Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remembering Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador

Almighty God, you called your servant Oscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor witness to your Word who abides, your Word who is Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory now and for ever. Amen.

"Do you want to know if your Christianity is genuine?" Archbishop Romero once asked. "Here is the touchstone: Whom do you get along with? Who are those who criticize you? Who are those who do not accept you? Who are those who flatter you?" That is a rather provocative plumb-line against which we are called to measure our own faith.

One of the readings appointed for today comes from the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation. It seems to me that Revelation is better read, and better understood, from a place like El Salvador than it is from the so-called first world. Written at a time when the Church was under siege, a time when the first-century Christians in Asia Minor were tempted to let their fears paralyze them, a time when it was easier to be neither hot nor cold but lukewarm (see Rev. 3:15) - the seer of Patmos offers us not a "prediction" about when the world will end, but a word of hope and encouragement in tough times and an insistence that the future belongs to God.

Christians in every age are called to put their trust in the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who is seated on the throne, the one we insist truly is "King of kings" and "Lord of lords" in spite of all the pretenders to the throne. It may seem, for a time, as if the despots of this world are in charge, but they are not: God is. The Revelation of John reminds us (as one of the martyrs remembered on this day along with Archbishop Romero once put it) that "the struggle against injustice and the pursuit of truth cannot be separated, nor can one work for one independent of the other."  (Ignatio Ellacuria, S.J.) Over and against the despots of this age, we dare to pursue justice and to speak the truth in love, holding fast to what is good. In too many places, however, the truth can get you killed...

Despots from Rome to El Salvador to Libya who are in danger of losing their power become more and more ruthless. Only when we take Archbishop Romero's advice to "take the long view" can we truly say with confidence that "all will be well.” In the short run, there are costs to discipleship. In the short run, it's easy to lose heart. Today we remember those who never did and we give thanks for their witness. We remember that the death squads don't get the last word; God does:
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." 
                                                       (Revelation 7:7-13)

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