TRUE INDEPENDENCE COMES ONLY FROM CHRIST
Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 9, 1979
My dear sisters and brothers.
Once again circumstances oblige us to celebrate our Eucharist in the consecrated church of El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. This fills me with much hope because the heart of Jesus is a symbol of the infinite love of God that is made manifest in Jesus’ love toward humankind. Why do we come to Mass each Sunday? We come here as Christians to deepen ourselves in the mystery that is the foundation of our faith and hope: the mystery of Christ --- a mystery that is nothing more that the mystery of God’s infinite love, the infinite plan of God to save women and men, to elevate them and make them one with him, to make them one family. We journey among the uncertainties of history, among the temptations and the promises of the world. There is the risk that we will begin to feel comfortable in this world and forget the loving call of the Father who awaits us with open arms --- who not only awaits us but who has shown us the path to him by giving us his only Son, Jesus Christ.
The circumstances of this month lead us to this reflection because this is the month of our independence which sounds sarcastic during this time when we experience so many different forms of enslavement. This is why our people celebrate our independence in so many distinct ways today. There are people who plan spectacular events: blood and tragedy. In our environment there is an expectation: what does September hold out for the people of El Salvador?
For my part, I believe that for Christians September presents us with a challenge. Here I am talking about the challenge of a name: independence --- independence without reprisals and painful tragedies, independence that places us on the side of God, independence that joins us together with Jesus: Lord, you are the only one who can give true freedom to women and men. The independence of our nation which is celebrated on the fifteenth of this month involves us in the challenge of God who offers us his power to be free. Therefore the reaction of the good Christian people of El Salvador should not be one of fear: what is going to happen in September? People cannot do more than what God permits them to do for their good or for their misfortune. Jesus says: Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid! (Luke 12:7). I believe that today, more than ever, we need this calmness, this surety. Instead of being fearful of other people we need to be docile in the hands of God.
The challenge is here: only united with God in Jesus Christ can we be the true architects of our history. God is the master of history and Jesus is the cornerstone of civilization and only in him is there consistency. Therefore I tell you: sisters and brothers, for the love of our country, let us decide to place ourselves at Christ’s side and reflect on the question: what does God want of me? Hopefully everyone, even those who are sensitive to the social and political situation and have been led astray, will be able to proclaim the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples: without me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Let us unite ourselves to Christ. Only in Christ can we achieve all things. Saint Paul says: I can do everything because Christ is my strength, my hope, my guide and the one who gives meaning to my life (an adaptation of Philippians 4:13). Without Christ human life is absurd and the human person becomes a jackal, a beast, a demon. How sad is the person who is separated from Christ and distanced from God!
Today’s readings want us to focus on the central figure: Jesus standing before the deaf man. The deaf man is the image of the man or woman enslaved, living on the margins of society. He does not hear and cannot speak --- he is unable to communicate which is an expression of true enslavement. Jesus touches his ears and tongue and frees him.
The other two readings explain the image of slavery but there is also a complement in these readings. There is the sad image of slavery: the desert. The desert! It is said that when the Bedouins crossed the desert they heard in the distance the blowing of the wind and they would say: Listen to the sound of the wind! It is the desert lamenting and crying because she wanted to be a garden! I believe there is no more eloquent figure than the sterile desert, sand and more sand! The desert points out the need that the human person has for something more. The desert is a figure of the true necessity for independence and development.
In the second reading there is another figure. James, the practical man, refers to a ragged man arriving for a liturgical celebration and at the same time another person well dressed enters the same place --- someone says to the finely dressed person: Sit here please and to the poor person: Stay at the door and sit on the ground. There are two figures of estrangement and slavery: the poor man living on the margins of society and the servant who is more attentive to the finely clothed person than the poor person. These are the persons who are presented to us in today’s readings.
I have entitled today’s homily: true independence comes only from Christ. I will develop the following points: 1) Jesus is God in person who comes to free the human person, 2) Jesus is concerned about saving the whole person, 3) the salvation that Jesus brings us does not destroy us but makes us anew. I believe that these ideas, based on the readings, are most appropriate for our tragic situation that each day becomes more bloody. Let us be calm and with faith let us approach this reflection on the Word of God. As a complement and as usual we will look at how this applies and is achieved in our Archdiocesan Church and in the environment of our country.
