Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2016 and a Witness from the Past

The 2016 Presidential elections are over a year away, but it seems that we have been in a new election cycle forever. Every day the newspaper devotes column after column to the last outrageous thing said by one vanity candidate or to the sputtering attempt of some other to get his or her own allotment of newsprint. And is it only me, or does each day seem to bring an increasingly polarized campaign message?

I was pretty shocked by how similar the political talk was in the El Salvador of the late 90's. (Thankfully, no "desaparecidos" here; it is all talk.) One of the biggest challenges faced by the archbishop of El Salvador was trying to preach the Gospel (with its demands of justice) to right and left at the same time. Toward the end of his life, Blessed Oscar Romero knew that he was going to die violently; he just didn't know whether it would be the right-wingers or the left-wingers who would pull the trigger. He traveled alone so no one else would be killed along with him, as happened with so many of his priests. His attempts to bring people together to discuss the country's urgent needs were dismissed by both sides as selling out. You had to be on one side or the other. Nuance was a betrayal of the cause.
Last night I finished reading the recently published biography of the martyred Archbishop, and I can't help but invoke his intercession for our polarized national conversation. Just think of any hot-button issue (immigration, for instance, or the right to life) and notice the demonization from either side of the aisle.

Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope, by an Italian professor of modern history, really helped me understand what was going on in Latin America and among the Salvadoran bishops (themselves highly polarized) that led to the murder of the most effective preacher in the country. (Romero's homilies could last two hours--and the ordinary people, the poor and powerless--hung on every word.) I finally understood why his beatification as a martyr had taken so long (35 years!): the very same polarization that had been the background for his assassination meant that both parties immediately crafted a Romero myth in order to claim justification for their continued violence. Even the famous phrase attributed to the archbishop ("If I am killed, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people") turns out to have been the elegant phrasing of a journalist who could only claim to have spoken to Romero by phone (during a phone appointment that did not appear in the archbishop's records).

So now, whenever Election 2016 shows up in the news, I am going to invoke Blessed Oscar Romero for our politicians, our political parties and their puppet-masters, and especially for our bishops, that they will be guided by the Holy Spirit in teaching and preaching according to the wisdom of the Gospel.

Read a sample from the biography here:

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