Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Hope of Saint Oscar Romero

On this day we mark the 41st anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Oscar Romero, the great Archbishop in the Central American nation of El Salvador, murdered for his love for Christ in the persons of the poor and the oppressed at the beginning of his country's terrible civil war. We need his intercession more than ever in our lacerated hemisphere so full of suffering, so much overtaken by the culture of death.

We need the clarity of Romero's way of seeing reality, the courage of his witness, and the hope that constantly renewed his firm adherence to Jesus Christ and sustained his commitment to the human dignity of Jesus's brothers and sisters in their suffering.

Romero was assassinated in the late afternoon on March 24, 1980 while saying Mass for the religious sisters and patients at Divine Providence Hospital where he lived. A professional hit man of a "Death Squad" fired a single shot from the back of the church after the Archbishop had concluded his homily and as he approached the altar for the Offertory. It is fitting to mark this day with quotations from that final homily. In these few words, we learn much about how the Redemption of Christ penetrates all of life, invests everything with meaning, and grounds the action that fosters and cherishes whatever is authentically human.

They are words that help us understand why it is worth living every day, and why it is worth dying in union with Jesus who is the Life. They are the last words of an Archbishop, a martyr, and a saint, who was given to his people and to all of America - North, Central, and South - for our own time and for times to come, for who-knows-what unknown challenges we will have to face together:

"...You just heard the Gospel of Christ: we must not love our lives so much that we avoid taking the risks in life that history calls for. Those who seek to shun danger will lose their lives, whereas those who for love of Christ dedicate themselves to the service of others will live. They are like that grain of wheat that dies, at least in appearance. If the grain does not die, it remains alone (John 12:24-25). If it yields a crop, it is because it dies, allowing itself to be immolated in the earth; it is by being dismantled that it produces the crop."

Romero then quotes from the text of Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes (39):
"We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart. Then, with death overcome, the sons and daughters of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility. Enduring with charity and its fruits, all that creation which God made on humanity’s account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.
"Therefore, while we are warned that it profits us nothing if we gain the whole world and lose ourselves, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age. Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the kingdom of God. 
"For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in his Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, fraternity, and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father 'a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.' On this earth that kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower." 
Archbishop Romero continues in his own words: "This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to improve society, especially when injustice and sin are so widespread, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God requires of us... Of course, we must purify [these efforts] in Christianity and invest them with hope for what lies beyond because in that way they become stronger. For we have the assurance that we will never fail in all the work we do on earth if we infuse it with Christian hope. We will find it purified in that kingdom where our merit will be according to what we have done on this earth.... 

"I ask all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to view these things that are happening in our historical moment with a spirit of hope, generosity, and sacrifice. And let us do what we can. We can all do something and be more understanding... If we illuminate with Christian hope our intense longings for justice and peace and all that is good, then we can be sure that no one dies forever. If we have imbued our work with a sense of great faith, love of God, and hope for humanity, then all our endeavors will lead to the splendid crown that is the sure reward for the work of sowing truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Our work does not remain here; it is gathered and purified by the Spirit of God and returned to us as a reward.

"This holy Mass of thanksgiving, then, is just such an act of faith. By Christian faith we know that at this moment the host of wheat becomes the body of the Lord who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and that the wine in this chalice is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body that was immolated and this flesh that was sacrificed for humankind also nourish us so that we can give our bodies and our blood to suffering and pain, as Christ did, not for our own sake but to bring justice and peace to our people."