Way back when, in the days of my Jesuit Volunteering, I lived in the Oscar Romero house.
It looked like that. Except it wasn’t sepia in real life.
It also had really ugly wallpaper and a weird candelabra that we didn’t realize was plastic until the we took it down to paint over the wallpaper that spring.
The house only had one shower for 8 people, but other than that, it was a good house.
Our house, Casa de Romero, was named after Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated today March 24th in El Salvador. He was shot while saying Mass.
Romero was a champion of the poor and oppressed. He was a proponent of liberation theology, essentially a belief institutional sin. Meaning entire governments or companies could be guilty of the sin of oppressing people. Liberation theology taught a “preferential option for the poor,” meaning that the poor should always be considered in decisions of policy making and the like. Liberation theologists believe that it is our duty to begin building a just society on earth, to build God’s kingdom in the present. The Catholic Church has not fully embraced liberation theology, as it was a movement often associated with violence since it sprung out of the violence in Latin America late-mid 20th century. Pope Benedict has asserted that there should not be a preferential option for the poor, as all are equally deserving of God’s grace.
Think what you will about liberation theology (like everything it probably gets some things right and somethings wrong) the point is that as Christians we are called to love God’s children regardless of factors such as economic status, social status, or any status. We absolutely cannot ignore those who are the poorest among us.
I’m no expert on 1980s Latin American politics, so I won’t try to explain all the reasons why Romero was murdered. But basically, it was his love of the poor and belief that their voices should be heard that made him an international figure, and thus a target.
There is a poem that was read at Oscar Romero’s funeral, and is often misattributed to him. (It was really written by Bishop Ken Untener). A verse of this poem was written on one wall of our house, and after long days at work, we’d plop down on the couch and stare idly at it. I only consciously read it through a handful of times, but the words have sunk into my heart. We knew we wouldn’t change the world in a year, but we had to have hope that we were working towards something greater.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
God’s work is not done. It was not finished in the last pages of the Bible, or in the yesteryears of great famous saints. It continues today, but it will not finish today. We must continue to fight the good fight, the fight to spread hope and love and justice to the poor and all of God’s people.
And so I leave you with a few quotes of Oscar Romero, and one Jon Stewart clip in case you are wondering how Romero is being remembered today. I also highly recommend the movie “Romero” if you are interested in learning more about this great advocate for peace.
“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”
“Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world.”
“I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.”
“Aspire not to have more, but to be more.”
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