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detail from Giovanni Bellini, Pietà Martinengo, 1505

Liberation at the Cross

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Thirty-eight years ago, El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero fell to an assassin’s bullet while celebrating Mass. In life, his outspoken call for justice for the poor earned him the accusation of political meddling and even of supporting Communism. Now the Vatican is close to declaring him a saint. It’s not hard to see why: though he never shied from confronting oppression, his message was grounded in a profound love for the nonviolent Christ. Here are his words, taken from a new Plough collection of his writings and sermons titled The Scandal of Redemption.

There can be no freedom as long as there is sin in the heart. What’s the use of changing structures? What’s the use of violence and armed force if the motivation is hatred and the purpose is to buttress those in power or else to overthrow them and then create new tyrannies? What we seek in Christ is true freedom, the freedom that transforms the heart, the freedom the risen Christ announces to us today, “Seek what is above” (Col. 3:1). Don’t view earthly freedom and the oppression of this unjust system in El ­Salvador just by looking down from the rooftops. Look on high! That doesn’t mean accepting the situation, because Christians also know how to struggle. Indeed, they know that their struggle is more forceful and valiant when it is inspired by this Christ who knew how to do more than turn the other cheek and let himself be nailed to a cross. Even submitting to crucifixion, he has redeemed the world and sung the definitive hymn of victory, the victory that cannot be used for other ends but benefits those who, like Christ, are seeking the true liberation of human beings. This liberation is incomprehensible without the risen Christ, and it’s what I want for you, dear sisters and brothers, especially those of you who have such great social awareness and refuse to tolerate the injustices in our country.… Lift your hearts on high, and consider the things that are above!

Here is the proof that love alone solves everything.

Dear young people given to violence and vice, you who have already lost your faith in love and think that love can solve nothing, here is the proof that love alone solves everything. If Christ had wanted to impose his redemption through armed force or through fire and violence, he would have achieved nothing. That would have been useless; there would be only more hatred and wickedness. But going straight to the heart of redemption, Christ tells us on this night, “This is my commandment: as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” And he says more: “So that you may see that these are not simply words, stay with me tonight when I will sweat blood as I observe the evil of humankind and the pain of my own sufferings! And tomorrow you will see me carrying the cross like a silent lamb and dying on Calvary. Be assured that I bear no resentment toward anybody. From the depth of my soul I will cry out, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’” Let us reflect, sisters and brothers, on this personified gesture of love. And when we are tempted to act with vengeance, resentment, cruelty, or selfishness, let us not consider the sad example of people who hate one another. Rather let us raise our eyes toward the love that becomes lamb, that becomes food, that becomes Passover, that becomes covenant.

Giovanni Bellini, Pietà Martinengo, 1505

Giovanni Bellini, Pietà Martinengo, 1505 Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Contributed By photo of Archbishop Oscar Romero Oscar Romero

During his three years as archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero became known as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering.

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