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The Way

Oscar Romero

  • Rose

    This is one of the most inspiring reading hitting reality of the world we live in today that I have read in the recent past. Thank you very much and may you be blessed. I will share with my colleagues

This article is a chapter from the book The Scandal of Redemption, excerpted from Oscar Romero’s homilies during his three years as archbishop of El Salvador.

When we live lives centered on God, then God is the center of our life, and our relations with others derive from God. When my use of the things God has created derives from God as the center that inspires my ethics, then I will be moral, honorable, and honest; I will tell the truth, I will not distort the news; I will not spread calumny because I know that God will hold me accountable. When God is the center of our lives, as Saint Paul says, then we will “pursue righteousness, devotion, love, faith, patience, and gentleness; we will struggle hard for the faith” (1 Tim. 6:11–12).

My sisters and brothers, this struggle of faith in which we are engaged is not a struggle of arms or of violence but of ideas and convictions. We do violence first to ourselves by the inspiration of faith according to what Saint Paul says so beautifully: “I insist that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach” (1 Tim. 6:14). The commandment is the whole body of things that God has revealed and commanded, and we as servants of God have an obligation to obey. But when we shake off God’s yoke and no longer hear God speaking in our conscience, then we have the situation where each person wants to be a god. The result of this is a cataclysm, as if the sun and the planets revolving around it were to lose their center of gravity and crash into one another. The sun is God, and as long as we revolve around God with an ethic that looks to God, then we will live together as sisters and brothers.

We give thanks because the church, the people of God in this community, is passing through what we have called an hour of cross and of Easter. The cross is in the pain of persecution. The cross is in the murder of priests who died this year. They should not have died; they should still be working with us, but now we number them among the dead, not by the will of God but by the crimes of human beings. The cross is in the persecution that we experience this year in the many empty posts where no priest is present. The cross is in the fear that exists in the communities that reflect on the word of God, just as there was in the early days when people imagined that Christianity was threatening the established peace. “The days will come,” said Christ as he lamented the time when people would believe that they were serving God by killing Christians (John 16:2).

We want peace, but not the peace of violence and of cemeteries, not peace imposed or extorted. We want peace that is the fruit of justice, peace that is the fruit of obedience to God, for God was expecting the righteousness and justice that his vineyard should have produced but got in return only murders. What we have of humanity and Christianity in El Salvador should have produced much peace, much right, much justice. How different our country would be if it were producing what God has planted here! It’s sad to say, but God feels he has failed with certain societies, and I think that the passages from Isaiah and Saint Paul that we read today have become a very sad Salvadoran reality: “I looked for righteousness, and behold, murders! I looked for justice, and behold, laments!” (Isa. 5:7).

We are not planting discord with these. We are simply crying out to the God who is weeping, to the God who hears the laments of his people because there is so much violence, to the God who feels the distress of his campesinos who cannot sleep in their homes because they must spend their nights in flight. God hears the wailing of the children who cry out for their parents who have disappeared: Where are they?

Ah! If only we had people of prayer among those who manage the destiny of the country and the destiny of the economy! If only they relied more on God and his techniques rather than on their own human technology, we would have a world that the church dreams about, a world without injustices, a world respectful of rights, a world where all people generously participate, a world without repression, a world without torture. Forgive me if I always mention torture, but there is a heaviness in my poor spirit when I think about those people who suffer the scourges, the kicks, and the blows of another human being. If they had just a bit of God in their hearts, they would see a brother or sister as an image of God. I say this because these situations continue. The arrests and the “disappearances” continue. How I hope that a little contact with God will change these dungeons of hell, that a little light will shine on them and make those running them understand what God desires of them. God does not want those things. God repudiates evil. God wants what is good, what is love.

“You have not kept to my paths but have been partial to persons in applying the law,” says the prophet (Mal. 2:9). If they’re Mr. So-and-so or Mrs. So-and-so, then we hear, “Happy to do it!” But if they’re some poor, despicable persons, they’re almost ignored. The church of the poor is a criterion of authenticity because she is not a church of classes. That doesn’t mean despising the rich, but it does mean telling the rich that, if they don’t become poor in their hearts, they will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. The true preacher of Christ is the church of the poor that looks to the God who hears those who are praying in the poverty and misery and pain of the slums in the hope that they will be heard. Only by drawing close to those voices can the church feel close to God. “You are partial to persons in applying the law.” How well the campesinos put it: “The law is like a snake; it bites only those who walk barefoot.”

We have a message to communicate to the world, and we are the ones responsible for this message. When Christ chose twelve men to receive his divine wisdom, he told them finally, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now (John 16:12–13). The deposit of divine revelation that I offer you is so great that my divine Spirit will be with you. You are chosen from the people and will have God’s special assistance so that in every moment throughout history you will preach my word according to the needs of the times. You must incarnate my word in the needs and the sins and the virtues of the people you have in your charge.” This is the great ministry of the word. It is so difficult and so incomprehensible that often the dialogue that the church wishes to establish to enlighten the world turns into persecution. Sometimes the offenses against the ministry of the word become as terrible as the ones we are suffering at the present time. “He came to his own,” we can say, “and the light shone, but the darkness did not want to receive it” (John 1:11, 5). This is the mystery of iniquity, the mystery of sin that the church attempts to root out from the world and from history, even as history and the world attempt to suffo­cate the word of God.

