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    reflection of water on a lake

    Partisans of the Prince of Peace

    August 17, 2020
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    This article is part of the Arc of Justice series, responding to the killing of George Floyd and the international movement it has sparked.

    In 1977, Oscar Romero was appointed archbishop of San Salvador. At the time, El Salvador was a nation in violent upheaval: El Salvador was sharply divided between rich and poor, and left-wing guerrilla groups, supported by the Soviet Union and by other Soviet-bloc countries, staged incursions against the right-wing junta in charge, which was supported by the Carter administration in the United States; in response, the government carried out kidnappings and assassinations on a large scale. Romero saw both the leftist groups and the government as his children to shepherd. He spoke to all, commanding conversion to Christ and a repentance and forgiveness based on acknowledgment of truth. He was murdered as he was saying Mass by agents of the state police. The following is drawn from The Scandal of Redemption and from The Violence of Love, two Plough books of selections from his homilies and writings.

    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.

    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?

    There is tremendous anticipation, sisters and brothers. The call to conversion has awakened many hearts that were asleep in sin, like the people in Zebulun and Nephtali. These people thought that the church was meddling in politics and other areas where she had no business. Now they have finally understood that we are simply preaching the kingdom of God, which means pointing out sin in any human situation even when the sin is found in political and economic situations. The church must be the voice of Christ; she must declare, “Be converted, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt 4:17).

    Those who want to enter this kingdom must draw close to God by being converted and repenting of their sins. This has been the cry of the church in these recent times: conversion. Therefore, sisters and brothers, be converted! I am the first to need conversion. We all need conversion, for as the Apocalypse says, “The righteous must still do right, and the holy still be holy” (Rev. 22:11). Naturally, those who are in sin must be restored to God’s grace and renounce all forms of injustice and selfishness and violence. Let us become friends of God, for God has no part in sin.

    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.

    a cormorant on a lake

    Photograph by Ray Hennessey (public domain)

    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.

    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.

    Isaiah presents us with a beautiful panorama (Isa. 60:1–6). Darkness covers the earth, confusion reigns in the world where God has not shed his light. Then in Jerusalem the people behold a light, not a light coming from outside, but rather a God who becomes incarnate in Jerusalem a light that illuminates the paths of history and the world. Along these roads illuminated by God travel all the world’s peoples, bringing their tribute so as form one single kingdom, the kingdom of God…. He did not create different races and peoples so that they would be confounded by their diversity of languages and unable to understand one another, nor did he create social diversity so as to marginalize some people while others lived well. What God wanted was to make the whole world a great community.

    There is no longer distinction between Jew and Gentile (Gal. 3:28). There is no longer a privileged people and a marginalized people. All of us are coheirs in the mystery of Christ. The inheritance of God our Father is for all of us who are sisters and brothers. Christ, the elder brother and heir of all the promises, makes us his sisters and brothers; he makes us “coheirs,” a word invented by Saint Paul…. In Christ all human beings are called to this wealth of God’s kingdom. We are members of the same body.

    God did not make us to live dispersed and separated. We need one another. The head can never tell the feet, “I don’t need you.” The hands cannot tell the heart it’s unnecessary, nor can the heart say that to the other members. All the members, each in its proper functions, are members of the living body (1 Cor. 12:26).

    Christ is already building this kingdom. We human beings are not going to do this by ourselves. We have heard the beautiful description of Isaiah when he refers to Christ our Lord: “A child is born to us; a son is given to us; upon his shoulders dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice” (Isa. 9:6–7).

    In our days the church has been given the responsibility to criticize and analyze the kingdoms of earth and bring people to an awareness that they are still lacking in justice and peace and effectiveness. Only when Christ, the true king announced by God, becomes truly the king of all hearts will the reign that God desires become a reality. The ideal king did not appear on the throne of David until that night when the angels sang the words of the prophet: “For a child is born, and upon his shoulders is the reign of peace and justice and love.”

    Contributed By photo of Archbishop Oscar Romero Oscar Romero

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

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