Author Archives: John Donaghy

Romero and the witness of daily life

Shortly before his death, Romero went on retreat. In the middle of the violence and repression in El Salvador, in the face of the death threats he was receiving, in the midst of the opposition from most of the bishops in El Salvador, he sought the will of God in prayer.

During that retreat, on February 25, 1980, he wrote:

…my disposition ought to be to give my life for God, whatever might be the end of my life. The circumstances which are unknown will be lived with God’s grace. He attended the martyrs and, if it is necessary, I will feel him very close when I hand over my last breath to him. But more valiant than the moment of death is to hand over to him all one’s life and live for Him.

Martyrdom is a gift of God. It is not something that Romero or other true martyrs sought. Martyrdom comes from a life lived in witness to the living God. The word martyr means, first of all “witness.”

Martyrdom is lived and prepared for in the way we live every day.

Monseñor Romero, teach us to live our lives as a constant witness to the God of life, the God of love.

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Romero – thou shalt not kill

One of the most important homilies Romero ever preached was the one on the day before his martyrdom. They are prophetic words that were probably the tipping point for those who sought to silence his voice. His words was greeted with a thunderous applause in the Sacred Heart Basilica where he was preaching.

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They are words that all of us should take into account in a world best by calls for vengeance, for war, for violence against our enemies. They are no more than a concrete call to conscience which is based in the way of Christ who told us to love our enemies and in the example of the early Christians who proclaimed, “We must serve God rather than humans.”

Read, pray, and live these words of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, martyr of the Americas:

“I want to make a call, in a special way, to the men of the army and in particular to the bases of the Guardia Nacional, the police in their barracks.
“Brothers, you belong to our own people. You kill your own brother peasants; and in the face of an order to kill that is given by a man, the law of God should prevail that says: ‘Do not kill!’ No solider is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. No one has to comply with an immoral law. It is time now that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin.
“The Church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of the dignity of the human person, cannot remain silent before so much abomination. We want the government seriously to consider that reforms mean nothing when they come bathed in so much blood. Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: ‘Stop the repression!’”

Romero and the idols

Idolatry is often associated in the popular Catholic imagination with worship of images of false gods. But in the twentieth century the Church began to speak more about both personal idols and social idols.

Romero spoke several times about idols – first of all about personal idols, the idols of self. For example, in his March 23, 1978, homily he said:

We must overturn so many idols,
the idol of self, first of all,
so that we can be humble,
and only from our humility
can learn to be redeemers,
can learn to work together
in the way the world really needs.
Liberation that raises a cry against others
is no true liberation.
Liberation that means revolutions of hate and violence
and takes the lives of others
or abases the dignity of others
cannot be true liberty.
True liberty does violence to self
and, like Christ,
who disregarded that he was sovereign,
becomes a slave to serve others.

But Romero was not averse to identifying and denouncing the idols of society. In his January 7, 1979, homily he boldly stated:

That reign of God finds itself hindered, manacled, by many idolatrous misuses of money and power. Those false gods must be overthrown…. Today the idols are different. They are called money, they are called political interests, they are called national security. As idolatries, they are trying to displace God from his altar. The church declares that people can be happy only when, like the magi, they adore the one true God.

On the day before he was martyred, Romero referred to a hymn that had been written. It is the Gloria of the Misa Campesina Salvadoreña.


The last two verse boldly state the challenge of idolatry:

Now, Lord, you shall be glorified
as you were before, there on Mount Tabor,
when you see this people now transformed
there is life and liberty in El Salvador.

But the gods of power and money
are working against this transfiguration.
Therefore, now you, Lord, are the first
to raise your arm against the oppression.

Beloved Monseñor, give us the courage to raise our hearts and minds and live against the idolatries of our lives and of our world.

Romero and the wide Reign of God

Though Romero was educated in the pre-Vatican II church, he grew to have a grander vision of the workings of God in history than the narrow ecclesiology that branded non-Catholics as “separated brethren” or “sects.”

He connected with Protestants in El Salvador and he received a lot of support from Protestant churches throughout the world. Some attended his Sunday Masses and Romero often acknowledged their presence.

Though he was critical of violence and narrow ideological positioning, Romero was open to speaking with all, even the revolutionaries.

