Oscar Romero's Day

Oscar Romero's Day

The Anglican Church keeps the feast of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador and Martyr, on 24 March each year.  The Archbishop was assassinated at the altar on that day in 1980. He was a champion of the poor, devoted to non-violent liberation and renewal of the heart.

His social vision remains electric and transformative, even in our different context.

What follows are some quotations from his public addresses, gleaned from James Brockman SJ’s The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988)

Christ the Liberator

Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed, of laws to be obeyed, of prohibitions. That makes it very distasteful.  Christianity is a person, one who loved us so much, one who calls for our love.  Christianity is Christ.  11

Christ would not be Redeemer if he had not concerned himself to give food to the crowds that were hungry, if he had not given light to the eyes of the blind, if he had not felt sorrow for the forsaken crowds that had no one to love them, no one to help them. Christianity cares about human development, about political and social aspects of life.  Redemption would not be complete if it did not consider these aspects of the Christ who chose in fact to be an example of one oppressed under a powerful empire and under a ruling class of his people that savaged his reputation and honour and left him on a cross. 49

What says Christ himself? “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst.” [Mt 18:20] Thank you, Lord.  For where there is a community that begins to reflect on your words with religious sincerity, there are you, Christ, the Blessed One, humanity’s Liberator. How my heart is filled with hope by a church where grass-roots communities flourish! I must ask my dear brother priests to make communities flourish everywhere—in neighbourhoods, in villages, among families.  For “where two or three gather in my name,” there is the sacramental sign. 106

Some want to keep a gospel so disembodied that it doesn’t get involved at all in the world it must save. Christ is now in history.  Christ is in the womb of the people.  Christ is now bringing about the new heavens and the new earth. 123

The Christian knows that Christ has been working in humanity for twenty centuries and that the person that is converted to Christ is the new human being that society needs to organise a world according to God’s heart. 125

Unfortunately, brothers and sisters, we are the product of a spiritualistic, individualistic education. We were taught: try to save your soul and don’t worry about the rest.  WE told the suffering: be patient, heaven will follow, hang on.  No, that’s not right, that’s not salvation! That’s not the salvation Christ brought.  The salvation Christ brings is a salvation from every bondage that oppresses human beings.  197

When Christ appeared in those lands, curing the sick, raising the dead, preaching to the poor, bringing hope to the peoples, something began on earth like when a stone is cast into a quiet lake and starts ripples that finally reach the farthest shores. Christ appeared in Zebulun and Naphtali with the songs of liberation: shaking off oppressive yokes, bringing joy to hearts, sowing hope.  And this is what God is doing now in history. 376

 Interior Renewal

…just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench… 13

How arid we human beings are when the Holy Spirit is not in us! How cruel people become when animated not by God’s Spirit but by the spirit of getting along in the world! It pains my heart deeply to know how our people are tortured, how the rights of God’s image are trampled. That should not be.  Without God, humans are wild beasts.  Without God, they are deserts.  Their hearts have no blossoms of love. 18

United to my sacrifice present on this altar, the people are made godlike and now leave the cathedral to keep on working, to keep on struggling, to keep on suffering, but ever united with the Eternal Priest, who remains present in the eucharist so that we can meet him the next Sunday also. 64

[Vatican II says] …that God has given humans the intimate sanctuary of their consciousness so that they can enter that private space and there speak alone with God to decide their own destiny. We all have a church within ourselves, our own consciousness.  There God is, God’s Spirit.  Blessed are those who do not forsake that shrine by failing to pray.  Blessed are those who enter often to speak alone with their God. 82

…[P]enance means to put austerity where there is much well-being, and to put courage and solidarity with the suffering, and working for a better world where life is almost a perpetual fast. 100

Our religion is life. … [T]he preaching of religion as life is what has given resurrection and life to many who were dead in faith. 117

That is when one begins to experience faith and conversion: when one has the heart of the poor, when one knows that financial capital, political influence, and power are worthless, and that without God we are nothing. To feel that need of God is faith and conversion. 147

If we fast or do penances or pray, it is for a very positive goal: by overcoming self, one achieves the Easter resurrection. We do not just celebrate a risen Christ, distinct from us, but during Lent we capacitate ourselves to rise with him to a new life and to become the new persons that are precisely what the country needs today.  Let us not just shout slogans about new structures; new structures will be worthless without new persons that are precisely what the country needs today.  Let us not just shout slogans about new structures; new structures will be worthless without new persons to administer the new structures the country needs and live them out in their lives. 223

The mission of the Church

We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred.  It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work. 14

What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is when the word, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims to the people and accuses: proclaims God’s wonders to be believed and venerated, and accuses of sin those who oppose God’s reign, so that they may tear that sin out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of their laws—out of the structures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity. This is the hard service of the word. 20

