Category Archives: Monseñor Oscar Romero

The wedding garment of love

Matthew 22: 1-14

To be invited to a wedding feast would be a surprise for most of the poor people who came and listened to Jesus. A wedding feast would be beyond the means of most of them and you got an invitation to the feast if you were one of the friends of the king.

But Jesus also addressed the parable of the banquet to the religious leaders who would probably get any number of invitations to banquets.

In the parable the invited make all sorts of excuses to avoid the banquet; some maltreat and kill the king’s messengers. So the king sends out his servants to invite those in the highways and byways – not ordinarily invited to banquets. And the hall is filled.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like that kind of banquet where God does not want any empty seats. For the peasants of Galilee this would have been an impossible dream – but it is the dream of God.

Yet there is a discordant note. There is a man without a wedding garment.

The poor invited to the banquet would obviously not have good clothes to wear. I believe, the king would have offered everyone a tunic to wear, where all would be equal.

But what is this wedding garment?

In this both, Saint Augustine and Blessed Monseñor Romero agree.

The wedding garment is love.

In Sermon 90, Saint Augustine preached:

“Whatever can this wedding garment be? For an answer we must go to the apostle [Paul}, who says, ‘The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” Only that kind of love is the wedding garment.”

In his homily on October 15, 1978, Monseñor Romero said:

“God desires the garment of justice. God wants Christians to clothe themselves in the garment of love.”

All are invited; all are welcome; but the God of Love, who offers us love and will fill us with love, asks that we put on love.

Love.

 

 

Surrounded by saints

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses…
Hebrews 12:1

I have since my youth been fascinated by the saints. I remember having these little books with a story of a saint and a colored picture on the opposite page.

As I grew older I began reading more and more of the saints, running across some obscure saints who became very important for me, including Saint Benedict the Black and Saint Benedict Joseph Labré. Saint Francis of Assisi was one saint who began to enchant me from my grade school days and still moves me.

Later I began to encounter other holy men and women, only some of whom were canonized. The commitment to the poor and the spirituality of Monseñor Oscar Romero and Brother Charles de Foucauld challenged me and still sustain me.

And so, as I lay prostrate before the altar last Friday in the Mass of ordination, I felt myself surrounded by so many witnesses – saints in heaven and saints around me. I felt myself sustained and challenged by them.

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The Litany has a healthy number of saints but in special events, such as ordinations, the Church encourages us to add special saints.

I added these:

  • Saint Raphael the Archangel, who guided Tobias on his journey, and was the patron of the church where I was baptized as well as the Archdioceses of Dubuque where I served for 24 years.
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas, the patron of the church and student center in Ames, Iowa, where I served and which is the sister parish of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.
  • Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who run two universities where I studied: the University of Scranton and Boston College.
  • Saint Bonaventure, a great Franciscan leader and writer, whose feast was that day.
  • Saint Scholastica, whose brother Benedict is already in the litany, but whom I added to recall the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who made my dalmatic.
  • Saint Clare, the founder of the women Franciscans, who should be joined with Saint Francis in the litany, recalling the Franciscan Sisters who sustain me here.
  • Blessed Oscar Romero was already added to the litany but I added Blessed Charles de Foucauld immediately after him.

As I lay on the ground before the altar, I found myself feeling the presence of all these great witnesses. But then Romero was called upon to pray for us, followed by Charles de Foucauld.

I had dedicated my ordination to Romero when I visited his tomb a few weeks ago.

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His deep faith, profound spirituality, and courageous accompaniment of the poor have inspired me for years.

At the ordination of a transitional deacon, Jorge Benavides, on August 15, 1977, he said:

Beloved deacon, we are going to impose our hands on you and we are going to see in you an image of the Church that serves, the deacon. Would that you understand that all your theology, all your studies, the beauty of your vocation mean bringing to the world the face of that Church which serves, loves, and hopes.

Charles de Foucauld, the little brother who lived among the poor in Algeria and was killed there, inspired me by his commitment to live with and for the poor – being there with them. My white diaconal stole bears the image of the cross and the heart that he wore on his simple white habit.

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As Monseñor Romero and Brother Charles de Foucauld were asked to pray for us, my body was rocked with deep sobs – not of sorrow but of an experience I cannot define. It was partly joy, but as I look back it might have been a feeling of the mercy of God and the challenge of these holy men to live as a servant of God and the poor.

