Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Saint Oscar Romero: Transfigured in Eternity

On this evening forty years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred at the altar while celebrating Mass in San Salvador. His heroism in life and in death is now universally acknowledged by the Catholic Church that canonized him in 2018. Romero's prophetic legacy has proven both perceptive of his own time (with his integrally Christian and human vision of "liberation" as transformation in Christ) and rich with meaning for today's very different circumstances.

The Cold War that seemed to define so many Third World political liberation movements in Marxist-Leninist terms has long ended. The ideology of dialectical materialism with its utopian collectivist dream has been jettisoned by power seekers. In its place we have a broad spectrum of secularist political tribes and criminal organizations that occasionally try to cover themselves over with intellectual justification but are largely focused on controlling societies to serve their ambitions, greed, or other peculiar vices. Of course, there are also those who are dedicated to building a genuine political order in the service of justice and the common good.

El Salvador has endured a horrible civil war followed by a series of unstable regimes. The poor are still poor, threatened now by gangs, cartels, and all sorts of anarchic violence in a region still lacking an equitable relationship with its titanic northern neighbor.

Now the year 2020 is giving all of us a taste of the fact that our sense of control over reality is something of an illusion. Our economic and social power is not as secure as we thought. The dynamics of global interconnection has opened up new kinds of vulnerability, and the fragility of nature itself increasingly protests our presumptions of unlimited increase of material wealth.

What is the hope of society? The gospel shines its light all through history - a light that illuminates life in this world even as we journey toward the fulfillment of eternal life. As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ is the source of all our hope. Everything belongs to the Risen Christ. We are called to reflect the light of his reign in every part of this world, even in the building up of temporal societies and the identities of peoples. But we work within the world in the freedom of Christ, not with worldly violence. Our politics does not attempt to impose the gospel; rather we are stirred by the hope that the gospel awakens in us of the transcendent Kingdom of God (which encompasses the transfiguration of all the goodness and all the meaningful work of history in Jesus's glorified humanity). By the light of loving faith and hope, Christians can engage society with a politics shaped by justice, equity, compassion, and mercy.

I believe that this is what Saint Oscar Romero preached. This is the heart of his prophetic witness, from which we still have much to learn.

Excerpts from Romero's homily of Sunday, March 2, 1980:

"The plan of God has to prevail over all human plans if these plans want to be truly human plans and not anti-human plans. The Church always has before her eyes the human person. This is the star that guides the Church’s journey, a journey that is often misunderstood and at times slandered because many people want their temporal plans to prevail. 

"Yet for the Church, the human person is that which is most important: the human person, a child of God. It is for this reason that we are pained when we find dead bodies, men and women who have been tortured, men and women who suffer. For the Church the goal of all plans has to reflect the plan of God which is focused on the human person. Every man and woman is a child of God and in each person that is killed we find Christ sacrificed and for this reason we also venerate our martyrs....

"This is how God desires to find people: freed from sin and death and hell, living the gift of his eternal life, immortal, and glorious. This is our destiny and so as we talk about heaven we are not speaking of some form of alienation but talk in this way in order to motivate people to work with more energy and joy and to accept their great responsibility toward the world. 

"No one works on this earth and on behalf of the political liberation of people with more enthusiasm than those who hope that the liberating struggles of history become incorporated into the great liberation of Christ. We must come to the understanding (as the Council states) that everything that we sow in this world, for example, justice and peace, and calling people to use common sense, all of this we will be transfigured in the beauty of our eternal reward....

"Saint Paul..places in opposition the followers of Christ and the enemies of the cross of Christ who only seek worldly benefits, who only aspire to worldly things. 'Their god is in their stomach and their glory is their shame.' Saint Paul uses these harsh words in order to declassify those plans of history that only seek temporal goods and then present the great plan of God who desires to incarnate in the plans of the earth his great divine plan. 

"God is telling us that from the perspective of the resurrection Christians are inhabitants of eternity and thus they journey on this planet and work on this earth because they have to give an accounting to God, but their definitive land is where Christ lives forever, where we will be happy with him, the great liberator of freed people. The people who are freed will be those who have made their own that which Saint Paul calls the power that enables them to use the energy that they possess [in Christ] and that enables them to submit everything to God....

"My sisters and brothers, we are not weak when we speak as Christians about our faith in Christ. No one has the power of a Christian who has faith in Christ who lives and is the power of God. What leader of humanity is able to tell his followers that he lives forever? What victorious person in the world can point out to all the world the great victory of his death and resurrection? These are not false considerations but the fundamental reality of our Christian faith. Christ has risen and death no longer has dominion over him.

"The destiny of the risen Lord is to subject all of this to his kingdom so that one day he is able to hand over to God the universal kingdom, the kingdom of women and men, the kingdom of history where even his enemies appear to be chained beneath the power of Christ who has overcome death forever. Jesus has said that this is our faith that overcomes the world and for this reason the plan of God can rely on the greatest power...

"The theology of the transfiguration is telling us that the path of redemption must first pass through the cross and Calvary but beyond history lies the goal of Christians. This does not mean that we become alienated from history but rather that we give a more profound meaning, a definitive meaning to history. From the time that Christ rose from the dead the torch of eternity remained hidden in the history of time. From the time that Christ rose in history people have retold this story to encourage people and make people aware of the fact that Christ lives and those who work with him will live forever. From the time that Christ rose and was transfigured for all people in history, Christ is saying to all his followers: 'whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live.' This same Christ had encouraged Saint Paul when he..told the Christians community: 'Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all thing into subjection to himself'....

"My sisters and brothers, let us not lose sight of the transcendence of the Christian message no matter how great our concerns or our responsibilities in the struggles of people. Let us not be content with immanent energy but let us also realize the need for transcendence. I would like to see many politicians and young people and women and men organizing themselves but I would like to see this being done with a profound Christian meaning. May these same people bring this witness of transcendence to the process of our people because more than ever before our people need this Christian witness.

"For this reason those involved in the liberating process of our Salvadoran nation can be assured that the Church will not abandon them but will continue to accompany people in this process. The Church will do this with the authentic voice of the gospel, the voice of transcendence and the voice of Jesus. The Church will continue to demand of all liberators that if they want to be strong and effective then they must place their trust in the great liberator Jesus Christ, and must not separate themselves from him for any reason."