On Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was officially declared a saint of the Catholic Church.
Millions of people of Latin America, Hispanics in the United States and countless others throughout the world had already referred to him as a saint for decades. The institution confirmed what the people of God, moved by the Holy Spirit, knew intuitively.
We now enter November, when Catholics contemplate more closely the saints who inspire us. During this month, we also remember those who died. The memory of St. Oscar Romero invites us to think of holiness and death in unique ways.
I have encountered people who met St. Oscar Romero. And I have read some good books that share his story and the circumstances in which he lived and died.
If anything, I can gather from the witness of those who met him and those who have written about the archbishop that he lived a rather ordinary Christian life.
He was a diligent bishop, passionate about the institution and the faith tradition to which he dedicated his life. He loved the people he served. He brought the best of his energy to make sure that the God-given dignity of these people was affirmed at all times.
One can read — and hear — in many of his homilies that were preserved for posterity that he was profoundly in love with Jesus Christ and wanted others to live likewise. The risen Christ was his hope.
Many would see all this as rather ordinary, actually expected of someone who would self-identify as a Christian. We learn again that saints are ordinary women and men of faith who live ordinary lives while being constantly open to being formed and transformed by God’s grace. That makes them extraordinary.
Like everyone else, St. Oscar Romero died; but his was an untimely death. Someone decided that his life was dispensable. The saint was assassinated while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980.
It is tempting to romanticize the death of the martyrs — or death in general. I have heard pious comments from good people saying that it was moving that he died while celebrating Mass. I cringe at those comments.
Nothing justifies taking away human life at any time. Period. Nothing justifies the creation of circumstances that would shorten people’s lives by hastening, directly or indirectly, their death.
In November, we remember relatives, friends and many others who already died. We remember them with the hope that they are enjoying the promise of eternal life in God. We pray to them and for them trusting that they do likewise for us. We all are in communion through prayer.
Remembering the dead while thinking about how St. Oscar Romero died demands that we pause for a moment and think of those who died before their time; those whose lives were considered disposable; those who lived in circumstances created by our own society that shortened their existences and hastened their deaths.
Too many people have died because of violence, war, poverty, lack of access to basic health care, corruption, racism, addictions, abortion, endangering their lives by crossing borders and seas, and similar other realities that should pain us. Death is not glorious under these circumstances.
The memory of St. Oscar Romero compels us to live ordinary lives open to being formed and transformed by God’s grace and to denounce with prophetic voice the actions and circumstances that shorten people’s lives. In doing this, we will be extraordinary.
St. Oscar Romero, martyr and saint, in this month when we honor our saints and remember our dead, pray for us.
Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a member of the leadership team for the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
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