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Yesterday I came upon this quote of Brother Charles, which expresses that challenge so beautifully:

Jesus came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of the ordinary life, of family life, of prayer, work, obscurity, silent virtues, practiced with no witnesses other than God, his friends and neighbors. Nazareth, the place where most people lead their lives. We must infinitely respect the least of our brothers… let us mingle with them. Let us be one of them to the extent that God wishes… and treat them fraternally in order to have the honor and joy of being accepted by them.

I pray that I may live my calling as a deacon, in the image of Christ the Servant, might be lived as Romero and Foucauld did – giving one’s life very day with the poor.

 


The quote from Charles de Foucauld is taken from Charles de Foucauld: Writings Selected by Robert Ellbserg, p. 28.

Giving voice to the voiceless

Today’s Gospel, Mark 7: 31-37, is full of surprises, revealing a God who acts in new and imaginative ways.

The man who is deaf and has trouble speaking does not come to Jesus on his own. Others bring him. Did he fear coming to Jesus, not being able to tell Him what he wanted? Or did he not realize his condition and therefore did not see the need to come to Jesus for healing? Or did he not think that Jesus could or would heal him – after all he’s just another deaf-mute?

But Jesus takes him apart and heals the man, touching his ears and putting spittle on his tongue. A word was not enough. Jesus touched him.

And then Jesus called to him “Ephaphatha – be opened.” And he heard and “spoke plainly.”

The man’s voice was returned to him.

The people marveled at this and noted that “He has done all things beautifully. He makes the deaf hear and he makes those who do not speak speak.”

The Greek of the last line struck me: ἀλάλους λαλεῖν. It could easily be translated as giving voice to the voiceless.

Jesus opened the ears of the man so that he could hear the words of God to “open up,” to listen to the Word of God, a word that calls us to live our true dignity as children of God.

But he also gives the man the gift of being able to speak rightly, clearly. He restores his true voice to the man.

So many people do not have a voice in this world.

Sometimes we do not speak up because of fear, because of timidity, because we have not listened to the Word of God and heard the cries of the poor and vulnerable.

But so many are without voice, not heard, not listened to. Or their voices are muffled. Or they have given up speaking because of the indifference of others. Or the hears of those who could hear are closed to them.

But Jesus heals and gives the poor back their voice – if we would listen.

This is what I think people like Monseñor Romero did for the people of El Salvador in the late 1970s, letting them lift up their voices. He is often called “the voice of the voiceless” but he was also one who affirmed the people when they raised their voices against the repression.

This is what I think the Guatemalan bishops just did when they supported the people of Guatemala who were calling for an end to corruption and impunity and then took to the streets to call for the resignation of a corrupt president.

This is what I think Pope Francis is trying to do and what he did when he held the open meeting via ABC News with refugee families in Texas, with homeless people in Los Angeles, and with poor young students at Cristo Rey school in Chicago.

It’s what God can do with us, letting us listen to the poor, the refugee, the marginalized and letting their voice be heard.

Deacon and martyr Lawrence

Lawrence, as you know, was a deacon at Rome.
There he distributed the sacred Blood of Christ;
there he shed his own blood for the sake of Christ.
Saint Augustine, Sermon 304

Today the Church celebrates the deacon Lawrence who was martyred in August 258.

As deacon he was in charge of the church’s treasury and the distribution of alms to the poor. According to one story, seeing that the persecution was worsening, Lawrence distributed what he had on hand to the poor and, when more money was needed, he sold some of the church’s goods.

After killing II Pope Sixtus and six other deacons of Rome, the prefect of Rome told him to hand over the church’s goods. Three days later Lawrence assembled the poor, the widows, and the orphans and presented them to the prefect. “”Here is the wealth of the church – the poor.”

The prefect was not happy with this and had Lawrence killed.

Lawrence is for me an example of the deacon who lived out his commitment at the altar by sharing with the poor and by shedding his blood in witness to the Christ who became poor for our sake.

As I contemplate the possibility of being ordained a permanent deacon, I need to keep this in mind.

Am I committed to Christ Jesus who shed his blood for all?

Am I committed to the poor, the suffering face of Christ in this world?

Am I willing to die to myself and, if called upon, give my life for Christ?

For this I pray.

