St. Joseph Catholic Church
“The hope that our Church encourages,” said Romero, “is neither naïve nor passive. It is rather a summons from the word of God for the great majority of the people, the poor, that they assume their proper responsibility.… And it is support, sometimes critical support, for their just causes and demands. The hope that we preach to the poor is intended to give them back their dignity, to encourage them to take charge of their own future.”
Oscar Romero reminds us: “The face of Christ is among the sacks and baskets of the farmworker; the face of Christ is among those who are tortured and mistreated in the prisons; the face of Christ is dying of hunger in the children who have nothing to eat; the face of Christ is in the poor who ask the church for their voice to be heard. How can the church deny this request when it is Christ who is telling us to speak for him.”
A revolution motivated by the power of love instead of arms, a revolution that seeks not the overthrow but the conversion of society: This became Romero’s focus during his final three years as archbishop of San Salvador. For the ruling elite, conversion meant the softening of their stony hearts and an embrace of the biblical truth that all people are equally beloved by God and equally deserving of the world’s resources. For the campesinos, conversion meant an awareness that their misery was not the will of God, that Christ suffered along with them, and that the Gospel could empower and liberate them. For the Church, conversion meant being a source of material and spiritual hope for the hungry, thirsty, forlorn, naked, sick, and oppressed.
The priest’s task is to bring the people to God, and the prophet’s to bring God to the people. The martyr’s unique role is to display a devotion to God and the Kingdom so boundlessly loving that it reignites in the rest of us a faith that may have grown tepid or even cold. We look to the martyrs to remind us that some things are worth sacrificing our lives for, but that the love which motivates us to make those sacrifices is more powerful than death itself. This is the great truth embodied in the resurrection, and every individual martyrdom, including Romero’s, is a reflection of it. Martyrdom is a victory, not a defeat, a loud proclamation of God’s glory, not a silencing of God’s Word, an affirmation, albeit a bittersweet one, that human wickedness can never win in the end.
Romero was clear in his own mind and conscience that he was doing Christ’s work, not playing power politics. “We not only read the Bible, we analyze it, we celebrate it, we incarnate it in our reality, we want to make it our life. [Our goal is] to incarnate the Word of God in our people. This is not politics. When we point out the political, social, and economic sins in the homily, this is the Word of God incarnate in our reality, a reality that often does not reflect the reign of God but rather sin. We proclaim the Gospel to point out to people the paths of redemption.”
The contours of the journey of love are pretty much the same; the particulars depend on the personality and character of the one who falls in love with God. The image that works best for me—and there are many images—is that of a small boat at sea, which is me, traversing calm to stormy seas, with every weather in between. The constant is not God’s power, but God’s love, no matter how well or poorly I navigate those seas.
The Franciscan challenge in our own time: Contemplative seeing, affective response, practical help, and sustained assistance as the way of restoring God’s house which is falling into ruins. It is Jesus’s own prescription for learning to love. In contemplative prayer we learn to love God who created all things and made them our brothers and sisters. And when we begin to see others for what they are in God’s eyes, we are moved to compassion. And when we then reach out to those of our brothers and sisters in distress, the love of God becomes the love of others, all of whom are beloved of God.
—from the book Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis