Friday, March 18, 2016

On the Way of the Cross with Blessed Romero

Art by Luis Lazo Chaparro

#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me’.” (Mark 8:34)
By Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD *
In first century Palestine, if one saw a man surrounded by soldiers with a crossbeam strapped to his bloodied shoulders painfully making his way along a dusty road outside the city walls of Jerusalem, one could only come to a single conclusion — he was destined to die.  Today, however, when we speak of the “Way of the Cross” we usually have in mind something connected to liturgical activities of Holy Week culminating in the celebration of Easter.  We might think of Good Friday and sermons on Christ’s words from the Cross.  Perhaps we think of the devotions connected with the Stations of the Cross, or the stripping of the altar, or prayers before the altar of repose, or even the Easter Vigil itself.  Few of us experience the reality of the passion and death of Christ.  Even fewer of us are called by circumstance or divine providence to be a living “witness” (martyria) of Christ’s suffering, mirroring in our own life and death the passion of Christ.  Those who take upon themselves that calling, are those whom we deem “martyrs”.  Few have shown forth that call more clearly than Bl. Oscar Romero.

During this Holy Week we will look to Bl. Oscar Romero as he walked “The Way of the Cross”, a way that lead to his death at the altar on March 24, 1980.  We will look to him as one that mirrors the passion and death of Christ, one who recognized that if we seek to imitate Christ in his incarnation, we may also be called to imitate Christ in his suffering and death. As Romero himself said, just a month before his death:
This is the commitment of being a Christian: to follow Christ in his incarnation. And if Christ is a majestic God who becomes a humble man and lives with the poor until the death of slaves on a cross, our Christian faith should be lived in the same fashion. The Christian who doesn't want to live with this commitment of solidarity with the poor doesn't deserve to call himself a Christian. Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe it brothers, the one who binds himself with the poor has to go through the same destiny as the poor: to be disappeared, to be tortured, to be captured, to appear as dead.” (Archbishop Romero, February 17, 1980)
In his imitation of Christ, Romero was fully aware of where the road he was traveling on might lead.  (We remember that in his final weeks he often travelled alone, not wanting to put a driver or companion at risk.) Yet, owing to his deep and vital understanding of the incarnation, Romero also knew that Christ was not only with him in the journey, but that Christ himself had traversed the very same road and had followed that way to the very end. It was this realization that allowed Romero to understand the incarnation of Christ more fully and to apply that understanding to the situation that was being faced by him and others in El Salvador.
Christ is not an insensitive man. Christ is a real person—of flesh and bones, nerves and muscles, just like us. He is a man who feels just like a person feels when he is carried away by the National Guard and taken to a place of torture.” (Archbishop Romero, April 1, 1979)
I must confess, when I first realized that this year, the first year of Romero’s beatification, meant that his feast day would fall on Holy Thursday (March 24) and that his commemoration would be transferred to another day (the Salvadoran church will commemorate Romero on March 18) I was disappointed.  After the joy of the beatification and the outpouring of love and respect for Romero that seemed to come from every corner of the planet, I had looked forward to celebrating this first feast day of Bl. Oscar Romero.  Upon further reflection, however, I’ve concluded that Holy Week gives us a singular opportunity to view Romero from a very unique perspective.  It is a perspective that may allow us to see how Romero identified not only himself, but perhaps more importantly, the whole people of El Salvador with the figure of Christ on the Via Dolorosa, carrying the cross to Golgotha.  As Romero himself said:
We feel in the Christ of Holy Week, with the cross upon his shoulders, that this is the people who are also carrying their cross. We feel the people crucified in this Christ with the open arms crucified, but it is from this Christ that a people crucified and humiliated will encounter their hope.” (Archbishop Romero, March 19, 1978)
This, then, is an opportunity to embrace the figure with a cross upon his shoulders walking the dusty road outside the walls of Jerusalem, as well as all those who suffer, and have suffered, with him.  It is also an opportunity to embrace Romero, who walked in Christ’s steps, not down a dusty road, but to an altar in the chapel of a hospital, where, in the midst of the eucharistic sacrifice, the Archbishop was felled by an assassin’s bullet - the contents of the chalice from this unfinished Eucharist mixing with his own blood on the pavement.
So, let us welcome the providential timing of this Holy Week of 2016. Let us welcome it as a time of reflection.  Let us welcome it as a time of remembrance. Let us welcome it as a time of commitment. Perhaps most of all, let us welcome it as a time to walk with Bl. Oscar Romero in the Way of the Cross, following Christ from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and then, from there, to the hope and glory of the Resurrection.
* Duane is a friend of this Blog, and a member of The Project.  Take a minute to watch video for The Project’s song, “Romero.”

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