I just got back from a lightning trip to El Salvador. I went partly to get some things for my ordination as a permanent deacon in two weeks, but mostly to pray in pilgrimage at the tomb of Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
I spent about forty-five minutes in the crypt near Monseñor’s tomb, part of which was shared by more than one hundred high school kids visiting the tomb.
Romero has been an inspiration for me, a sign of God’s presence here in Central America: a God of hope and resurrection in the midst of the cross; a God who became flesh among the poor and rose to bring all of us to real life – here and beyond.
I have visited Romero’s tomb many times. The first time was in 1985 when I went on a delegation that included El Salvador. At that time his tomb was upstairs.
When I was in El Salvador for two months in 1987, I often spent an hour or so there.
In the early 1990s, his tomb was moved downstairs to the crypt. It is now behind the altar, beneath a sculpture – of which I am not particularly fond. (There is a story that the powerful donated money for a heavy sculpture to make sure Romero stayed entombed. But he escaped – and, I would say, lives in the hearts of many people.)
But yesterday as I prayed I noticed that Romero’s right hand embraces his crozier, the sign of his role as a bishop. But his left hand embraces the palm of martyrdom.
The word martyr means “witness” and has been applied to those who died for the faith. It indicates the willingness to lay down one’s life for God and the People of God.
In a retreat shortly before his death, Romero wrote in his notebook:
“My disposition should be to give my life for God, however it should end. The grace of God will enable us to live through the unknown circumstances. He aided the martyrs and, if it should be necessary that I die as they did, I will feel him very close to me at the moment of breathing my last breath. But more important than the moment of death is to give him all my life and live for him and for my own mission.”
Martyrdom is not to be sought; what is to be sought is giving one’s life for God and living one’s mission in light of God’s call.
That is why I dedicate my ordination to Monseñor Romero – not because I want to be martyred or even expect to be martyred. But what I pray for is the grace to give my life every moment for God and for God’s people, especially the poor.
That was my prayer at Romero’s tomb. That is what I will be praying for these next two weeks. Please join me in prayer.
Saturday, July 2, I came across this quote from the third century document Didascalia of the Apostles (chapter XVI, iii, 13):
“And know what the ministry is, according as our Lord and Savior said in the Gospel: Whoso among you desires to be chief, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many. So ought you the deacons also to do, if it falls to you to lay down your life for your brethren in the ministry which is due to them.”