Thursday, October 22, 2015

Blessed Romero for the Year of Mercy



In the letter Pope Francis sent to the Archdiocese of San Salvador for the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Francis presented Romero as a model of mercy, saying that the Salvadoran martyr  built peace with the power of love”—citing Romero’s own words.  It is to this that the Church in El Salvador, in America and in the entire world is called to today: to be rich in mercy, to become a leaven of reconciliation for society.”

[Update:] Addressing Salvadoran pilgrims, he stated it more explicitly: “with only a few weeks to go before the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Monsignor Romero’s example constitutes for his beloved nation a stimulus and renewed endeavor for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, announcing it in such a way that all people will know it, so that the merciful love of the Divine Savior invades the heart and history of its good people.”

Francis’ presentation of Romero as one who was “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4) and Archbishop Romero’s teachings on the subject of mercy lead us to propose Blessed Romero for the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.  In his letter on Romero, Pope Francis highlighted the actions Blessed Romero took that reflect the virtue of mercy. “In times of difficult coexistence,” said the Pontiff, “Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the entire Church.”  He noted that Romero’s “ministry was distinguished by a special attention to the poorest and most marginalized. And in the moment of his death, while celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of Love and Reconciliation, he received the grace of fully identifying with the One who gave his life for his sheep.”

Francis tells us that bishops must “follow” the Good Shepherd “in imitation of Jesus who, in emptying himself, saved us with his mercy.”  In his letter, Francis declares that Romero meets this high standard of discipleship.  The Pope calls the Salvadoran martyr, “a zealous bishop who, by loving God and serving his brethren, became an image of Christ the Good Shepherd.”  Romero emulates the Good Shepherd, who “being rich became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  He gives up all expectations of safety and comfort to accompany his people.  Romero models the Good Shepherd, who being flawless, humiliates himself by enduring a criminal’s death for our sakes (Philippians 2:8).  He accepts danger, violence, criticism, rebuke and derision.  The Salvadoran Church, in beatifying him, called him a “Martyr for Love.”

Blessed Oscar Romero was a Martyr for Mercy, one who is apt to teach us much about Mercy in this Holy Jubilee Year dedicated to the subject of Mercy.  In addition to modeling mercy by “fully identifying with the One who gave his life for his sheep,” Blessed Romero also preached masterfully on mercy.  His preaching is notable because it presents the complete picture of mercy: not only forgiveness, but also the more difficult elements of denunciation and a call to conversion.  In his beatification homily, Card. Angelo Amato applied to Romero the words of St. Augustine: “Having to preach, to admonish, to correct, to edify ... is a great weight, a serious responsibility. It is a difficult task.”  Romero himself acknowledges this.  No one finds it harder to speak about the evils of his own people than I,” he said, “who have the pastoral duty of saying what is sin and what must not prevail, by talking about the ways to walk: conversion, faith, mercy.”  (June 11, 1978 Homily.)

Thus he preached:

What is mercy? Mercy is the most complete expression of love. Love is commitment, forgiveness, justice, and understanding other people. Mercy is not the pride of the Pharisees who despised the poor and those living on the margins of society, but the embrace of God, who though he was rich, came into this world to seek out the poor and those who did not want to sit down and eat with them. Mercy is goodness expressed in action and not simply in words. Mercy… each one of you understands this because I believe we have all performed some small act of mercy for others and above all, we have all been the object of mercy. If God had not been merciful to us when we fell into sin, where would we be? If God had not been merciful to us and forgiven us before he died, where would we go? Perhaps in our relationships with other people we have performed many acts of mercy or perhaps we have received great mercy from others. Blessed are those who have performed many merciful acts. This is what God desires!

The mission of the Church is to proclaim the marvelous works of God’s mercy. This is her primary mission. But together with this there is another dimension: to call people to faith, to conversion and to mercy. And in the third place, to denounce sin that separates humanity from this relationship with God, from this relationship of faith and truth and mercy—to denounce all those realities that do not allow us to dispose ourselves toward God’s coming.

(Id.)  In fact, Blessed Oscar Romero’s preaching stands side by side with the message Pope Francis wishes to give us for this Holy Year of Mercy:

Pope Francis
Blessed Archbishop Romero
Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers.”
The mission of the Church is to proclaim the marvelous works of God’s mercy. This is her primary mission.”
-June 11, 1978 Homily.

Mercy and Justice ...

Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.”
-M.V., 21
God’s justice is impartial for God treats Popes, Kings and humble Christians in the same way. The People of God implore God to be merciful because no one is saved by their own merits ... rather one is saved by trusting in the infinite mercy and merits of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal.”
-M.V., 10
As far as possible, it is necessary to judge with the mind of the Lord, who desires mercy more than justice.

A sign of God’s omnipotence ...

God’s mercy, rather than a sign of weakness, is the mark of his omnipotence.”
-M.V., 6
In a weak person, power becomes cruelty—a sense of inferiority is carried to the level of brutishness. God has no sense of inferiority. God is sovereign. God can do all, and so he judges even his felons, even his sinners, with kindness and mercy. But this just and merciful God also sanctions, because his mercy is not weakness.”

The Ecumenism of Mercy...

There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church … I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions.”
-M.V., 23
“My sisters and brothers, it will be a great surprise, for many good Samaritans, people who did not believe in Christ, people who did not call themselves Catholic but people who did not persecute the Church, will find themselves saved at the time of the final judgment while many Christians will be cast aside because they did not fulfill this commandment of love and mercy.”

The Kairos of Mercy ...

The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.”
-M.V., 10
The Church should be “a house of the Lord’s mercy where sinners will not find reproach or excommunication or harshness but rather kindness and acceptance and the embrace of our Lord who calls them to repentance and forgiveness.”
What a beautiful thing that the Church begins her daily prayer with the words, ‘O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me’ (Ps 70:2)!
-M.V., 14
May we never cease to pray. May we lift up our hearts to God and ask for his grace and his mercy.”

Blessed Romero preached a final, masterful lesson on mercy which synthesizes everything described above.  At his last Sunday sermon the day before he was martyred, Blessed Romero preached on the Gospel account of Christ and the Adulterous Woman (John 8:1-11).  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,” said Romero. (March 23, 1980 Homily.)  Look at Jesus’ attitude,” Romero urges: “Strength but tenderness”—embrace the sinner, reject the sin.

Despite the woman’s sinfulness, Christ sees that “converting the woman is better than stoning her; forgiving and saving her is better than condemning her. The law has to be at the service of human dignity and not focused on legal details that so often can trample people’s honor,” Romero adds.  Inspired by this lesson, Romero goes on to plead on behalf of the peasants, “whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously,” for the law in El Salvador not to be applied with arbitrariness and harshness, but for the army to “Stop the repression” of civilians, even if it meant disobeying orders to do so.  Romero knew that saying this would put him in grave danger, but he was inspired to make this appeal by the message of the Gospel.  As a result of this final act of mercy, Blessed Oscar Romero was martyred on the following day.

For his Christian denunciations and calls to repentance, for his faithful preaching on mercy, and for his selfless emulation of the Good Shepherd who guides and protects his flock with his very own life, we propose Blessed Oscar Romero for the Holy Year of Mercy.  Those who have Archbishop Romero as a friend in the faith,” said Pope Francis in his letter for Blessed Romero’s beatification, “who invoke him as protector and intercessor [will] find in him strength and courage to build the Kingdom of God, and to commit to a more equitable and dignified social order,” premised on the virtue of Mercy.

On the Feast of Saint John Paul II, the Pope of Divine Mercy.

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