Therefore, my brother priests, you have arrived at the height of priestly ordination in order to proclaim this word which, like the prophets, you feel burning deep within you, a devouring flame from which we would just as soon flee. I speak of this ministry not as an honor but as a prophetic duty, for we are called to go forth and proclaim the authentic revelation to the people.

Dear brothers, do not betray your service to this ministry of God’s word. It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world in any way. We can spiritualize our words so that they lack any commitment to history. We can speak words that sound good in any part of the world because they say nothing about the world. Such words create no problems; they give rise to no conflicts. The word that characterizes the authentic church is the word that causes conflicts and persecutions. It is the searing word of the prophets that announces and denounces: it announces the marvelous works of God so that people will believe and worship God, and it denounces the sins of those who oppose God’s kingdom. The true word denounces sins so that they will be uprooted from people’s hearts, from their societies, from their laws, and from all those organizations that oppress and imprison and trample upon the rights of God and humankind.

This is the difficult service of the word, but the Spirit of God accompanies the prophet and the preacher because it is through them that Christ himself continues to proclaim his kingdom to men and women of every era.

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. It’s wonderful that God has given you this keen sensibility, and if you have a political calling, then blessed be God! Cultivate it well, and be careful not to lose that vocation. Don’t replace that social and political sensitivity with hatred, vengeance, and earthly violence. Lift your hearts on high, and consider the things that are above!

Those who preach and inspire the various forms of earthly liberation do not have to be ideologues, much less atheists who are without God and without Christ. The one who most inspires the liberation of our country and of humanity is the one and only liberator, the risen Christ. Christ is the one who proclaims this morning the true victory over all the oppressive forces of the earth. This Christ who now reigns in the glory of the Father can challenge the might of Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire; he can defy the fanaticism of the spiritual leaders of Israel, the priests who have perverted the meaning of religion. By his resurrection Christ offers all the liberators of earth this challenge: “You will not free people! The only liberation that endures is that which breaks the chains on the human heart, the chains of sin and selfishness.” Christ is the one who has left the grave empty and has broken through the bars of death and hell, and now he invites all men and women to die happily so that they also, at the hour of the universal resurrection, can defy the tombs of our cemeteries, saying, “Death, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55)

Everything else dies, everything else is sin, everything else is hatred and violence, everything else is bloodshed and murder and kidnapping. None of that is liberation. All that is buried among the old things that Christ leaves behind to give us the new, true life which only true Christians can experience. Let us hope that the fanatics of violence and terrorism, as well as those who think repression and force are going to fix the situation, learn that those are not the ways of the Lord. Rather, the ways of the Lord are love and respect and obeying the law of the Lord; they are the humble ways of Christ. Christ is the one who grants true liberation to those who want to accept it. Christ is indeed the key to the revelation of God. 

In all of history no one has ever encountered a love that was so – how to say it? – so crazy, so exaggerated: giving to the point of being crucified on a cross. There is no friend who has given his life for another friend with such an outpouring of suffering and love as Christ our Lord…. That is why Christ tells us that the sign of the Christian is living the new commandment he gives us. It is a commandment that tonight becomes fresh in our memory and our lives: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

This is the greatest disease of our world today: not knowing how to love. Everything is selfishness. Everything is exploitation of human beings. Everything is cruelty and torture. Everything is violence and repression. The houses of our people are burned. Our sisters and brothers are thrown into prison and tortured. So many cruel acts are committed against them. Jesus, how you must suffer tonight as you behold the situation of our nation with all its many crimes and cruelties! I see Christ saddened as he sits at his Passover supper and looks upon El Salvador; he tells us, “I told you to love one another.”…

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’” (Luke 23:34). 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….

Only by humility can we be redeemers and collaborators in the true collaboration that the world needs. Liberation that cries out against others is not true liberation. No liberation brings true freedom if it causes hateful, violent revolutions that destroy the lives and offend the dignity of people. True freedom is that which does violence to itself just as Christ, almost disregarding his sovereign power, becomes a slave in order to serve others. These are the true liberators that this tremendous hour demands of our country, liberators with humble hearts in which Christian love shines bright.

How beautiful is the greeting of the risen Christ: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26). That is his gift: peace. That is why any people that riddles peace with bullets – it’s sad to say it – is not a Christian people. In those zones of repression and hostility where the greeting of peace sounds sarcastic, El Salvador is the antichrist. My dear sisters and brothers of Perulapán, my hope is that all of you without distinction fall on your knees before Christ, who alone gives peace. Peace does not come from military operations with the collaboration of ORDEN, nor does peace come from the revenge carried out by some popular organization. Peace comes only from Christ. Only by believing in Christ and in one another can we ever experience true peace. 

a rocky path going over a hill into mist with blue mountains behind
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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