This morning in our chapel, Redemptorist Father Tizio from Mission Church opened his homily with these words: “There is a Chinese curse: May you live in a time of transition.” The sisters all chuckled since we seem to be perpetually living in transition with a mission to evangelize with the means of communication.
We all in this country, he went on to say, are living in a time of tremendous upheaval. Living in transitional times, it has been described, is like living with both feet in the air. There is no security, no clarity, no way of knowing what will be except that we are not there yet and we can’t go back.
You, my friend, may be feeling this insecurity as you watch what is being reported in the news or perhaps witnessing yourselves the very human consequences of this struggle. For us Sisters, the events reported have names. For you it may be the same. It is a phenomenon that is not only playing out in the US but across the world, as people flee their countries for a better life, but the challenge of resettling millions of people while both respecting both their needs and the security of the receiving country is not easily resolved.
In January 2019, a man who would completely understand our struggle will be canonized. His name is Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture. Romero faithfully adhered to Catholic teachings on liberation and a preferential option for the poor, desiring a social revolution based on interior reform.
While seen as a social conservative at his appointment as archbishop in 1977, he was deeply affected by the murder of his friend and fellow priest Rutilio Grande a few weeks after his own appointment. As he took over the care of his flock, he actively denounced violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable people, defended the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence. He was declared a Servant of God by Saint John Paul II in 1997. His cause for beatification and canonization was reopened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and he was declared a martyr of Pope Francis on February 3, 2015. He was beatified on May 23, 2015.
By the time of his death, Romero had built up an enormous following among Salvadorans. He did this largely through broadcasting his weekly sermons across El Salvador on the Church’s station, YSAX, “except when it was bombed off the air.” In these sermons, he listed disappearances, tortures, murders, and much more each Sunday. This was followed by an hour-long speech on radio the following day. On the importance of these broadcasts, one writer noted that “the archbishop’s Sunday sermon was the main source in El Salvador about what was happening. It was estimated to have the largest listenership of any program in the country.” According to listener surveys, 73% of the rural population and 37% of the urban listened regularly. Similarly, his diocesan weekly paper Orientación carried lists of cases of torture and repression every week. (Wikimedia)
How easy it could have been for the Archbishop to fire up his listeners with anger and violence. But like a sword his words cut a straight line through the human heart in its quivering attempt to hold the horror of their suffering and bring justice. Romero did light a fire in their hearts, a fire we desperately need today, here, in the throes of our own transition.
Let us take a moment to learn at the feet of soon-to-be canonized Oscar Romero:
In mid-May of 1977, military forces raided the town of Aguilares, killing dozens of people, desecrated the church and the eucharist, and deported the three priests remaining in the parish. A month later Archbishop Oscar Romero installed a new parish team. In the homily of the installation Mass, he said: “We will be firm in defending our rights—but with a great love in our hearts, because when we defend ourselves with love we are also seeking sinners’ conversion. That is the Christian’s vengeance.” (June 19, 1977, The Violence of Love, page 4)
How could the Archbishop talk love in a country torn apart by violence, torture, and murder.
“The church’s social teaching … is a looking at God, and from God at one’s neighbor as a brother or sister, and an awareness that ‘whatever you did to one of these, you did to me’” (The Nonviolence of Love, March 14, 1977, page 3).
But in the face of a problem so overwhelming, what should I do? What can I do? We feel like we should be able to do something. Romero couldn’t solve the country’s problems, make them go away, return to mothers their children who had disappeared, wipe away the floods of tears and fear. He invited his flock to enter into the problems of the human family.
“The transcendence that the church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor, of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel, of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, ‘You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.’ It is to say exactly the opposite, ‘You are valuable’” (quote found: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/08/13/man-gods-microphone-12-quotes-celebrate-life-voice-oscar-romero/).
In Boston, where I live, I may not personally meet these brothers and sisters of mine from Latin and Central America, although my sisters do (even here in Boston). I can hold these people dear to my heart: “You aren’t an illegal alien. You aren’t trash. You aren’t a criminal. You are valuable.”
From this experience of the heart of misery comes wisdom, for, as Romero says, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
For starters, in conversations, social media posts, comments online, I can be intentional in my language and motivation to convey my respect for them as my brothers and sisters, their human dignity, people caught in the middle of a situation for which I don’t see an easy solution.
“I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us” (The Violence of Love).
All I know, as Romero said, is that “there are not two categories of people. There are not some who were born to have everything and leave others with nothing and a majority that has nothing and can’t enjoy the happiness that God has created for all. God wants a Christian society, one in which we share the good things that God has given for all of us” (original quote: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/08/13/man-gods-microphone-12-quotes-celebrate-life-voice-oscar-romero/).
So we can say that in a transition we don’t really have two feet in the air. If we choose, Romero shows us how to plant both feet securely on the ground: one foot in the kingdom where God loves us all equally and the other foot in the human heart where each of us and all of us blossom under the sun of God’s love with equal dignity and value. The winds of transition will continue to blow, the uncertainty cause us to wonder and fear, but our compass will still be pointed due north: to our common Father who makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ his Son.
“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work” (The Violence of Love).
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- Upon research into this “Chinese curse” I discovered it was not invented by the Chinese at all: “It was first used by Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936, and later popularized through a speech by Robert F Kennedy in 1966. The phrase “live in interesting times” dates at least to the late 19th century. The “Chinese curse” element was likely added by Sir Chamberlain as an (effective) embellishment. There is no evidence of a Chinese origin.” (https://www.quora.com/Where-does-the-quote-May-you-live-in-interesting-times-come-from)