But what helps me to see what this might mean for me today in Central America, I recall the words of Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero in a reflection on April 1, 1979, on the Gospel which is also used for today’s feast, John 12: 24-26:

“Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives —
that is, those who want to get along,
who don’t want commitments,
who want to stay outside what demands the involvement of all of us —
they will lose their lives.
What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably,
with no suffering, not getting involved in problems,
quite tranquil, quite settled,
with good connections — politically, economically, socially —
lacking nothing, having everything.
To what good?
They will lose their lives.
But those who for love of Me uproot themselves
and accompany the poor in their suffering
and become incarnated and feel as their own the pain and the abuse —
they will secure their lives,
because my Father will reward them.”
Brothers and sisters, God’s word calls us to this today.
Let me tell you with all the conviction I can muster:
it is worthwhile to be a Christian.
To each of us Christ is saying:
If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I do.
Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.
Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid.
Those who shun suffering will remain alone.
No one is more alone than the selfish.
But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all,
you will reap a great harvest.
You will have the deepest satisfaction.
Do not fear death threats; the Lord goes with you.

The poor person fully alive

The glory of God is the human person fully alive…
St. Irenaeus

The glory of God is the poor person fully alive.
Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero

About seven weeks before he was martyred in the chapel of a hospital for poor cancer patients in San Salvador, Monseñor Romero received an honorary degree from Louvain in Belgium.

His speech is an astute explication of the ministry of the Archdiocese of San Salvador. At the end of his remarks, he notesd:

Early Christians used to say Gloria Dei, vivens homo (“the glory of God is the living person”). We could make this more concrete by saying Gloria Dei, vivens Pauper (“the glory of God is the living poor person”).

Today is the feast day of the second century bishop of Lyons, Saint Irenaeus, who wrote:

The glory of God is the living human person, for humanity’s true life is the vision of God.

As I was preparing to lead a Celebration of the Word in the village of Joyas Galanas this morning, I found myself reflecting on these quotes in light of today’s readings, especially the Gospel.

Mark 5: 21-43 tells of the healing of two very different women.

The leader of the synagogue, Jairus, comes to Jesus asking him to heal his dying daughter. He is a man with connections and power who seeks help for the life of his child.

On the way, an unnamed, unknown woman touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. She has no power; in fact she is one of the despised. She is a woman; she has been hemorrhaging for twelve years and therefore was ritually impure; she is poor, having spent all her money on useless doctors. She is an outcast – but an outcast with faith.

Jesus seeks to know who touched him, who was healed. He restores her to the community and, as Gustavo Gutierrez noted, has rescued her from anonymity. And then he acknowledges her faith.

She is healed not only of her illness but also of the malady of isolation and marginalization. Indeed, Jesus addresses her as “daughter,” this woman who probably was cast aside by all too many people, maybe even her family.

But what happens next is instructive. Jairus is told that his daughter has died. Jesus tells him, “Do not fear. Just have faith.”

The woman with the flow of blood was praised for her faith, but the synagogue official has to be reminded to have faith!

Jesus then proceeds to heal the daughter of Jairus, taking the child by hand.

The glory of God was shown that day in Galilee – a child was restored to life and a poor sick woman was restored to health and to the life of the community. The woman recovered her dignity.

Thus we are called to choose life, to provide for the life of our sisters and brothers, especially the poorest, and to recognize the dignity of all persons.

We are called to live as Jesus did, even remembering the little details

Before leaving Jairus’ home, Jesus told them to give the child something to eat.

That’s the least we can do.

Deacon servant of the Reign of God

DSC05087Yesterday when I was in line for the procession at Mass in Dulce Nombre, Padre German who was being installed as pastor whispered to me about my being accepted as a candidate for the permanent diaconate at the same Mass.

For the Reign of God – in the spirit of Monseñor Romero.

I was floored.

This isn’t about me; it’s about the Reign of God.

And it’s about doing it as a member of the Servant Church, a Church that is diaconía.

As Romero said in his speech at Louvain, February 2, 1980, less than two months before his martyrdom,

 The essence of the church lies in its mission of service to the world, in its mission to save the world in its totality, and of saving it in history, here and now. The church exists to act in solidarity with the hopes and joys, the anxieties and sorrows, of men and women [Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, ¶1]. Like Jesus, the church was sent “to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart…and to seek and to save what was lost “ (Luke 4: 18; 19:10).

The witness of Monseñor Romero has challenged and sustained me, offering an example of a person committed to God and to the poor.

It’s not one or the other – it’s both and more.

To be a servant – a diakonos – is be at the beck and call of God and the poor, helping to make clear to all the connection between the table of the Eucharist and the table of the poor.

