Thursday, March 24, 2016

Blessed Romero’s Unfinished Eucharist


#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy
At Oscar Romero’s beatification in May 2015, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia argued that the beatification mass was the continuation and conclusion of the Mass Romero had left unfinished when he was killed at the altar on March 24, 1980.  With this celebration we conclude the interrupted Mass on the day of his martyrdom,” Paglia said.  Romero’s unfinished Eucharist has become a powerful symbol of how Romero’s ministry was interrupted by his assassination.

But, what if Romero had lived?  How might history be different, and how would Romero’s life have turned out if he had never been killed?  Imagine that Romero had lived as long as his two surviving brothers, Tiberio and Gaspar, who are 89 and 86, respectively.  In that case, Romero would have reached a bishop’s mandatory retirement age of 75 in 1992—the year that the Salvadoran peace accords were signed.  Just the prospect that Romero could have outlived the civil war, and not had his death be its trigger is dramatic enough.  But there are specific things Romero would have done, based on notes he made a month before his assassination.
In February 1980, Romero attended a spiritual retreat during which he examined his life and he resolved to take various steps to either address perceived failings, or to continue on the path that he had assessed to be the right path upon reflection.  Romero devised a plan of action that included the following near term plans:
  • Romero intended to write a fifth pastoral letter on the subject of evangelization.  It would have been released in August 1980.
  • Romero resolved to reach out to his brother bishops in an effort to overcome divisions in the episcopal conference, seeking out their input on his decisions.
  • Romero wanted to draw closer to the work of women religious, which is interesting given the assassination of the four U.S. women in December 1980.  Perhaps that story would have been different if Romero had lived.
Additionally, Romero was planning to make a series of pastoral visits within El Salvador; to the northern zone, including Chalatenango in May 1980; to the central region including Quezaltepeque in October 1980; and to the western zone, including the artist commune at La Palma in February 1981.  According to other reports, Romero had also raised the possibility of making a trip to Los Angeles, California, to continue to raise awareness and solidarity for his people and his church.
Rather than mourn what could have been, this snapshot of Romero’s prodigious planning should make us see Romero for what he was: a man of hope, a man of action, and a man constantly on the move.  On his last day on earth, his best friend recalls that Romero had already put what turned out to be his last sermon behind and was making plans for the next one.  He wanted a dais to be put in on the steps of the cathedral to put the altar outdoors to address the expected overflow Palm Sunday crowd.  Some might say that this feverish planning was a manifestation of his “scrupulosity” or reported obsessive compulsive disorder. But it is also an insight into a man who was in constant conversion, always reassessing and adapting his plan.  In the end, this is the hallmark of Romero, and shows why he was able to make such dramatic changes so late in his life—because he was constantly recalibrating.
And rather than frenetic, Romero was serene and at peace at the end.  Thus do I express my consecration to the heart of Jesus,” he wrote in his retreat notes.  I do not want to express an intention to him, such as that my death be for my country’s peace or our Church’s flourishing.  Christ’s heart will know how to direct it to the purpose He wishes.”  Then he added, “For me to be happy and confident, it is sufficient to know with assurance that in him is my life and my death, that in spite of my sins I have placed my trust in him and I shall not be confounded, and others will carry on with greater wisdom and holiness the works of the church and the nation.”
In short, Romero sensed—and accepted—that others might have to complete his “Unfinished Eucharist.”  The American Bishop Ricardo Ramirez expounded on that idea in an article entitled “The Unfinished Eucharist: The Spiritual Legacy of Archbishop Romero” published in the Canadian Catholic Review in January 1991.  In it, Bishop Ramirez concluded,
Many see the “unfinished Eucharist” of Romero as symbolic of what yet needs to be done in El Salvador, in Central and South America, and in every place that people suffer in their struggle for liberation.
Who will finish the Eucharist?  The Eucharist is the re-enactment of the drama of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What Romero was doing when he was killed was re-living the Paschal Mystery.  He was doing in ritual what he had done throughout his life: offering himself with Christ as a peace offering, so that the earth might be reconciled with its creator, and sins be forgiven.
(St. John Paul II has also said that Blessed Romero was martyred “while he celebrated the Sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation.”)  [See also, Vatican Radio, Romero a “Eucharistic Martyr”.] As such, Bishop Ramirez concludes, “The life and death of Romero will be as fruitful as you and I make it.”
Whether it is through charity, advocacy for social justice, doing works of mercy, or otherwise, it is clear that we are the ones to finish Blessed Romero’s Unfinished Eucharist.

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