Along with Friar Antonio Montesinos’ astounding December 1511 condemnation of the mistreatment of the natives of Hispaniola, Archbishop Romero’s final Sunday sermon ranks among the most powerful homilies in the history of the Church in Latin America. His sermon for 1980’s Fifth Sunday of Lent has been called “one of the greatest appeals for peace and disarmament in church history” and its culminating call on the Salvadoran military to “Stop the repression” against peasant organizations and the political opposition has been emblazoned in graffiti, posters, songs, t-shirts and bumper stickers.
Previously:“Stop the repression” (English | Spanish | Audio) is an exegesis on the abuse and imposition of the law which Romero derives from the Sunday readings about: Israel’s desert compact (Isaiah43:16-21); St. Paul’s teaching about “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:8-14); and Jesus defense of the adulterous woman by daring “he who is without sin [to] cast the first stone”(John 8:1-11). Romero starts by recapping the first four Sundays of Lent. He recalls that “Jesus is presented to us as one fasting and overcoming temptation in the desert,” in the readings of the 1st Sunday. “He urges us forward and presents Himself to us transfigured, calling us to this goal that all humankind is called to,” he says, conjuring the 2nd Sunday. “On the third, fourth and fifth Sunday of Lent, God invites men and women to collaborate in their salvation, to be converted and reconciled with God,” Romero continues. “Using beautiful images such as the barren fig tree, the Prodigal Son, and the adulterous woman who repents and is forgiven, God calls us and tells us that … [e]very sin can be forgiven and we can be reconciled with any enemy when there is a sincere conversion and turning back to the Lord.” He proclaims: “This is the message of Lent!”
Within this beckoning message, Romero uses the first reading to draw out an important baseline definition. “Today’s first reading, the famous hymn of Isaiah, presents God speaking with the people,” Romero states. “This dialogue of God is with a collective personality, as if God were speaking with single person,” Romero observes, noting that God himself is imparting recognition to His chosen people. Romero asks us to “notice that in the history of the Bible, in the Old Testament, there are references to this group called the People of God and there are other references to the people in general.” In an environment wherein the interest of the Church and political interests were intensely disputed, with critics charging Romero with overstepping his bounds, Romero wanted to demarcate his jurisdiction. “When I as pastor speak to the People of God, I do not pretend to be a teacher for everyone in El Salvador,” Romero says, “but rather I am the servant of that remnant that calls itself Church, the Archdiocese, those who want to serve Christ and who recognize in their bishop the teacher who speaks to them in Christ’s name.” He adds, “From them I hope to receive respect and obedience.” He rejects charges that his ministry “forsakes the preaching of the gospel to meddle in politics,” but insists that he is obligated to state the political and social implications derived from the Church’s doctrine.
Romero holds up St. Paul as the emblem of transcendence, and a sacred reminder that the Church’s teaching is ultimately spiritual. “Saint Paul’s words are truly incredible,” Romero marvels. “Paul, the sinner,” he recounts, “had no knowledge of Jesus but believed that Jesus and the Christians were traitors to the true religion: Judaism.” Paul felt morally entitled to persecute Christians, to bring them back in chains and put them to death, but his notions of what was lawful and moral was stood on its head after Paul discovers Christ. “Many people want justice, my justice, the justice of men and women. They do not move beyond this,” Romero warns. “Paul says that it is not this kind of justice that saves him, but rather ‘the justice that he possesses and which comes through faith in Christ, my Lord’.” This was Pope Francis’ message in his first Mass with the cardinals, when he said, “we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church.” Romero explains it by saying that, “It's fine to be organized in popular groups; it's all right to form political parties; it's all right to take part in the government. It's fine as long as you are a Christian who carries the reflection of the kingdom of God and tries to establish it where you are working, and as long as you are not being used to further worldly ambitions.” Pope Francis: “When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.” It’s the same message.
Romero concludes with Jesus’ defense of the adulteress. “I can find no more beautiful figure of Jesus restoring a person’s human dignity than that of the sinless Jesus who comes face to face with the woman surprised in the act of adultery,” Romero begins. From this Gospel, Romero draws a warning to the Left: “It is very easy to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence and social sin,” and while such condemnation is valid, it overlooks the role of personal sin, he warns. “Our actual society is like a type of anonymous society in which no one wants to lay blame on anyone and everyone is responsible,” he says. “We are all sinners and we have all played a part in the crimes and violence that occurs in our country.” Finally, he draws a devastating critique for the Right. Jesus’ message shows that, “The human person is not subordinate to the law,” Romero says. “The law is made for the human person and not vice versa.” He rails against the hypocrisy of invoking legalisms and state power precisely to impose selfish interests and perverse ends and rejects all ideologies that subordinate human dignity. Jesus is not concerned with false legalisms that pervert justice; he administers divine justice with tenderness and firmness, rejecting sin but redeeming sinners.
Against the pure and divine teaching of Jesus, Romero holds up a litany of killings and repression from the foregoing week, and concludes that principles of legalism are being subverted to betray Christian teachings. “Before an order to kill that a man may give, God’s law must prevail: ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God,” he rails. The Church defends rights granted by God, the law of God and human dignity and thus “cannot remain silent before such abominations,” he says. “In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”
In his first papal sermon Pope Francis has challenged us to find, “the courage … to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord… and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified.” In his last sermon, Romero declares that “Easter is now the cry of victory … Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred that have been raised against [Christ] and against his Church can prevail. He is the victorious one!” Romero was killed the next day.
«Septem Sermones Fidei:» the last seven sermons of Archbishop Romero