Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Face of Christ

With Father Rutilio Grande.

After encouraging us to make our Lenten sacrifice an act of solidarity with the poor, Pope Francis assures us in his Lenten message that doing so will lead us to Christ.  In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face,” writes the Pontiff.  By loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ.”  Archbishop Oscar A. Romero of El Salvador insistently taught the same message one month before he was assassinated in 1980.  As we draw near to the poor,” he fervently preached, “we find we are gradually uncovering the genuine face of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh” (Feb. 17, 1980 sermon). 

In a sense, Romero was seeking to uncover that genuine face of Christ throughout all of his life.  In his youth, Romero studied asceticism, which promotes self-denial as a way to find God.  Asceticism has been likened to a moth’s “irrisistible desire” to draw near to a flame with little regard to its own physical well being. (Joseph CAMPBELL, Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, New World Library, Novato, California, 2001, p. 21.)  Similarly, an ascetic strives to draw near to God with seemingly little regard for his own suffering and deprivation.  Throughout his life, Romero practiced abstinence and mortification of the flesh, timeless ascetical practices intended to promote the soul towards God.  After Romero was killed, an aide found a penitential chain in his dresser drawer.  But the ultimate expression of Romero’s asceticism became his radical identification with the poor.  Romero lived as a poor man, and he died for defending the poor.

The Church is not a fortress apart from the city,” Romero said, “but rather the follower of Jesus, who lived, worked, struggled, and died in the midst of the city, the polis.”  And in this sense, he said, the poor teach the Church: “The poor are the ones who tell us what the world is and what service the Church must offer to the world. It is the poor who tell us what the polis is, what the city is and what it means for the Church to really live in the world.”  Consequently, said Romero, “The world of the poor is the key to understanding the Christian faith and the Church’s activity.”

Archbishop Romero reformulated the maxim of St. Irenaeus «Gloria Dei, vivens homo» (the glory of God is man fully alive) into his updated Salvadoran aphorism, «Gloria Dei, vivens pauper» (the glory of God are the poor fully alive).  We believe that from the transcendence of gospel we can know what the life of the poor is,” said Romero, “and we also believe that by putting ourselves on the side of the poor and trying to give them life we will be able to know the eternal truth of the gospel.”

NEXT: how poverty sheds light on sin

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