May I have the courage to go forward on this journey – and walk the way of self-emptying to be a servant (Philippians 2).

Love one another

Today is Mothers Day not only in the US, but here in Honduras.

I was asked to share a reflection this morning at the Celebration of the Word in Plan Grande where I live. Padre German also asked me to share a reflection at the Mass this afternoon in El Zapote de Santa Rosa. Here are some of the thoughts that are running  through my heart.

The readings all point to God’s love – even the first reading where Peter, on encountering the Roman Cornelius, realizes that God makes no distinction.

We are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Not because it is an obligation but because it comes from our experience of being loved.

For, as John writes (1 John 4: 10):

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his Son…

If we are open to the experience of being loved by God we will be better prepared to love.

Often this experience of God’s love comes through our parents or others in our life. And so we are called to love so that others may experience, thought us, something of the love of God.

But this love is not sentimental.

For Jesus said in today’s Gospel (John 15: 12-13):

Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love for friends than to hand over one’s life for them.

Monseñor Romero

Monseñor Romero

We often look upon martyrdom as the ultimate sign of love. But I believe that one cannot give up one’s life at the moment of martyrdom if one has not been giving it up day after day.

As I prayed these words of the Gospel I remembered a quote of Monseñer Oscar Romero – soon to be beatified.

In his spiritual diary on February 25, 1980, less than four weeks before he was martyred, he wrote

My disposition is to give my life for God, whatever might be the end of my life. The circumstances [of the end of my life] which are unknown will be lived with the grace of God. He helped the martyrs and if it is necessary I will feel Him very close when I hand over my last breath. But worth more than the moment of death is handing over to Him all my life and living for Him.

It is not the moment of death that make a martyr a saint; it is the daily giving of oneself over to God and others that makes one able to be a martyr and a saint.

The message of Romero and the message of Jesus is not a one-time martyrdom but a daily dying to oneself and living for God and for others.

Romero did it by listening to the poor, visiting the people in their villages, welcoming the family members of victims of persecution, denouncing injustice from the pulpit, and living in a small house in a cancer hospital for the poor.

What would make us able to hand over our lives as martyrs? Or, better, how are we handing over our lives every day?

Laying down one’s life

A good shepherd lays down his life
for the sheep.
John 10: 11

Pope Francis has spoken often of the importance of sharing the “smell of the sheep.” As he wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 24:

An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.

Next month the world will celebrate the beatification of a Salvadoran bishop who took on the smell of the sheep and gave his life for them. As Monseñor Oscar Romero said in his July 22, 1979 homily:

 I want to repeat to you what I said once before:
the shepherd does not want security
while they give no security to his flock.

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom  in 1998 of another shepherd, Monseñor Juan Gerardi, the Guatemalan bishop, who was killed days after the office he led had released a report – “Nunca Mas – Never Again” – on the many killings in his country.

He, like Romero, knew the risks of what he was doing. Years before he had fled his diocese because of the violence and death threats. As he said when the report was released,

We want to contribute to the building of a country different than the one we have now. For that reason we are recovering the memory of our people. This path has been and continues to be full of risks, but the construction of the Reign of God has risks and can only be built by those that have the strength to confront those risks.

How can we who serve in the Christian community share the mission and courage of martyrs like Romero and Gerardi? How do we lay down our lives for others?

It’s not merely a question of martyrdom, but a question of laying down our lives, our agendas, every day, for others, especially the poor and suffering – even when we’d rather be sitting at home writing or reading about the poor.

To do this we must not be afraid to go out and smell like the sheep.

We must listen to them, hear their joys and sorrows, and accompany them on their journey.

We can do this best, I believe, when we are deeply connected with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who gave His life for the sheep and promises us life.

Doing this can give us life.

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Laura López, martyr of solidarity

laura lopezduranThirty years ago, on April 24, 1985, a Salvadoran catechist gave up her space in a bomb shelter and was killed while running to escape the guns of the Salvadoran government troops, near Valle Verde, in the municipality of Suchitoto.

Laura López was the pseudonym of Felipa Duran. She was active as a catechist in the rural region of Suchitoto, a region devastated by the Salvadoran civil war. The Salvadoran guerrillas operated fairly freely in the region since they had the support of many rural communities which had been evangelized in the style of liberating theology by a series of priests and lay leaders.

