Saturday, February 16, 2013


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Like Pope Benedict XVI, who knows that his remaining pronouncements this Lenten season will be his last opportunity to preach his message to the faithful, Archbishop Romero knew his preaching for Lent 1980 would be his final sermons.  When he preached on the First Sunday of Lent under the liturgical “C” cycle—the same reading cycle we follow in 2013—a bomb had taken out the radio tower that broadcast his Sunday masses. Archbishop Romero’s enemies were closing in (he was killed 30 days later) and therefore his preaching became more pointed, more urgent.  Pope Benedict has used his final pronouncements to speak about the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, which he attended as a theological consultant, while Archbishop Romero used his final sermons to implement the Council’s formula for leveraging belief in a world to come with the ethical implications for the social order—what Benedict recently described as the “responsibility for the future of this world and eschatological hope” (Feb. 14, 2013 Farewell Address to the Clergy).
Romero preaches that First Sunday of Lent 1980 [English | Spanish | Audio], with the Evangelical zeal of a St. Patrick preaching in Ireland, or even St. Paul in Corinth.  He speaks at some length about the meaning of faith.  We come to Mass in order to say that we are going to share our intimate faith with all of our brothers and sisters who have gathered together today,” he says, summarizing.  We also make our faith explicit by the way that we live our lives and it is for this reason that I told you before that we must become the microphones of God. Our faith is communicated to others through our good example, through our honesty and kind words and comforting words,” Romero says.  We are invited to become models of God’s Word which has become rooted in the depths of our being. This is faith!  He discusses how participation in the sacraments is an expression of one’s faith, and that one’s whole life should be, too.  Additionally, the Church needs to proclaim the faith and lead the faithful in study and reflection on the Scriptures, Archbishop Romero says.

It is in this context that Archbishop Romero particularly deplores the destruction of the radio transmitter.  We are especially sorry today, when we most need it, to be without our radio station, the instrument that carried God’s word forth from our Sunday Mass,” he laments.  The attack is a blow against the Church’s freedom of expression, he says.  He condemns it as “an attempt to silence the prophetic and pastoral voice of the Archdiocese simply because it is trying to be the voice of the voiceless, because it has reported the systematic violation of human rights, because it has tried to tell the truth, defend justice and spread the Christian message.  But the final victory will be Christ’s, he says, because “the life of our communities and our individual lives give witness to the gospel that the Church preaches. In other words,” he says, “even though we may not have radios or any other technical apparatus, may all Christians proclaim throughout the world the great liberating message of Christianity! 
Romero explains that liberating message from the three readings of the day: the Faith of Israel (Deuteronomy 26:4-10), St. Paul on Faith (Romans 10:8-13), and the Temptations of Christ in the Desert (Luke 4:1-13).  All three speak to Romero of the ultimate victory of the Faith.  In Israel’s Creed, Romero points out the political dimension of that faith.  Israel’s creed is pure history,” he says.  It begins with the promise that was made to the Patriarchs,” he explains, and it continues with a process of liberation: “A people that had grown more numerous in a situation of slavery is told by God that they will be given a land flowing with milk and honey.  Politics and faith converge: “The Israelites did not have an ethereal faith, like many Christians who think that speaking of things like this gets the Church involved in politics,” he notes.  Just as the Israelites brought a bushel of their harvest as an offering to their temple, so are all people called to work for a harvest of justice: “The God of all peoples, including the God of El Salvador, must be such a God, one who also illuminates political life,” says Romero.  He is the One who gives us our farmlands and who wants land reform. He is the One who wants a more just distribution of the wealth that El Salvador produces.  Christ makes Israel’s faith creed universal: “Christ is our own. Christ is a Salvadoran for Salvadorans. Christ has risen here in El Salvador for us: and our history will be a history of resurrection, of liberty and dignity to the extent we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit that led Jesus so that, with the power of that Spirit, we can pursue our own nature, our own history, our own freedom, and our own dignity as Salvadoran people.

St. Paul’s discussion of the faith from the second reading describes the process for Christian faith to seep into our lives and liberate us, Romero preaches.  Saint Paul tells us today that the process is very simple,” says Romero.  The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart: proclaim the word of God and bring the word closer to women and men,” he says, recapping the reading.  This is the mission of the preacher,” he says: “This is also the mission of our radio station and it is for this reason that we miss the programs of the radio station,” he adds, drawing applause from the audience, “they are vehicles that at the present time bring the Word of God to women and men.”  The bombing of the radio station has been a hard blow against Romero, but it has also brought him an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity.  He reads telegrams from various Catholic communities, and from an international conglomeration of bishops, including the Brazilian Dom Helder Cámara, and others from various Latin American countries.  Like the retiring Pontiff, Archbishop Romero is engulfed in a bittersweet tide of affection, which he also takes as a sign that good will overcome evil.  The same sweet sadness lingers today in the memory of his martyrdom.
But the greatest sign of good’s eventual triumph over evil is the Gospel reading of the temptations of Christ.  Jesus’ response to Satan is a model for all of us, collectively, and individually, “and his victory over evil is so resplendent that throughout the three years of his public ministry this victory will shine forth,” says Romero, as the way “to overcome the temptations that attempt to destroy the plan of God.”  When Jesus resists the Devil’s tempting him to turn stones to bread to satisfy his hunger, Jesus shows us that sometimes the more difficult road may be better.  The Devil’s plan seeks “an immediate solution like the solution of many politicians who want to be able to fix all situations and do that which is impossible,” he says.  But we will not solve social injustice in a flash.  Instead, we have to win over hearts and minds, slowly.  For Christ it is not difficult to multiply the loaves and give bread and good salaries and create a good situation for all who are marginalized,” says Romero.  But if “the rich continue to be selfish and many have not repented and converted,” nothing is accomplished. 

When Jesus resists bowing down to Satan in exchange for wealth and power, he is teaching us not to give in to “the idolatry of money, the idolatry of power and any pretext that would have people kneel before these false gods,” says Romero.  And when Jesus rebuffs Satan’s suggestion that he win over the people with flashy supernatural displays, he shows us that, “It is not necessary to perform grandiose actions,” but simply to do the will of God.  A triumphalistic religion or political life is not necessary and it does much harm,” Romero warns.  What is lacking is greater conviction and the honorable simplicity of women and men who are willing to commit themselves to service of God,” he admonishes.  This is God’s plan: the simple life, the ordinary life—but, giving this simple, ordinary life a meaning of love and freedom,” he underlines.  How beautiful our country would be if we all lived the plan of God, each person busy in his or her job, without pretensions of dominating anyone, simply earning and eating in justice the bread that each one’s family needs!  We would not have this dreadful situation that has arisen precisely because people are looking for the Messiah that Satan presents us,” he denounces.

Only by following Jesus can we share in the victory of the faith and achieve true Liberation.

«Septem Sermones Fidei:» the last seven sermons of Archbishop Romero

Post Script

Preaching the 2013 spiritual exercises to the Pope and the Roman Curia, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, himself one of the papabili, echoed Archbishop Romero’s reading of Israel’s Creed.  He specifically interpreted the first reading for the first Sunday of Lent as defining “the historical creed of Israel” and he called God's pact with Israel “a sign of liberation and hope.”  Like Romero, Ravasi posited that history was not only a legitimate venue in which to encounter God, but a preferred one.  “History is and should always be our favored place to meet our Lord, our God. Although it is a land of scandal, even if it is a land in which we often see maybe even the silence of God or apostasy of men,” he said. [More.]
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