The Church: called to repentance, called to prophecy

The following reflection, “The Call of Oscar Romero to the Church,” is offered on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated March 24, 1980. It first appeared in US Catholic on February 25, 2009.

Throughout history, the voice of the prophet is one of the vehicles through which God speaks to the community and to the world. Today we are called to listen to the voice of a contemporary prophet, a voice that emerged from the very Americas in which we live, a voice that calls to our churches to be what God has meant us to be in a world fraught with injustice, lack of compassion, unimaginable human misery, a world racked by violence, greed, fear, and idolatry. It is a voice that compels us to listen; it is urgent because the reality it addresses is urgent. It faces us with a challenge that is both humbling and yet filled with the promise of redemption. It is the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who gave his life in martyrdom for the people of El Salvador on March 24, 1980. Let us listen to that voice as it tells us what our church must be in this world. Let us open our hearts that we might repent the failings of our church, and of we who are that church, to confront the injustice in our world; let us allow ourselves to be called to become a church of prophesy, a church of prophets.

In the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero:  “Christ founded the church so that he himself could go on being present in the history of humanity precisely through the group of Christians who make up his church. The church is the flesh in which Christ makes present down the ages his own life and his personal mission…the church can be church only as long as it goes on being the Body of Christ. Its mission will be authentic only so long as it is the mission of Jesus in the new situations, the new circumstances of history. The criterion that will guide the church will be neither the approval of, nor the fear of, men and women, no matter how powerful or threatening they may be. It is the church’s duty in history to lend its voice to Christ so that he may speak, its feet so that he may walk today’s world, its hands to build the reign of God, and to offer all its members to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ. (Col. 1:24).

Should the church forget this identification with Christ, Christ would himself demand it of the church, no matter how uncomfortable that might be, or how much loss of face that might entail. This is the mission entrusted to the church, a hard mission: to uproot sins from history, to uproot sins from the political order, to uproot sins from the economy, to uproot sins wherever they are.”

Archbishop Romero, faced with the urgency of his historical moment in El Salvador, calls us to look at the urgency of our own. And he called his church, including himself, to the highest standard in confronting our moment in history—to name sin, to uproot sin, to be Christ in the world, redeeming it, building up within it the reign of God. Let us pray then, in the midst of our Lenten fast, our Lent of repentance and redemption, for our church, and for ourselves who are that church.

We are called to repent the failings of our church, the sin within it. We reflect especially on the failings of our church to confront the sin of injustice and its causes. We hear the voice of the prophet enjoining us to uproot this sin from our church, to uproot this sin from the hearts of those of us who make up this church. We are also called to prophesy—for our church, and we who are church, to be prophets, Christ’s voice, Christ’s hands in a world deeply mired in injustice, violence and fear. As we begin our service of worship, sacrifice and thanksgiving, let the voice of the great prophet of and to the Americas be allowed a space within our hearts where we can let it take root, be nurtured, and come to life. Let us pray for “A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth—beware!—is not the true church of Jesus Christ.”  (Archbishop Oscar Romero, March 11, 1979).

A memorial celebration will take place on Saturday, March 12 at 7:00 p.m. at St. Sabina Parish., Belton, MO.  Details are found on the KC Olive Branch calendar.

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