The Scandal of Redemption, Oscar Romero (edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Foreword by Michael Lapsley). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018.
Summary: Diary entries and radio broadcast homilies by the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador, capturing both the injustices that moved him and the gospel message of hope he proclaimed to the oppressed people that eventuated in his death.
Oscar Romero became the Archbishop of El Salvador in 1977, considered a “safe” choice who wouldn’t rile the oligarchs–until one of his priests, Rutillo Grande was shot down by a gunman connected to an alliance of government and oligarchs who controlled the wealth of the country. When Romero went to the church where Grande’s body lay, he spent time both in prayer and listening to stories of violence and exploitation of the people. From then on, he insisted that the rulers of El Salvador, many formally believers, rule with justice. On that day, he said, “There can be no true peace or love that is based on injustice or violence or intrigue.”
This work, with a brief introduction to Romero’s life, collects nine of his homilies, broadcast over the radio, and a number of his diary entries. The diary entries recount the many visits and meetings in which he comforted survivors of killings, and worked with those seeking justice. The homilies apply gospel teaching to how the church must live, resorting neither to violence nor secular liberation movements, nor allying with the powers that be. The church is called not simply to pray and bear it, but to speak on behalf of the powerless, to forthrightly expose injustice, and to be willing to walk the way of the cross in confronting injustice.
What surprised me was to find how deeply grounded in the gospel Romero’s appeal was. He taught,
For Christ does not suffer for his own faults; Christ made himself responsible for the sins of all of us. If you want to measure the gravity of your sins, simply look at Christ crucified…
His message is a call to continuing conversion:
Conversion means asking at every moment: what does God want of my life? If God wants the opposite of what I might fancy, then doing what God wants is conversion, and following my own desire is perversion.
While affirming the true liberating power of the gospel, he denies the power of secular liberation movements to free people:
By his resurrection Christ offers all the liberators of the earth this challenge: ‘You will not free people! The only liberation that endures is that which breaks the chains on the human heart, the chains of sin and selfishness.’
He vigorously opposes any political captivity of the church:
“The Church is not on earth to gain privileges, to seek support in power and wealth, or to ingratiate herself with the mighty of the world.”
The nine homilies in this collection cover the topics of “The Creator,” “The Word Made Flesh,” “Redemption,” “The Call,” “The Way,” “The Church,” “The Kingdom,” “Liberation,” and “All Things New.” As I read these sermons and diary entries, they revealed a gospel that was not an opiate for those crying out “how long?” but a call to Christ-centered faith, to holiness in all of life, and a courageous refusal to allow authorities to cover oppression and violence and exploitation with a cloak of spiritual legitimacy. It makes me reflect on the sad state of political captivity of significant sectors of the American church while other brothers and sisters, as well as the creation itself, cry out “how long?” It challenges me as I read of the courage of the El Salvadoran priests and lay people who died violent deaths for what they stood.
The book closes with Romero at prayer at a funeral mass, on March 24, 1980, for one of the martyrs:
May this body that was immolated and this flesh that was sacrificed for humankind also nourish us so that we can give our bodies and our blood to suffering and pain, as Christ did, not for our own sake but to bring justice and peace to our people. Let us therefore join closely together in faith and hope at this moment of prayer for Doña Sarita and ourselves.
Moments later Romero lay dead at the foot of the cross, slain by a gunman, who fired at him in this moment of prayer.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.