When the Gospel Gets Under Your Skin

Saints are made by how they live,

Saints are made by how they live, not how they die. In March and April, the people’s church remembers two saints: El Salvador’s Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero and Germany’s Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While their deaths were "spectacular" - Romero gunned down while saying Mass and Bonhoeffer hanged in a Nazi concentration camp - it is their lives, not their deaths, that teach us about Christian faith.

This year, the date of Romero’s assassination falls on Holy Thursday. As Jesus knelt to wash the feet of his disciples in an act of revolutionary humility, I imagine the many times Romero knelt. Praying as a teenager for his vocation, which prompted him to leave the carpenter shop and go to seminary. Prostrating himself before a bishop at his ordination in Rome on April 4, 1942. Romero’s doctoral degree was in ascetical theology. He wanted to be holy. I imagine him kneeling before a statue of the Virgin with a rosary in his hand.

Romero knelt on February 22, 1977, when he was made archbishop of San Salvador - the church and ruling class were relieved that a politically and theologically conservative priest was at the helm. Two weeks later, Romero was kneeling over the bullet-riddled bodies of his friend and fellow priest Rutilio Grande and the old man and boy Grande had been traveling with. The people say something changed in Romero that day. He cancelled all the Masses in the archdiocese except for Grande’s memorial service. He demanded that the military investigate the murders. The quiet, humble priest to the status quo stood up straight, raised his voice to the thousands of Salvadorans gathered in the plaza and listening by radio, and said: "Whoever touches one of my priests has to deal with me!"

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Sojourners Magazine April 2005
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