Thus the Salvadoran government military often invaded the zone – both with troops and with major bombings. There were a series of major massacres in the area.

Laura came into this area, allied to a number of priests and religious leaders who supported the cause of the guerrillas, though not always their tactics. Though she was not from the area, she came in solidarity.

She led Celebrations of the Word. I heard several people say how she always seemed to come in the most difficult times and offered a word of consolation.

She also passed on the testimony of the crimes of the Salvadoran government troops to the church’s legal aid office.

But she was not uncritical of the guerrillas. Her denunciations of promiscuity among the guerrilla troops almost had her expelled from the region, but the communities resisted such a move.

Her stance was based in her faith and so her opinions were not as ideological as some supporters of the guerrillas. As reported in the Memorial Martirial, “she used to say that the members of both the guerrillas and of the armed forces were not as much to blame for what they did as were those who led them.”

On the fateful day when she was shot, she was fleeing with her daughter. She told her daughter to hide, lest she be killed. Handing over her knapsack she told her, “Adelante. Go forward.”

She had gone forward, giving up a place of safety – not only in the shelter but also by entering and serving in a war zone. But she did it out of love, with a vision of a civilization of love. As she once said:

“We have gotten used to hating, to being afraid. We have to put an end to that. We have to confront ourselves, to kill the false pride within our soul, so that a new person may arise, so that a new civilization may come into being — one composed of love.”

Laura was but one of thousands of pastoral workers in El Salvador who were killed. In a month, on May 23, Monseñor Oscar Romero will be beatified. He is but one of those who were martyred for their commitment to a God who hears the cry of the poor.

—–

A more detailed description of the witness of Laura López can be found in this extract from a book I’m writign on the witness of the church in the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador: Laura Lopez extract.

 

The dying grain of wheat

…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.
John 12: 24-25
NRSV translation

Monseñor Romero and Padre Luis Espinal

Monseñor Romero and Padre Luis Espinal

When I die, I’d like John 12: 20-26 read at my funeral.

Years ago, I came across Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero’s commentary on this passage, in Fr. James Brockman’s collection of quotations, The Violence of Love:

“Those who, in the biblical phrase,
would save their lives —
that is, those who want to get along,
who don’t want commitments,
who want to stay outside
what demands the involvement of all of us —
they will lose their lives.
What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably,
with no suffering, not getting involved in problems,
quite tranquil, quite settled,
with good connections
— politically, economically, socially —
lacking nothing, having everything.
To what good?
They will lose their lives.
But those who for love of Me uproot themselves
and accompany the poor in their suffering
and become incarnated and feel as their own
the pain and the abuse —
they will secure their lives,
because my Father will reward them.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s word calls us to this
today.
Let me tell you with all the conviction I can muster:
it is worthwhile to be a Christian.
To each of us Christ is saying:
“If you want your life and mission
to be fruitful like mine, do as I do.
Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.
Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid.
Those who shun suffering will remain alone.
No one is more alone than the selfish.
But if you give your life out of love for others,
as I give mine for all,
you will reap a great harvest.
You will have the deepest satisfaction.”
Do not fear death threats; the Lord goes with you.

I also want this quote read at my funeral, since it has been central to my understanding of God’s call for me – even before I came to Honduras.

I think it was important for Monseñor Romero who used a shortened version of this in his last homily, on March 24, 1980, moments before he was martyred at the altar as he finished his homily.

Today, I came across another quotation that sheds light on today’s reading, from another Latin American martyr. Fr. Luis Espinal, S.J., was abducted on March 21, 1980, and his tortured and bullet-ridden body was found on the afternoon of March 22. The quote, taken from Margaret Hebblethwaite’s Base Communities is found in Jim Manney, An Ignatian Book of Days:

Losing one’s life means working for others, even though they don’t pay us back. It means doing a favor without it being returned. Losing one’s life means jumping in even when failure is the likely outcome— and doing it without being overly prudent. It means burning bridges for the sake of our neighbor. Losing one’s life should not be accompanied by pompous or dramatic gestures. Life is to be given simply, without fanfare— like a waterfall, like a mother nursing her child, like the humble sweat of the sower of seed.

These two quotes express the challenge of Jesus’ call to be like the grain of wheat. Meditating on this Gospel and the two commentaries of martyrs will be a good discipline for me in these last two weeks of Lent.

The quotation from Romero, from The Violence of Love, is reprinted from www.bruderhof.com. Copyright 2003 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.