THE SAN SALVADOR SERMON
In August 1976, Óscar A. Romero was invited to preach the sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration, the national patronal feast of El Salvador. At the time, Romero was the Bishop of Santiago de María in rural eastern El Salvador and the sermon would provide an opportunity to speak at the San Salvador Cathedral for the largest celebration in Salvadoran life. The sermon would have been broadcast over the radio, giving the obscure bishop the largest audience of his life. And—given the fact that Romero was appointed Archbishop within a few months—it proved a star-making turn. (This is an analysis of a recently published sermon which has only come on line within the last days.)
Bishop Romero used the chance to preach about the liberation inherent in the salvific message of Christ. Speaking gently, Romero reminded his audience that, because the Feast of the Transfiguration harkens to the founding of the country, the celebration was like the evocation of a “cradle song.” Revisiting that history, said Romero, was an opportunity to “face up to the question of whether our religious and national life is being constructed according to the solid coordinates” of Christian teaching. (O.A. Romero, El Divino Salvador: Quién es, Cómo es su Liberación, Cómo llega hasta nosotros su Obra [The Divine Savior: Who He is, what His liberation consists of, how His work reaches us], reprinted in DIARIO DE ORIENTE, Nos. 31001, 31005, 31006, 31007, 31008, 31009, August-October 1976, available here.) Romero then recalled that Pope Paul VI, meeting in Ordinary General Assembly with the Synod of Bishops in 1974, had acknowledged “the voice of the millions of sons and daughters of the Church” in the Third World who groan under the burden of “famine, chronic disease, illiteracy, poverty, injustices in international relations and especially in commercial exchanges, situations of economic and cultural neo-colonialism sometimes as cruel as the old political colonialism.” (EVANGELII NUNTIANDI, 30) The Church, Romero proclaimed, had a duty to attend to their “complete liberation.”
As he would as archbishop, Bishop Romero proposed the Divine Savior—the Transfigured Jesus—as the model of that liberation. “We do not have to go like beggars to atheist sources or to ones without a sense of Transcendence for our concept of Liberation,” Romero said. “Starting from our national origins,” he said, “God has favored us with His true message. It is there, in the innermost part of our faith and of our authentic national spiritual identity, where we find the light and the strength that the Divine Savior offers us for the effective liberation, promotion and transformation of our country.” And as the Pope and the bishops called for a “complete liberation,” Romero preached, “The liberation of Christ and of His Church, does not reduce itself to a merely temporal endeavor. Its objectives are not reduced to an anthropocentric perspective, to a material well-being, or to initiatives of a political, social, economic or cultural order.” Then he cautioned, “Much less can it be a liberation justified upon or which justifies violence.”
Instead, “complete liberation” includes these things (material well being, initiatives of a political, social, economic or cultural order) but goes beyond them. The Liberation of Christ and His Church “is a liberation that encompasses humanity in its entirety, in all its dimensions,” Romero declared, “and that includes being open to the Absolute, which is God.” Speaking in generalities, but without ambiguity, Romero said that the Church stands shoulder to shoulder with others who practice the acts of temporal liberation, adding its own contributions in the field of spirituality: “When it joins those who work for liberation,” Romero said, “the Church does not limit its action to the religious field, disassociating itself from the temporal problems of Mankind; instead, it reaffirms the primacy of its spiritual vocation.” The Church, he said, “does not substitute the proclamation of the Kingdom of God for the announcement of human liberations,” but its best contribution is to convert hearts. “The Church agrees,” he said, “that it is necessary to change existing structures for ones that are more just and more humane.” But, the Church is convinced, he added, that the new ones would revert to being unjust and inhumane if there was not true the profound conversion at the spiritual level that the Church is concerned with.
The sermon was a decisive, albeit conservative, pronouncement that revealed Romero’s evolving pastoral compass, attentive to the reality of his country and of his Church.
Romero's 'Transfiguration Theology' (Spanish)
Romero's final Transfiguration sermon (Spanish)
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