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I've been agonizing about this little talk I'm to make tomorrow evening at the beatification celebration of Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Everybody will be there: parish members, guests from other churches (Protestant and Catholic), former pastors, and John Stowe, our brand new bishop.
So I've been boring my friends (and readers of my blog) with draft after draft. To begin with, my worries have centered on the writing concerns I've inflicted on my students over the years. You know, the ones about having a sharp thesis, a clear preview of the points to be made, good follow-through on those points, and a strong conclusion.
More than that, however, I've fretted about possibly offending my audience. I mean, if I really articulated what I think must be said about Oscar Romero, many listeners might just turn me off. "Too political," they'd say, "inappropriate," "polarizing," "ranting." I've been warned against all those things. (In any case, I've been told by a prominent member of my church that "90% of the people are offended by what you write in the Lexington Herald-Leader every month!")
Yes, I'm worried.
But then I thought of Dan McGinn, a mentor of mine during my doctoral studies in Rome. Like me, he was (but Dan still is) a priest in the Society of St. Columban. He was always refreshingly outspoken and unfailingly called things by their names.
Dan was fond of saying that if he ever "made bishop," he'd put a special motto on his coat of arms. [Every bishop has a coat of arms with his motto at the bottom. For instance, the motto of the new bishop (John Stowe) heading our diocese of Lexington, Kentucky is "Annunciamus verbum vitae" (We proclaim the word of life.)] Well, Dan said that if ever made bishop, the motto under his coat of arms would be "No more bullshit!"
Bottom line is: I've decided to follow Dan's implicit advice and throw caution to the winds. I no longer know exactly how my talk will come out. But I intend to say something like the following:
I've been asked by the parish Peace and Social Justice Committee and by the Lenten "Joy of the Gospel" Study Group to say a few words reminding us of why we are here.
Of course, we're here to celebrate the beatification of Blessed Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador. But why should we care?
We should care, I think, because Romero's beatification personifies and embodies Pope Francis' basic call in "The Joy of the Gospel." There the pope summons the entire church to reform, to be converted, to repent, and be transformed. Nothing can remain as it has been, the pope says. The church must become relevant to the problems of poverty, inequality, and war that afflict our world.
So I suggest that the pope's decision to beatify Oscar Romero dramatizes the pontiff's exhortation.
But which side should we take in a politically polarized world? Which side are we on?
The side of the poor, the pope says. And by that he doesn't mean greater generosity in making up our Christmas baskets or giving an extra dollar in Sunday's second collection. He means doing what Oscar Romero did -- what Jesus of Nazareth did. He means identifying with the poor, their ways of seeing the world. He means refusing to support our culture's favorite way of dealing with them -- treating them with "tough love," depriving them of life's basics, waiting for wealth to "trickle down," and when push comes to shove, killing them (whether that's in Ferguson, Baltimore, Bagdad or Palestine).