On March 24, 1980, a lone gunman stepped out of his car, rested his rifle on the car door and aimed it at the church. Through the wide-open doors he could see directly up the long aisle to his target, an archbishop who was just finishing his homily at Mass that morning. A shot rang out, and so ended the life of Oscar A. Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador.
For the previous three years, Oscar Romero preached the gospel to all his people, and had denounced the sins, murders and torturers who were destroying his country. Using the archdiocesan radio station, he spoke to all the people, and everyone listened to him. To the poor, he was the “voice of those who have no voice.” To the rich and powerful, he was a Communist and an enemy of the state. The rich and powerful publicly denounced him.
“We have never preached violence,” Romero said, “except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us.”
What kind of gospel would it be, Romero asked, that did not provoke a crisis in you? This is what many people would like: pleasant, pious considerations that do not bother people. That type of gospel never hurts anyone, and never helps anyone, either. No, the gospel is courageous, and it makes demands on us, even to the giving of our lives.
Romero gave a simple message to his people and those in power. “The Church says to the rich: Do not sin by misusing your money. It says to the powerful: Do not misuse your political influence. Do not misuse your weapons. Do not misuse your power.”
The abuse of power and position has brought great suffering to millions of people. The greed of the powerful has caused the financial crisis we went through several years ago. Yet all of us are tempted to misuse our power over others.
What kind of gospel would it be that did not provoke a crisis in you? The gospel is courageous, and it makes demands on us, even to the giving of our lives. – Oscar A. Romero
What is the message many people hear today? A major Christian organization took a survey a few years ago of the 10 most popular radio and TV ministers. They evaluated their sermons and the result was that 75% of their message focused on what we might call “feel good” preaching.
The themes ranged from: “You are a special child of God and you have a right to receive every physical blessing God has promised. Just believe and you will receive!” To “Everyone gets an A+ in God’s School of Faith.” One minister had just finished constructing a two million-dollar home for himself and was praising God for being so good to him and his family.
When we sugarcoat the Word of God, we have no sense of God, or no sense of justice, nor will we be expecting anything. We will fall into our lazy ways of living. Then the Gospel will be only a storybook. It will have no power to touch us, move us, or bring us to life.
This is what Romero said for the 1978 Advent Season, “Advent should caution us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ.
“Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them, Christ will take as done to him. This is what Advent is – Christ living among us.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero was canonized a saint by Pope Francis on October 14 of this year.
A bullet stopped that brave beating heart, but it could not silence his voice. Oscar Romero is a voice in the wilderness of worldly greed, a voice calling to us today.