselves by trying to serve both God and mammon.

We especially need Christ to liberate us from this illusion, to open our eyes to see that He is the Lord of history who is present in our lives and who leads us to our destiny in the glory of God. Romero's life and his martyrdom will help us to find this freedom.

Saint Oscar Romero of the Americas, pray for us!

What I have below is a collection of some Romero quotations that I have been meditating on recently. I may continue to add to it for my own reference. These are words that give some sense of his convictions about the relationship between real faith and real life, the fulfillment of this life in eternity, and the integral reality of the Church in the world. They indicate the way he lived and the way he died. His living and dying have much to teach us, now more than ever.


Saint Oscar Romero, Quotations:

This is the meaning of Eucharist, the living presence and the life giving presence of Christ in person here in history. The primary and most important person who is present during the Mass is Christ on the altar. Therefore each time that we come to Mass it is he, Jesus Christ, whom we come to hear and follow and love.

When we leave Mass, we ought to go out the way Moses descended Mount Sinai: with his face shining, with his heart brave and strong to face the world's difficulties.

Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the Church is. There is a prophet there. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.

Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim Church, subject to misunderstanding, to persecution, but a Church that walks serene, because it bears the force of love.

The Eucharist...looks ahead to the future, to the eternal, eschatological, and definitive horizon that presents itself as a demanding ideal to all political systems, to all social struggles, to all those concerned for the earth. The Church does not ignore the earth, but in the Eucharist she says to all who work on earth: 'Look beyond!' Each time the Victim is lifted up at Mass, Christ’s call is heard: 'Until we drink it anew in my Father’s kingdom.' And the people reply: 'Come, Lord Jesus!' There is a hope. They are a people that march to encounter the Lord. Death is not the end. Death is the opening of eternity’s portal. That is why I say: all the blood, all the dead, all the mysteries of iniquity and sin, all the tortures, all those dungeons of our security forces where unfortunately many persons slowly die— all of this does not mean that they are lost forever. There is an eschatological horizon that illuminates all this darkness and that enables truth and justice and victory to sing. This eschatological horizon will be the definitive triumph of all those who struggle for justice and love.


The Eucharist nourishes all of the just claims of the earth because it provides a true horizon. When individuals or groups want to work only for the earth and have no horizon of eternity and do not care about religious horizons, they are not true liberators. You cannot trust them. Today they struggle for power, and once in power, tomorrow they will be the worst repressors if they have no horizon that goes beyond history to sanction the good and the bad that we do on earth. That way there can be no true justice or effective work on behalf of the just demands of people.

When we speak for the poor, please note that we do not take sides with one social class. What we do is invite all social classes, rich and poor, without distinction, saying to everyone let us take seriously the cause of the poor as though it were our own.

Each time we look upon the poor, on the farmworkers who harvest the coffee, the sugarcane, or the cotton... remember, there is the face of Christ.

There is no dichotomy between man and God's image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being, abuses God's image.

We suffer with those who have disappeared, those who have had to flee their homes, and those who have been tortured.


A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call.

A Church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed —  what gospel is that?

With Christ's light let us illuminate even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved, not with a revolutionary salvation, in mere human fashion, but with the holy revolution of the Son of Man, who dies on the cross to cleanse God's image, which is soiled in today's humanity, a humanity so enslaved, so selfish, so sinful.

When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.

How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt, and everyone is responsible. We are all sinners, and we have all contributed to this massive crime and violence in our country. Salvation begins with the human person, with human dignity, with saving every person from sin.

It moves one's heart to think: Nine months before I was born there was a woman who loved me deeply. She did not know what I was going to be like, but she loved me because she carried me in her womb. And when she gave me birth, she took me in her arms, because her love was not just beginning - she conceived it along with me. A mother loves - and that is why abortion is so abhorrent.

I don’t want to be an 'anti,' against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.

Authority in the Church is not command, but service...To my shame, as a pastor, I beg forgiveness from you, my community, that I have not been able to carry out, as your servant, my role as bishop. I am not a master, I am not a boss, I am not an authority that imposes itself. I want to be God’s servant, and yours.

I am bound, as a pastor, by divine command to give my life for those whom I love, and that is all Salvadoreans, even those who are going to kill me.


Let us not develop an education that creates in the mind of the student a hope of becoming rich and having the power to dominate. Let us form in the heart of a child and young person the idea of loving, of preparing oneself to serve and giving oneself to others.


We are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be.

If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities. Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ’s life, his cross and resurrection. That is a person’s measure.