The Church: called to repentance; called to prophesy
Prayers and reflections for the 20th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, March 24, 2000
THE FOLLOWING REFLECTIONS and prayers may be included as part of a regular weekend , religious service, or form the core of a special commemoration liturgy.
Homilists for the Romero Sunday might want to bring to their reflections not only the circumstances of his world of El Salvador in 1980 of which he spoke so eloquently, but also of the context and circumstances of our world, and your community, in the historical moment in which we now listen to his words the growing disparity in wealth, the deepening poverty of the peoples of our world, increasing social violence as communities and societies disintegrate, rising racism and xenophobia in our own society, social and economic problems within your own cities and communities. Candles should be distributed to the congregation before the service begins.
Suggestion: begin with the following introduction—or use your own words—as an explanation of what is special about this Sunday and this anniversary. The service begins after this reflection with the processional.
Leader: 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.
Reader: 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. (8/6/77)
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 (1/15/78).
Leader: 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 calls 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. This day, 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.
The service begins with music and the opening prayer. A processional might include bearers of incense, candles, a poster of Romero, a banner with a Romero quote, a large cross to be placed near the altar, a bowl of ashes as a symbol of penance, a book of Romero ës writings, a bible and/or lectionary. A large candle is placed by a photo or poster of Romero at the altar.
Leader: We live in a world marked by profound injustice. The vast majority of our sisters and brothers on this earth live in poverty and misery, their human, social and political rights ignored, their dignity daily violated. This is not a consequence of fate or chance, but the result of human behavior. It is the world we have made.
As church, we have often been too afraid, too comfortable, too intimidated, too timid to name this sin of our world. Too often we as church have been part of creating this injustice, either by commission or omission, and this has caused us to fail in our duty to be prophetic. We donít want to be made uncomfortable. We don't want to give up the privileged places we often hold in our world, for we, too, have sometimes benefited from injustice.
On this day, we call our church and ourselves as part of that church to repentance for this neglect and betrayal of our gospel faith. We let the voice of the prophet, Oscar Romero, lead us in this prayer of repentance as we ask God's forgiveness so that we may be worthy to bring our gifts to the altar.
As the rite begins, community representatives take bowls of ashes from the altar and begin to pass them through the congregation. participants are invited to place ashes on their foreheads as the rite continues. The Romero quotes can be led by several different readers standing before the community or sitting among it, as Romero's voice rising from different locations within the congregation.
Romero: The church's place is by the side of the poor, of the outraged, of the rejected.
Response: Loving God, when our church, and we who are church, fail to stand with the poor and oppressed peoples who suffer the fruits of injustice—for this we ask your mercy.
Romero: 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.
R: Loving Christ, when our church, and we who are church, allow ourselves to be guided by the criterion of approval or fear of those with power and wealth —for this we ask your mercy.
Romero: The church's hard mission is to uproot sins from history, from the political order, from the economy.
R: Loving God, when our church, and we who are church, fail in this hard mission, arguing that these are not spiritual matters, guided by fear of risk, discomfort, insecurity, or loss of privilege—for this we ask your mercy.
Romero: Unjust social structures are the roots of all violence and disturbances... Those who benefit from obsolete structures react selfishly to any kind of change.
R: Loving Christ, when our church, and we who are church, fail to address the structures that are at the roots of injustice and violence, when our church and we who are church react selfishly to any kind of change—for this we ask your mercy.
Romero: A preaching that does not point out sin...that makes sinners feel good, that does not discomfit them, that lulls them in their sin...is not the preaching of the gospel.
R: Loving God, when our church, and we who are church, fail to point out the sin of injustice, but instead allow ourselves to remain unchallenged, feeling good, lulled, while our brothers and sisters suffer from injustice and violence—for our failure to preach the gospel, we ask your mercy.
Romero: What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is when the word...accuses of sin those that oppose God's reign so that they may tear that sin out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of their laws—out of the structures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity.
R: Loving Christ, when our church, and we who are church, fail to be your genuine church —for this we ask your mercy.
Romero: The church has to denounce the selfishness that is hidden in everyone's heart, the sin that dehumanizes persons, destroys families, and turns money, possessions, profit and power into the ultimate ends for which persons strive.
R: Loving God, when our church, and we who are church, fail to own our own selfishness, fail to denounce the sin that puts the seductions of the world before the love of our suffering sisters and brothers—for this sin of idolatry, we ask your mercy.
