“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.” -Oscar A.
Romero (The Violence of Love)
Oscar Romero spoke out against the government-sponsored violence and injustice that plagued El Salvador in the late 1970s. He was an outspoken Roman Catholic priest and became the archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. His outspoken faith led to his assassination as he was performing mass on March 24, 1980.
Romero wasn’t always so radical. His appointment as archbishop was met with dismay by progressives who thought his conservative reputation would mean an end to any support for the poor. They were wrong. Romero quickly became a defender of the poor and a harsh critic of the government, drawing on his firsthand experience with the landless poor as a bishop of a rural diocese.
But when Romero’s friend, Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, was assassinated for his work with the poor, Romero came to a turning point: “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path’”
Romero knew that his actions put his life in danger but he refused to let that stop him. He wasn’t afraid to rock the boat. Romero was sure of one thing—that love was ultimate and to bear the name Christian he had to live love at any cost.
Using newspaper and radio, Romero spread both his sermons and news about atrocities and persecution, using his position as archbishop to give voice to the voiceless.
“Let us be today’s Christians. Let us not take fright at the boldness of today’s church. With Christ’s light let us illuminate even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved, not with a revolutionary salvation, in mere human fashion, but with the holy revolution of the Son of Man.” (The Violence of Love)
I wonder what our world would be like today if we were more bold in our communication. If we worried less about being misunderstood, about not rocking the boat. I think we would be surprised at the results if we walked serenely knowing we have the force of love in and with us. Our messages may take on a life of their own if we focused on justice and love rather than perpetuating our own platforms.
What would bold communication look like? I don’t know. For Oscar Romero it meant supporting the poor and speaking out against persecution, terror and murder—which put his very life at risk. For many Christians today, church communication won’t get us assassinated. We have the freedom to speak out and perhaps we should be using that freedom to be bold. We should confront difficult issues with love—poverty, greed, human trafficking, abuse, addiction, despair. The list goes on, but there are so many areas where churches could do more than throw rocks or offer platitudes, but roll their sleeves up and hang out with the homeless, suffer alongside the poor, give hope to the hopeless and offer the orphan a place to belong.
It’s not always easy, it’s not always popular, but it’s the path we need to walk.
“A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed, what gospel is that? Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, that’s the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties do not light up the world they live in. … The gospel is courageous; it’s the good news of him who came to take away the world’s sins.” (The Violence of Love)
The gospel is courageous. The question is, will we be courageous in the way we communicate it?
The Violence of Love by Oscar Romero is a collection of short writings, sermons and meditations with a foreword by Henri Nouwen. You can go to Amazon to buy the print version, or download free digital and audio versions.