God…has set up a church to proclaim faith in the true God and to purify history of sin and to sanctify history in order to make it the vehicle of salvation. 60

…the Church knows it is God’s lamp, light taken from the glowing face of Christ to enlighten human lives. 88

The church considers this its ministry: to defend God’s image in human beings 146

The church cannot agree with the forces that put their hope only in violence. The church does not want the liberation it preaches to be confused with liberations that are only political and temporal. The church does concern itself with earthly liberation—it feels pain for those who suffer, for the illiterate, for those without electricity, without a roof, without a home. But it knows that human misfortune is found not only there.  It is inside, deeper, in the heart—in sin. While supporting all the people’s just claims, the church wants to lift those demands to a higher plane and free people from the chains that are sin, death, and hell.  It wants to tell us to work to be truly free, with a freedom that begins in the heart: the freedom of God’s children—the freedom that makes us into God’s children by taking from us the chains of sin. 156

The Church has to be the leaven of the present time. It must point out not the sins of the times of Moses and Egypt nor of the times of Christ and Pilate and Herod and the Roman Empire, but the sins of today, here in El Salvador, the ones you must live among in these historical surroundings. 169

…you and I am a prophetic people. Everyone baptized has received a share in Christ’s prophetic mission. 173

[Faith and life] Those who do not understand transcendence cannot understand us. When we speak of injustice here below and denounce it, they think we are playing politics.  It is in the name of God’s just reign that we denounce the injustices of the earth. 196

This is the commitment of being a Christian: to follow Christ in his incarnation. If Christ, the God of majesty, became a lowly human and lived with the poor and even died on a cross like a slave, our Christian faith should also be lived in the same way.  The Christian who does not want to live this commitment of solidarity with the poor is not worthy to be called Christian. 227

When the Holy Spirit brings Israel’s times to their fullness and Christ is born through the Holy Spirit, this Christ begins to form a new people.  We Christians are that people, and we as a people that arises are the work of the Holy Spirit. [229]  The Spirit that raised up Christ has provided in the risen Christ a model for history.  Towards the resurrection all histories must march.  They must provide persons who will rise to freedom after living the way of the cross—to a freedom to be enjoyed indeed on this earth, but not to be definitive until we enjoy it in the fullness of God’s kingdom. 231

Suffering and insecurity

Brothers and sisters, at this moment Christ the Redeemer needs human suffering, needs the pain of those holy mothers who suffer, needs the anguish of prisoners who suffer tortures. Blessed are those who are chosen to continue on earth the great injustice suffered by Christ, who keeps on saving the world. Let us turn that injustice into redemption. 15

Abraham was living quietly in Ur of Chaldea when the Lord told him, “Leave your kindred and go to the land I will show you,” without telling him where. Abraham left, walking like a man in a dream, hoping the Lord would tell him where he was to go.  Years and generations passed, until at last Abraham’s descendants returned from Egypt to the promised land.  God has eternity before him.  Only God has security.  It is for us to follow humbly wherever God wants to lead, and blessed are those who stay faithful to the ways God inspires them to go and who do not, in order to please others, live with an uneasy conscience in the place where others believe security is to be found.  Leave your kindred, cast off your false security, be converted to the Lord.  That is the road without end of our faith’s pilgrimage. 68

Your suffering is the condition of the redemption that was gained only by Christ nailed to a cross. But afterward came the resurrection.  In Christ’s heart the certainty never died that the world would be redeemed despite his apparent failure.  We Christians do not fail, for we bear the Spirit that raised up Christ. 74

When are we going to understand that God not only give happiness but also tests our faithfulness in moments of afflciation? 158

Poverty and Wealth

Dear poor people, dispossessed people, you who lack house and food, your very dignity demands your advancement. It is a pity that you, the poor, should not respect yourselves as you ought and that you try to drown in drink, in bad habits, in excess, a dignity that could be God’s light, God’s presence on earth.  We do not praise poverty for itself.  We praise it as the sign, as the sacrament, of God in the world. A sacrament must be respected, because it is a sign of God.  The poor must respect themselves, must better themselves, must work to the extent that the scope of their economic and social powers enables them. 41

Many would like the poor to keep on saying that it is God’s will for them to live that way. But it is not God’s will for some to have everything and others to have nothing. That cannot be of God.  God’s will is that all his children be happy. 106

The person who feels the emptiness of hunger for God is the opposite of the self-sufficient person. In this sense, rich means the proud, rich means even the poor who have no property but who think they need nothing, not even God.  This is the wealth that is abominable to God’s eyes, what the humble but forceful Virgin speaks of: “He sent away empty-handed the rich”—those who think they have everything—“and filled with good things the hungry”—those who have need of God. [Lk 1:53]  Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God. 136

