The Scandal of Redemption

The Scandal of Redemption October 12, 2018

On Sunday, Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, will be canonized by Pope Francis in a ceremony in St. Peter Square. Earlier this year, Plough Publishing House (which, in my opinion, is by far the best Christian publisher on the planet right now), released a short collection of Bishop Oscar Romero’s writings and homilies under the title The Scandal of Redemption. For those interested in the life, witness, and martyrdom of Romero (and we all should be), the book is an invaluable companion. Here’s the video trailer:


What follows is a florilegium drawn from The Scandal of Redemption, and touching on various topics:

The nonviolent “violence” of love: “We have never preached violence, except the violence of the love that led Christ to be nailed to a cross. We preach only the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome selfishness and to eliminate the cruel inequalities among us. This is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love and fraternity, the violence that chooses to beat weapons into sickles for work.”

The suffering of the poor as a means to salvation: “If we want to find the child Jesus today, we shouldn’t contemplate the lovely figures in our nativity scenes. We should look for him among the malnourished children who went to bed tonight without anything to eat. We should look for him among the poor newspaper boys who will sleep tonight on doorsteps, wrapped in their papers … In taking all this upon himself, the God of the poor is showing us the redemptive value of human suffering. He is showing us the value it has for redeeming the poverty and suffering which are the world’s cross. There is no redemption without the cross, but that does not mean our poor people should be passive. We were indoctrinating the poor when we told them, ‘It is God’s will for you to live poor and hopeless on the margins of society.’ That is not true! God in no way wants social injustice … The greatest violence comes from those who deprive so many people of happiness, from those who are killing the many people who are starving. God is telling the poor, as he told the oppressed Christ when he was carrying his cross, ‘You will save the world by making your suffering a protest of salvation and by not conforming to what God does not want. You will save the world if you die in your poverty while yearning for better times, making your whole life a prayer, and embodying everything that seeks to liberate the people from this situation.'”

Ownership of the Church: “How rich is God in forgiveness and mercy! Before God we have no privileges or rights. If we have served God from our earliest years, then blessed by God! We have used our life well. But that doesn’t give us the right to feel that we are owners of the Church. Even if we are bishops, even if we are priests, we may be more in need of God’s mercy than sinners who have just converted and who by their love are perhaps closer to God than those who think they own the Church. God is kind. No one can judge his initiatives. Appeal to his mercy; beg like the good thief just to be remembered, and God will do more than remember you …”

Triumph in Christ is two-phased: “This is a night of triumph, a night of victory, but not a victory that leaves enemies crushed under hatred and bloodshed. The victories achieved by bloodshed are detestable. The victories won by brute force are brutish. The victory that truly triumphs is that of faith, the victory of Christ who did not come to be served but to serve. The triumph of his love is a peaceful triumph. Death’s triumph was not definitive. The definitive victory is the triumph of life over death, the triumph of peace, the triumph of joy, the triumph of alleluias, the triumph of the resurrection of the Lord!

“But in this triumph there are two aspects, two phases. Don’t’ forget that. The first phase is Christ’s, and he is already crowned with absolute victory; he is the king of life and of eternity. St. Paul tells us, ‘Christ has risen, and death has no hold on him.’ In him redemption has reached its peak. But tonight we are going to renew our baptism as Christians, and we know that for us the victory still lies ahead as the object of our hope. The banners of suffering and pain and sin and death are still raised over our world. This does not mean that Christ’s death and resurrection were a failure because of human wickedness; it just means that this the time of the Church. From the resurrection of Christ until the second coming how many centuries will pass? We do not know, but we do know that with the resurrection of Christ the victory over sin and hell and death has been guaranteed and that God has asked his Church to administer this victory of Christ in the hearts of every person. That is the reason for this tremendous work of evangelization, the labor of reconciling people with God, the work of bringing the blood of Christ to the hearts of all, the work of planting the love of God in the midst of hatred, the work of sowing peace among the nations, the work of promoting justice in human relationships and respect for the rights of those sanctified by the Lord’s redemption.”

What God wants: 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. What does God want, for example, of the political power in a country? He wants those forces to create sound laws and moral unity of will among all citizens for the common good. God does not want that power to be used to assault and to beat people or to attack cities and villages; that is perversion. What does God want of capital and of those to whim he gives money, properties, and other things? Again God seeks conversion. That means that people should bestow on the things created by God the destiny God ordains for them, which is the welfare of all, so that everyone might have a share in happiness.”

On the persistence of the Church: “It would seem that the Church, after twenty centuries of so many persecutions and so much fury direct against her, should already have disappeared. In El Salvador it should already have been wiped out. But the dynamism and the strength of the Church is not in us human beings who can be very fragile and very sinful. I am not surprised when people criticize me because of my sins. I know I am sinful … We must have this perspective: the Church as a human institution would simply not continue in existence, but the Church persists because she is composed of people who place their fragile trust in Christ, and Christ is in God, and God is in Christ and in us. This is a current that travels from earth to heaven through Christ, and through Christ it comes back down to earth bringing with it the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of strength.”

On liberation: “The word ‘liberation’ bothers many people, but it is the reality of Christ’s redemption. Liberation does not mean only redemption after death, so that people should just conform to the system while they are alive. No, liberation is redemption that is already beginning on this earth. Liberation means that the exploitation of one human being by another no longer exists in the world. Liberation means redemption that seeks to free people from every form of slavery. Slavery is illiteracy; slavery is hunger, not having money to buy food; slavery is being homeless, not having a place to live. Slavery is misery; they go together. When the Church preaches that Christ came to redeem us and that because of that redemption no form of slavery should exist on earth, the church is not preaching subversion or politics or communism. The Church is preaching the true redemption of Christ. Christ does not want slaves; he wants all people to be redeemed; he wants us all, rich and poor, to love one another as sisters and brothers. He wants liberation to reach everywhere so that no slavery exists in the world, none at all. No person should be the slave of another, nor a slave of misery, nor a slave of anything that supposes sin in the world. This is the content of this revelation, this doctrine, this evangelization.”

Finding the face of Christ: “When we despise the poor person or the harvester of coffee or sugar cane or cotton, it is the face of Christ we despise. Let us think of the campesinos who even today are traveling about in search of sustenance for the whole year. Let us not forget them, for they are the face of Christ. The face of Christ is there among the sacks and baskets of the harvesters. The face of Christ is there in the torture and cruelty of the prisons. The face of Christ is dying of hunger in the children who have nothing to eat. The face of Christ is the needy person who asks the Church to speak out. How can the Church refuse if it is Christ who is telling her, ‘Speak for me?’

Romero’s last words, given at the altar on March 24, 1980, during a Mass offered for a friend’s mother: “If we illuminate with Christian hope our intense longings for justice and peace and all that is good, then we can be sure that no one dies forever. If we have imbued our work with a great sense of faith, love of God, and hope for humanity, then all our endeavors will lead to the splendid crown that is the sure reward for the work of sowing truth, justice, love, and goodness on the earth. Our work does not remain here; it is gathered and purified by the Spirit of God and returned to us as a reward.

“This holy Mass of thanksgiving, then, is just such an act of faith. By Christian faith we know that at this moment the host of wheat becomes the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and that the wine in this chalice is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. 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 Dona Sarita and ourselves.”


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