Planting Season

A simple yet enduring consolation has recurred during events this weekend in El Salvador. My godson-nephew, Tom and I had the good fortune to pray at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1997. Back then, his “final” resting place was a modest marble box aside a nondescript hallway in the basement of the Cathedral. A groundskeeper had to unlock the building for the two of us.  We entered by the side door and were alone in paying our respects.

Even then, we anticipated the huge popular celebration the world witnessed on Saturday attesting that Romero is “Blessed” and a deserving exemplar of Christian faith. Given the ecclesial and political climate at the time, my only question was whether I would live to see the day.  All the more, our quiet, solitary, inauspicious moment shared by this uncle and his godson remains a singular grace.

Given Saturday’s massive crowds and effusive expressions of faith, we do well to remember who this man was and the values for which he gave his life. We can do no better than to recall what is popularly known as “Romero’s Prayer”:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.

Although popularly attributed to Oscar Romero, columnist Margery Egan has clarified its true origin. The prayer-poem was actually written by the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, MI and spoken in a homily by his friend, the late Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit. Dearden used the prayer in a Mass for departed priests in November 1979, a year before Romero’s 1980 assassination. Thereafter — and for good reason — the poem was renamed as Romero’s prayer.

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You can read more by Margery Egan at the CRUX website. I have the site bookmarked and consult it regularly. You may wish to do the same at: http://www.cruxnow.com/

Trampling Out the Vintage

In the bright morning sunlight of March 24 1980, a car stopped outside the Church of the Divine Providence in San Salvador. A lone gunman stepped out, unhurried. Resting his rifle on the car door, he aimed carefully down the long aisle to where El Salvador’s archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, was saying mass. A single shot rang out. Romero staggered and fell. The blood pumped from his heart, soaking the scattered hosts.

Romero’s murder was to become one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the cold war. The motive was clear. He was the most outspoken voice against the death squad slaughter gathering steam in the US backyard.

The US vowed to make punishment of the archbishop’s killers a priority. It could hardly do otherwise as President Reagan launched the largest US war effort since Vietnam to defeat the rebels. He needed support in Washington, which meant showing that crimes like shooting archbishops and nuns would not be tolerated.

But US promises to bring justice came to nothing. With no trigger-man, gun or witnesses, officials claimed lack of evidence. The fall-guy for the killing, Major Roberto D’Aubuisson went on to become one of El Salvador’s most successful politicians.

Irrefutable evidence now suggests that Washington not only knew far more about the killing than it admitted – but also did nothing to investigate for fear of jeopardising our war effort. Vital evidence was ignored. Key witnesses, including the most likely gunman, were killed by the would-be investigators.

But as Americans understand deep in our bones and express when we sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”,

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the lord,
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He hath loosed his fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Justice may be excruciatingly slow rather than a “terrible swift sword.” But, justice will be done! This very week, a Florida judge has paved the way for the deportation of a former top Salvadoran general accused of overseeing widespread torture and murder, including the notorious killing of several Americans during the country’s civil war.

Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova served as El Savador’s defense minister from 1983 to 1989. Prior to occupying the nation’s top military position, Vides was the commander of El Salvador’s infamous national guard. He has been living comfortably in Florida for the past twenty years.

While serving as its commander in 1980, the national guard murdered four American chruchwomen working in the country at the time. Americans Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Jean Donovan — three religious sisters and a lay missionary — were gunned down on December 2, 1980.

The decision this week by the Florida judge marks the first time a US court has determined a senior foreign military official could be deported on human rights violations since the passage of a 2004 law aimed at barring such violators from seeking refuge in the United States.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Having been vetted as a “martyr for the faith” by the universal church, Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified by the Catholic Church during a public celebration held in the central plaza of San Salvador on May 23, 2015.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. 

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The Morman Tabernacle Choir offers what is arguably the most moving rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Rebublic [here]

I am indebted to British journalist Tom Gibb writing in
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 March 2000 for the introduction to this post and facts about Romero’s death.  You may read his complete article [here].

Gracias, San Romero!

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was shot while celebrating Mass in the chapel of La Divina Providencia Hospital on this day in 1980.  It was one day after a sermon in which he appealed to Salvadoran soldiers – as Christians – to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government sponsored repression of the poor and denial of their fundamental human rights.  An estimated 250,000 people participated in his funeral six days later in the Cathedral of San Salvador.  I have had the privilege of visiting the chapel, Romero’s modest residence on the hospital grounds and to pray at his tomb three times over the years.

We do well to hear his words again today:

“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

One day before he died: “When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.”

And seconds before he was shot: “I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.”

Today Romero is popularly referred to as San Romero among Salvadorans.  He is one of the ten 20th-century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London, a testament to the wide respect for him even beyond the Catholic Church.   In 2008, he was chosen as one of the 15 Champions of World Democracy by the Europe-based magazine A Different View.  In 1982 Pope John Paul II prayed at Romero’s tomb on his first visit to El Salvador and officially recognized him as a “Servant of God” in 1997.  It is widely presumed that Archbishop Romero will be beatified during 2017, the centennial year of his birth.

What would Archbishop Romero say about all the fanfare and adulation?  I’m pretty sure he’d challenge us to ask what is it about us that needs to place others on pedestals, declaring another’s faith “saintly” as if it were rare… and rarefied!!!  He would likely explain he was simply doing what needed doing in service of the Gospel… that we should expect our shepherds to smell like their sheep.   Would that we had many more pastors and bishops who cared for the vulnerable and poor with such evangelical clarity and passion!  I suspect he’d tell us to be careful about pointing fingers, questioning whether anyone should be on a pedestal.  With genuine pastoral humility he would say, “What about you?  Tell me more about you.”

What about us?  You?  Me!  How am I going to live the Gospel – today, here, now?