Romero: 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.
R: Loving Christ, when our church, and we who are church, fail to be the true church of Jesus Christ—for this we ask your mercy.
Leader: Let us now pray boldly about the sins of our world, and beg Godís mercy:
(The following are examples. Make them your own, connecting the global reality to your local really. If time permits, invite the congregation to add others.)
For the growing disparity in wealth in our world, R: God have mercy.
For the growing racism in my community, R: Christ, have mercy
For the times we blame the poor for their plight, though it is caused by injustice, R: God, have mercy.
For lowering the tax burden on the rich and on corporations while we dismantle and defend programs that benefit the poor, R: Christ have mercy,
For our failure to take responsibility for the conditions of poverty and social violence in our world and in my community, R: God, have mercy.
Leader: God of compassion, merciful God, hear our cry of repentance for the ways in which our church has added to the suffering in our world through participation in its causes, or through neglect caused by fear, complacency, despair, or the seduction of comfort, status, and power. May our prayer of repentance be a point of conversion, turning the hearts of many back to you. (May we, like Lazarus in today's gospel, be called to "Come out!," to rise from the death of sin, to be unbound and able to walk freely into the light of your life.)
Fill us with the boldness of your servant Oscar; enable us to denounce sin in our world and pronounce your reign among us, and to lend our hands and our hearts to building that reign in our world. This we ask in the name of Jesus our brother and redeemer. Amen.
Roman Catholic lectionary: Ezekiel 37:12—14; Romans 8:8—11; John 11:1—45 Other suggestions: Isaiah 42:1—8; Acts 5:27—32; Luke 6:20—26
Responsorial psalm: (follows first reading)
R: With our God, there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
1) Out of the depths I cry to you, O God: God, hear my voice! 2) Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
1) If you, O God, mark iniquities, my God, who can stand? 2) But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.
1) I trust in God; my souls trusts in God's word. 2) More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for God.
1) For with our God is kindness and plenteous redemption.
2) And God will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
R: With our God, there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Following communion and a communion song, pause for a moment of silent prayer. After a few moments, a member of the community rises from the congregation and goes in silence to the altar with a small candle which is then lit from the large candle near the Romero image. A service leader then calls the congregation to stand for the rite of commitment.
Leader: The prophet is a light for our world, a voice that illuminates the darkness of sin and points the way towards overcoming that darkness. We are called to be light. Take with utmost seriousness what you are doing. We do not pass this light to one another as mere ritual or inspiration, something to make us feel good and to look beautiful. We take this light as a commitment to be prophets in our world, to follow the way pointed out to us by Oscar Romero and other prophets of justice in our time—the way pointed out to us in this Lenten journey by Jesus of Nazareth.
The person who lit their candle from the Romero candle now goes out to the community and begins to spread the light.
Leader: Let us listen to the voice of Oscar Romero as he calls us to be prophets.
Romero: The church has put itself on the side of the poor and has assumed their defense.
R: Loving God, may our church, and we who are church, put ourselves on the side of the poor and assume their defense.
Romero: This means that the church incarnates itself in the world of the poor, proclaims a good news, gives hope, inspires a liberating praxis, defends the cause of the poor and participates in their destiny.
R: Loving Christ, may our church, and we who are church, become participants in your incarnation.
Romero: A Christian who does not wish to live this commitment of solidarity with the poor is not worthy of the name Christian.
R: Loving God, may our church, and we who are church, be worthy of being called Christian.
Romero: What marks the genuine church is a word...burning like the word of the prophets.
R: Loving Christ, may our church, and we who are church, take this word as our own to burn within us and light a fire in our world.
Romero: The church is in the world so as to signify and bring into being the liberating love of God, manifested in Christ. It therefore understands Christís preference for the poor, because the poor are, as (the Latin American bishops explained in their conference at Medellin in 1968), those who ëplace before the...church a challenge and a mission that it cannot sidestep and to which it must respond with a speed and boldness adequate to the urgency of the times.
R: Loving God, may we respond to the challenge and mission presented by the poor and oppressed peoples of our world with the speed and boldness adequate to the urgency of our times.
Leader (Final blessing): Go out and be light. May your word burn like the word of the prophets. May your defense of the poor and suffering, the victims of injustice and oppression, be a transforming power for our world. May your voice, your feet, your hands, become those of Christ, building up the reign of God in our human history. And may God bless us, the Creator, Redeemer, and Breath of our Life.