Celebration of St Oscar Romero


Given on the eve of the canonisation od St Oscar Romero, at St Ignatius, Stamford Hill

Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him.  He looked steadily at him without speaking but attempting to convey only understanding and love and invitation

On that night in 1977 that his friend Fr Rutilio Grande was killed Oscar Romero when to his village said Mass and then he stayed stayed there in prayer until midnight. No doubt thinking as we do about the characteristics of friends who have died. About his life, why he died, how he died, what should he do now.  The same was happening. Jesus looked steadily at Oscar Romero with invitation, longing for Oscar to see, to understand. And Oscar Romero allowed that gaze of the Lord to penetrate him and he rose from his knees and followed Jesus spending the remainder of his life working for the poor, the beloved of God.

When we allow the Lord to gaze at us, that look is as penetrating as the word of God of which we heard in the second reading. So powerful and deep it can find its way to the place where the soul is divided from the spirit. Where is that place. Actually it doesn’t exit, those words means that the word of God when it is absorbed into our being can motivate and touch us in a way that nothing else ever can. Into the deepest part of us. where nothing else can go. Oscar Romero allowed that to happen to him, he allowed the word of God, the gaze of Jesus to penetrate him. And after that he devoted himself to the well being of the poor.

An Egyptian theologian of the early Church called Tertullian once said Christians are not born, they are made, they become something that they were not. They journey from selfishness into selflessness.

Romero didn’t descend from heaven full of love for the poor, he wasn’t born like that. He was transformed. Although an Archbishop he realised that he had to change, to reassess his life and to what he should devote it. Inspired by Rutilio Grande his eyes were opened and he realised the special love God has for the poor, the peasants, the campesinos as they are called.

Jesus once gave a sermon on the difference between the Good Shepherd and the hired man. The difference between the two Jesus said is that the hired man runs away and abandons the sheep as soon as he sees the wolf coming. But the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Oscar Romero never abandoned his people to the wolf. he not only loved them he defended them against the wolf. We often hear the expression such as being a voice for the voiceless, which sounds nice but what does it mean. The ministry of Oscar Romero is an explanation of that saying. He identified himself with them and spoke words that they could not. He encouraged the oppressed and challenged the oppressors. He spoke of the dignity due to each person and displayed anger when that dignity was denied.

There is a part in every Mass when the priest says pray my brothers and sisters that your sacrifice and mine may be acceptable to God the almighty Father. Your sacrifice and mine. A sacrifice is something we do, but we don’t have to do it, something we give but we don’t have to give it. We do and give because the Spirit of God operating within us encourages us to do so.

When Oscar Romero spoke them each day he really had something acceptable to God to offer. He is an example for everyone in his love for justice. He is also an example for priests and Bishops too.

It is now fashionable to love Oscar Romero but in every age and society there are always among that those on the margins, on the side. It is love of them and desire for justice, a willingness to protect their dignity even when it is unfashionable and perhaps objectionable to some which makes us like Oscar Romero.

The respectable gentry of El Salvador, the wealthy and the landowners did not think it was fitting for their Archbishop to side with the peasants.  They were poor, they were uneducated, probably they didn’t have very good manners, they wouldn’t be people whom you would invite to your house.

Why were the military of El Salvador and their supporters so opposed to the poor and the peasants and persecuted them. For the same reason that Herod the Great set out to kill the infant Jesus. They were seen as a threat to their power, their status their privileged way of life. Christ indeed is a threat, a threat to our selfishness, as we discover when we allow him to gaze at us.  Romero realised that and allowed his life to be directed by Christ, he gave and gave and he too like Jesus said. This is my body and I will give it up for you.

Each saint is different. What all saints have in common that under the influence and the grace of God Christ came to take first place in their lives. And that grace working within them caused them to see everyone as their brothers and sisters.

St Ignatius who is your patron here was a soldier, he changed and became leader of a great Society. St Francis of Assisi was wealthy and threw it all away.  St Therese of Lisieux went into a convent near her home and spent her life in prayer. Mother Teresa did the opposite, left her country went to the other side of the world to work among the poorest people. St Oscar Romero. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we the Faithful have a great cloud of witnesses in heaven. The Church tells us that St Oscar Romero who stood with the poor and dispossessed is one of them.

We rejoice as his canonisation. From El Salvador but now is given to the Universal Church that we may seek his intercession, that we may love the things of God and the things that are dear to God’s heart. We the Church need saints to inspire us. May the prayers and example of our brother Oscar lead us out of solitude and selfishness and help us to love the poor of the earth.