I would not want to live the life of many of today’s powerful, who don’t live a real life. They live under guard, they live with uneasy consciences, they live in anxiety.  That is not life. 195

Let us not tire of denouncing the idolatry of wealth, which makes human greatness consist in having and forgets that true greatness is being. One’s value is not in what one has, but in what one is. 206

We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed tonight with nothing ot eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways. 215

If we could see that Christ is the needy one, the torture victim, the prisoner, the murder victim, and in each human figure so shamefully thrown by our roadsides would see Christ himself cast aside, we would pick him up like a medal of gold to be kissed lovingly. We would never be ashamed of him.  How far people are today, especially those who torture and kill and value their investments more than human beings, from realizing that all the earth’s millions are good for nothing, are worthless compared to a human being.  The person is Christ, and in the person viewed and treated with faith we look on Christ the Lord. [Mt 25] 239

Building a New Society

The common good. One of the signs of the present time is the idea of participation, the right that all persons have to participate in the construction of their own common good. … Everyone can contribute much that is good, and in that way trust is achieved.  The common good will not be attained by excluding people.  We can’t enrich the common good of our country by driving out those we don’t care for. … Thus, with all contributing their own interior life, their own responsibility, their own way of being, all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace. Then we can, all of us together, build the republic—the res publica, the public concern—what belongs to all of us and what we all have the duty of building. 5

Human person the end of the state. A society’s or political community’s reason for being is not the security of the state but the human person. Christ said, “Man is not for the Sabbath; the Sabbath is for man.”  He puts human beings as the objective of all laws and all institutions.  Humans are not for the state; the state is for them. 34

Education. In general, education in our Latin American countries is directed toward the desire to have more, whereas today’s youth demand rather to be more, by realizing themselves through service and love. 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. That does not correspond to the time we live in.  Let us form in the heart of the child and the young person the lofty ideal of loving, of preparing oneself to serve and to give oneself to others. Anything els e would be education for selfishness, and we want to escape the selfishness that is precisely the cause of the great malaise of our societies.  The church must propose an education that makes people agents of their own development, protagonists of history, not a passive, compliant mass, but human beings able to display their intelligence, their creativity, their desire for the common service of the nation. 36

The media. There is a lack of respect for one of the most sacred rights of the human person, the right to be well informed, the right to the truth. Each one must defend this right for himself or herself by being critical in using the communications media.  Not everything in the newspapers, not everything in the movies or on television, not everything heard on the radio is true.  Often it is just the opposite, a lie. 57

Just distribution of wealth. Well-being must also reach all by putting into practice the constitutional principle of the social function of private property, understood within a sound and intelligent distributive justice. But I say that distributive justice is not enough if it only contemplates material well-being.  There is something of more value than bread and material advantage.  There is a sense of innate honour and virtue that the mere possession of material property does not advance.  Property is harmful in both its extremes: when it is possessed in excessive abundance or when it is lacking in the case of excessive poverty. 66

Justice. A civilisation of love that did not demand justice of people would not be a true civilisation: it would not delineate genuine human relations. It is a caricature of love to try to cover over with alms what is lacking in justice, to patch over with an appearance of benevolence when social justice is missing.  True love beings by demanding what is just in the relations of those who love. 157

 The End of the Age

…[all of us] will have achieved humanity’s incorporation into Christ, and Christ will be the one priest, formed in his historical and eternal fullness by all of us who in the course of history have made with him one sole priesthood, one sole offertory, one sole Mass that will last eternally to sing God’s glory. This is the destiny, the objective for which we priests work in history. 21

The Lord’s ascension also marks the glorification of the universe. The universe rejoices, money rejoices, power rejoices, all material things—farms and estates, everything—rejoice because the day will come when the Supreme Judge will redeem from sin, from slavery, from shame, all that God has created and that humans are using for sin, for affront against their fellows.  The redemption is already decreed, and in his power God has raised up Christ our Lord.  Christ gone up to heaven is a witness to final justice. 58

The present form of the world passes away, and there remains only the joy of having used this world to establish God’s rule here. All pomp, all triumphs, all selfish capitalism, all the false successes of life will pass with the world’s form. All of that passes away.  What does not pass away is love.  When one has turned money, property, work in one’s calling into service of others, then the joy of sharing and the feeling that all are one’s family does not pass away.  In the evening of life you will be judged on love. 145

Christ arisen has put in history’s womb the beginning of a new world. To come to Mass on Sunday is to immerse oneself in that beginning, which again becomes present and is celebrated on the altar at Mass. And we who go forth from Mass know we have proclaimed the death that saved the world and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, who lives as hope, so that all the universe of heavens and earth may join together, all things in heaven and on earth may come together in Christ.  178