Monday, March 25, 2013

Oscar Romero: Stop the Repression...of Any Human Life!

The Servant of God Oscar Romero
On the evening of March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot and killed as he began the offertory of the Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence hospital in San Salvador. For three years he had preached fearlessly against the growing violence in his archdiocese and in his homeland of El Salvador.

There is a bravery about the basic story line of Romero that is deeply inspiring, that resonates powerfully in the human soul. In the years after his death his heroic image has been used to promote all sorts of political agendas. He is widely admired in the affluent secularized Western culture, which nevertheless keeps his true figure at a safe distance. But the poor still love him, and have an instinctive sense of the real value of his life.

Oscar Romero always said that his desire was to do God's will in the particular circumstances that had been entrusted to him. He wanted to follow Christ. He was a Catholic bishop immersed in what was the beginning of a long and horrible civil war. He was a Latin American bishop. His lifelong commitment was to be faithful to Christ and to the Church. He defended the dignity of every human person, not simply for the sake of "civil rights" or as the leader of an NGO, but because he loved Jesus Christ.

He served the poor and the defenseless, recognizing that Jesus gives transcendent value to every effort to relieve suffering and render the conditions of life more human, even as He transforms from within the inescapable suffering that must be borne. In loving the poor Romero loved Jesus, incarnate, God made man at the center of history, Jesus living, transfigured, crucified and risen forever.

He truly loved human dignity and fought for real justice against real forces of evil, and it was precisely his recognition of Christ's humanity that empowered him to do so. It was not his own courage, or his sentiments, or his ideology. It was Christ. This is why he could hear the voice of Christ in the cries of his people and in the teaching authority of the Church to which he adhered with unwavering fidelity.

It is also what made him prophetic. For those who want to listen, his voice speaks with consistency about all kinds of human repression. Romero had a clear and simple vision, because it was the Church's vision, which sees that the commitment to real social justice and the defense of the preciousness of human life cannot be separated.

He remains relevant for post-modern Latin America, where the dictators of old are gone but the dictatorship of relativism is growing stronger. He remains relevant for bishops in Latin America and throughout the world, who are still called to defend with their very lives the dignity of every human person, created by God, redeemed by Christ, and destined to be transfigured by His glory.

In this 33rd anniversary of his heroic death, I want to present a few texts of Archbishop Romero. The final text is familiar (along with so much of his great testimony), but the others are not so well known. But they too are the words of a courageous man of faith, a man of the Church, and a man who really loved his people.

I. Notes from the day of his priestly ordination, April 4, 1942:

Yes, Christ!
By your Sacred Heart
I promise to give myself entirely for your glory ...
I want to die this way:
in the middle of work,
fatigued by the journey
 tired and weary ...
I will recall your toils
and they will be the price of redemption.

II. Life, Marriage, and Family:

One of evils of public life in El Salvador was the "discreditable propaganda for, and imposition of, anti-birth policies that are practically castrating our people and are undermining their reserves of morality" (Fourth Pastoral Letter, 1979 #19).
From a sermon: "As one medical student said and, forgive me for saying this: they are castrating our people. There is massive sterilization of women and men. Contraception materials are freely and shamelessly distributed with no fear of punishment. I implore you to reflect seriously on this matter because the source of life is as sacred as life itself and the relationship between woman and man, sanctified in matrimony, has a dual objective: to love one another and to enter into full and complete intimacy with one another not only for pleasure but also for procreation. Therefore the principle of the Church states that every conjugal act has to remain open to life and anything that disrupts life at its very source is a sin against nature" (Sermon, June 17, 1979).
Regarding abortion: "My sisters and brothers, this is a crime. If we experience repression when young women and men as well as adults are killed, then the same must also occur when life is removed from the womb of a woman. The life that is destroyed in a woman’s womb is the same that occurs when a person is assassinated or when the Minister of Education is assassinated. When the child is aborted from the mother’s womb, that child is also assassinated [emphasis mine]. If life is deprived of coming into existence because one is simply seeking pleasure, then this is also an assault on nature" (Sermon, June 17, 1979).

III. Stop the Repression:

A direct appeal to the military and the police: "No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The Church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression" (Homily, March 23, 1980).

The following evening, on the Vigil of the Feast of the Annunciation, a single bullet pierced his heart as he began the offertory prayer of the Mass. His journals and other evidence show clearly that he had offered his life to Christ, although he considered himself unworthy of it. But he died as he had prayed from the beginning, as a priest:

I want to die this way:
in the middle of work....