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What he said in a December 3, 1978 homily provides the framework for this openness:

Everyone who struggles for justice,
everyone who makes just claims in unjust surroundings
is working for God’s reign,
even though not a Christian.
The church does not comprise all of God’s reign;
God’s reign goes beyond the church’s boundaries.
The church values everything that is in tune
with its struggle to set up God’s reign.
A church that tries only to keep itself
pure and uncontaminated
would not be a church of God’s service to people.
The authentic church is one that does not mind
conversing with prostitutes and publicans and sinners,
as Christ did –
and with Marxists and those of various political movements –
in order to bring them salvation’s true message

God works and the Reign of God is beyond the Catholic Church, as Vatican II also noted.

May Romero’s openness to the Reign of God fill today’s Church with an openness to God working in many ways and through many people.

Romero and Pope Paul VI

It is fitting that Monseñor Romero and Pope Paul VI are canonized together. One of my favorite images of Romeo is when he met with Pope Paul VI and presented him with a photo of the recently martyred Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande.

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Pope Paul VI encouraged Romero to continue his work. Despite negative comments from Salvadoran elites and most of the bishops and despite the cool, at times harsh, reception that Romero received in some departments of the Vatican Pope Paul received him warmly.

Romero, in his diary, recalled what he heard from the Pope:

“I understand your difficult work. It is a work that cannot be understood, in which you need to have a lot of patience and courage. I know that not all think as you do: in the situation of your country this unanimity of thought. Nevertheless, proceed with courage, with patience, with strength, with hope.”

Pope Paul VI, who wrote of the new vision of evangelization linked with liberation in his 1975  letter Evangelii Nuntiandi, shared Romero’s vision.

In a homily shortly after returning from Rome, Romero said:

When Paul VI talked about having to renew the church, and that this was the goal of the Second Vatican Council, he explained very well that renewal does not mean accommodating to the modern ways of the world, which at times are unchristian. Renewal means making the church consistent with the seed that was planted. A tree, however much it grows, remains consistent with its seed. What is important to understand is that God’s word is a seed, and it cannot be altered. We would like a teaching more accommodated to our interests. We’d like a preaching that isn’t so bothersome, that doesn’t cause conflicts.

But when Christ planted the seed, he had conflicts. That seed is the word of the Just One, of the Holy One, of the one who knows what he wanted when he created humanity and nature; and so it guides us, but it collides with sin. It clashes with those who don’t want the seed to grow.

Saints Monseñor Romero and Pope Paul VI, pray for the church, that it may be a force for the real liberation of God’s people – from all that keeps us from living as members of the Reign of God.

Romero and the church of the poor

Monseñor Romero was a man of the church. His episcopal motto, taken from St. Ignatius Loyola, was “Sentir con the Iglesia” – “To be of one mind and heart with the church.”

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But how that was worked out in his life is, I believe, part of the mystery of the conversions that led a humble man with a great love for the poor from his youth to become an outspoken advocate of the poor, “la voz de los sin voz” – “the voice of the voiceless.”

As archbishop he did not fail to speak against all that he perceived as sin and he suffered for that – even from his brother bishops who did not understand the political dimensions of the Gospel.

In his homily of April 16, 1978, he spoke forthrightly of what the church should avoid.

A church that doesn’t provoke any crises,
a gospel that doesn’t unsettle,
a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin,
a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin
of the society in which it is being proclaimed –

what gospel is that?
Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone,
that’s the way many would like preaching to be.
Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter
so as not to be harassed,
so as not to have conflicts and difficulties,
do not light up the world they live in.
They don’t have Peter’s courage, who told that crowd
where the bloodstained hands still were that had killed Christ:
“You killed him!”
Even though the charge could cost him his life as well, he made it.
The gospel is courageous;
it’s the good news
of him who came to take away the world’s sins.

 

Lord, make of us a courageous church, unafraid to speak the truth in love.

 

 

 

Romero and human life

In the midst of violence, repression, the killing of innocent people, including priests and catechists, Monseñor Romero affirmed the gift of life.

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Less than two weeks before he was martyred, he reaffirmed this commitment in his March 16, 1980, homily:

Nothing is so important to the church as human life,
as the human person,
above all, the person of the poor and the oppressed,
who, besides being human beings,
are also divine beings,
since Jesus said that whatever is done to them
he takes as done to him.
That bloodshed, those deaths,
are beyond all politics.
They touch the very heart of God.

Do the cries of the poor touch our hearts?