Saint Oscar Romero- Love must win out!

Photo credit:Vatican website
I have to confess that I was like a little child waiting for Christmas this morning as I waited for the Mass of Canonisation on Vatican Television. A series of circumstances meant that last night we still  had no EWTN or other holy channels and no Internet (thanks to a national outage with EIR!) and it seemed that we wouldn’t be able to follow the great event either on TV or Internet. Lo and behold the Internet returned and we were able to watch the Mass live from Vatican City presided over by Pope Francis.

Today our Pope declared as saints in the Church six new models for us to follow. All very diverse, young and old, men and women, priests, religious, laity- each one of them followed Jesus totally. They are: Pope Paul VI, Oscar Romero, Francesco Spinelli, Vincenzo Romano, Maria Catherine Kasper, Nazaria Ignazia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, and Nuncio Sulprizio.

For nearly 20 years one of them in particular has been a strong presence in my life- Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Saint Oscar, as of today. I know I have blogged about this before so apologies if some of this is repetition. I also had the opportunity to do an interview with Sacred Space 102 FM in Limerick in occasion of the canonisation of Oscar Romero....thanks guys for the invite! It was a privilege! If you’re interested you can find the link here.

Fr. Romero was assassinated on the 24th of March 1980 and I claim this date as being special to my life story because it was the month and the year that I was to grace the world. However God had another plan and myself being a little precocious, I arrived a little earlier on January 24th. However that little connection was a discovery I made only a few years ago!

My personal admiration for Romero goes back to a discernment weekend which was held in our community in Dublin back in 1997. I remember it vividly because that weekend we watched the movie ‘Romero’. The story of this heroic pastor was life changing for me. At a certain point of his journey, Romero is shown literally at a crossroads. We see him fall to his knees and he utters a simple prayer: “I can’t, You must, I’m Yours, lead me!” It was the prayer from a heart that didn’t know what to do in the face of such injustice, death and despair. He was the pastor and the sheep continued to be slaughtered and torn from his grasp. I found myself in tears because I realised that that simple prayer echoed the sentiments of my own heart. I had been rebelling against the Lord for such a long time in responding to the call to religious life and I was tired. Romero’s prayer had become my prayer. If I was to embark upon the journey of trying consecrated life, it had to be upon fully surrendering to the guidance of the Shepherd. This simple prayer has been my lifeline on many occasions, a call back to reality and to see that I need to be guided and that I can’t do this on my own. It is a prayer which I whisper often each day when words fail me in prayer or don’t seem to carry me as they usually do. There is a short song: “Trust, surrender, believe, receive”  that in the same way says those precious words which came from the lips of Archbishop Romero.

However to follow Jesus is not easy. Let's not fool ourselves. The Pope reminded us today of this in the homily:
"Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a “percentage of love”: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing."

Indeed for Romero it was 'all or nothing'!  On the 24th of March 1980, evil men in El Salvador tried to silence the voice of a prophet. Archbishop Romero gave his life, in the words of Pope John Paul II, “for the church and the people of his beloved country” of El Salvador. His death from an assassin’s bullet crowned a life of service as priest and bishop.  His great motto was ‘Love must win out’. Today, by canonising him, the Church once more declares that witness for Christ cannot be silenced by evil. During his three years as Archbishop of San Salvador, he became known across the world as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering. Oscar Romero’s humility is the fruitful ground of his confidence. He was a man with trust, an unlimited trust in Jesus Christ. We see in him a man who had fixed his eyes on Jesus and thus can walk safely amidst the pain and suffering of his people. This was the life of Oscar Romero. Throughout history, the voice of the prophet is one of the vehicles through which God speaks to the community and to the world and the Lord spoke powerfully through Romero, too powerfully for the government and the military who didn't like the message he was preaching to stop the oppression of the poor, the country people, the marginalized. And for this Romero paid with his life.

In the Mass today, Pope Francis used the chalice of Pope Paul VI as well as his crozier, symbol of him being a Shepherd. The Pope also carried out a very poignant gesture by wearing the bloodstained cincture of Archbishop Romero around his waist, the one he was wearing when he was shot while celebrating Mass on the 24th of March 1980. II can only imagine how the Pope felt thinking that his brother priest, a fellow Latin American had paid the ultimate price, love to the end. The Church and our society live in challenging times where every value we stand for is undermined. We may not be called to martyrdom like Romero was, but there is a witness to which we are called every single day, as Christians, as Catholics, as committed priests, religious and laity. As Pope Paul VI who was canonised today said: “Holiness is within everyone’s reach”. We can take heart from this quote from Romero:
 “A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone's skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?
And another:
 “Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be. ”
And lastly…“Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim church, subject to misunderstanding, to persecution, but a church that walks serene, because it bears the force of love.” 
May we too 'bear the force of love' and walk serenely, wherever the Lord calls us to walk!
And now I'm off to watch the movie 'Romero' again...for the 18th time (I think!)