Friday, May 22, 2015

Blessed Oscar Romero: Eyes That Have Cried

Tomorrow, May 23, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, will beatify the martyr Oscar Romero.

This highly anticipated event comes after decades of debate and discernment over the cause and meaning of Romero’s murder, which took place on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in the chapel of the La Divina Providenza hospital. The day before, he had called upon Salvadoran soldiers—as Christians—to stop carrying out the government’s oppressive and repressive violations and to obey God’s commands.

Personally, I’m gratified by beatification and believe that Romero is an important model for the Church’s pastors. He embodies the vision of pastoral care, outreach, and solidarity with the poor that so many celebrate in Pope Francis. After all, Romero is the man who taught us that “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

I think the greatest tribute that we can offer to Blessed Oscar Romero (and to all the saints) is to reflect on their lives and discern how we can best imitate their faith and virtues. This holy bishop brought together a profound sense of God’s presence, a love for the poor and marginalized, a desire for justice, and a commitment to the Church that make him an especially powerful  example of how our individual faith should intersect with the work of the Church and the needs of society.  

As a way of preparing for the beatification, I’m happy to share this transcription of his final homily, given in the minutes before he was shot by a government-sanctioned assassin:

You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others, will live, live like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest...

This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when justice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.... Of course, we must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be found in the labor that we have done here on earth...

Dear brothers and sisters, let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy...

[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace, and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Such labor does not remain here below but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.

The holy Mass, now, this Eucharist, is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain --- like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer...

[At that, a postscript reads thus: "A shot rang out in the chapel and Archbishop Romero fell mortally wounded. He died within minutes, on arriving at a nearby hospital emergency room."]

Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us!

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