How beautiful to listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he will save you (Isaiah 35:4). This was the faith, the unheard of marvels that the prophet announced. The individuals who spoke in God’s name said that God is not only going to send prophets as the people thought, but he is also going to come in person. Therefore the prophets simply prepared the paths of the Lord, prepared people’s hearts so that when God comes he might find a new earth where his words would produce fruit.
a) The environment of prophecy: the need for liberation
--- The Babylonia captivity
These words were proclaimed during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Because of the sins that were committed in the Promised Land, the invaders had seized the king and the people and treated them cruelly. They were in Babylon. The psalms recount the people’s sadness and agony as they lived in a land far from their homeland. The beautiful psalm of the trees on the banks of the rivers of Babylon that have inspired many poems and musical compositions is an expression of the people’s love for their country. The people recognized that their sins had led them into the desert and they waited for the day of God’s forgiveness. By the rivers of Babylon we sat mourning and weeping … There our captors asked for the words of a song; our tormentors, for a joyful song … But how could we sing a song of the Lord in a foreign land? If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights (Psalm 137:1, 3, 4-6).
--- Frightened hearts
The love of one’s country makes us think about the words that Isaiah spoke to us today: say to those whose hearts are frightened … the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be cleared (Isaiah 35:4, 5). In other words, there is a situation. My dear sisters and brothers, people need the presence of God because it is our destiny as human beings: without God there is oppression --- the oppression of fear, frightened hearts. How many people in our land are living with frightened hearts, fearful trembling, unsure! These are signs of the need for liberation. The desert is shouting and crying and desiring a better world.
The evident sign of the oppression of people is illness. For this reason there will always be ill people in the world: blind, deaf, paralyzed. The hospitals will always have work and many times the cruelty of the human person provides the hospitals with work.
How sad it is to read that in El Salvador the two leading causes of death are first: diarrhea, and then immediately followed by the second cause: assassinations. People die because of homicide and wounds inflicted during the exchange of gunfire. This is a sad statistic. Thus we have first of all a sign of malnutrition: diarrhea and then a sign of crime: assassination. These are the two epidemics that are killing our people.
This is the environment in which Isaiah speaks and would also speak to people today: You, whose hearts are frightened and ill --- signs of oppression and victims of the situation --- take courage! God will come in person! Look, your God is coming! (an adaptation of Isaiah 35:4).
---Prophecy: the figure of the desert, the figure of health for the infirm
There is a beautiful parallel between the passage from Saint Mark’s gospel and the passage from Isaiah that were just proclaimed today. Isaiah refers to the flourishing of the desert as a sign of the presence of God, the action of God. The prophets presented the presence of God in the world through signs: messianic signs. The prophets made no distinction because they saw an enormous gap between worldly goods, the fruits of redemption and eschatological signs. When the world comes to an end, all the fruits of Christ will be gathered together and there will be no more crime and no more death. In the meantime, the messianic times have begun. We could say that the desert is flourishing and that the infirm are being healed. Jesus Christ himself gave clear signs. When John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus they asked: Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another? (Luke 7:19). Jesus responded by pointing to signs: the blind regain their sight …the dead are raised (Luke 7:22).
Signs of health are a sign that God has come and that God is among us. Even though there is still death and crime yet bloodshed has been satisfied and sin and death have been conquered. It is like a wounded whale that moves out to sea and because it is wounded, it dies. Saint Paul has said: The last enemy to be destroyed is death! (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death has been wounded by death and those who are dead will rise from their graves. Sinners will not sing of victory because they have been vanquished. Sin was crucified on the cross of Jesus and those who believe in Christ are victorious. Therefore, those whose hearts are frightened should be mindful of the fact that God is among us! Those who are ill, be patient, your illness will pass! This does not mean that we should be passive but rather we should continue to struggle without losing hope in God who is present. We should continue to struggle without separating ourselves from God and from the guidelines that the God of history has given to us.
b) The presence and the mission of Jesus
The gospel of Saint Mark has a unique characteristic because we find very little of Jesus’ teaching in this gospel. Mark is not concerned about giving us a presentation of Jesus’ doctrine but is primarily concerned about the person of Jesus who incarnates the Kingdom of God that is present on earth. It is beautiful to reflect on the fact that Saint Mark’s gospel --- the gospel that is being read during this year of tragedy in El Savlador --- is communicating to us the message that Isaiah proclaimed and is telling us that this prophecy is truthful because it has been affirmed in the person of Jesus. All those who believe in Christ are redeemed and have no reason to be fearful or afraid (and in this Basilica del Sagrado Corazón there are many motives to believe in his love). It is time for Christians to strengthen their spirit and put aside fear. Do not let us become depressed because of circumstances but let us find support in the Lord during times of weakness and disorientation. As blind and deaf people let us reach out and grasp the hand of Jesus. He is leading us to victory. Light will come to our eyes and clarity will come to the present situation of El Salvador! Only Jesus is able to give us true independence.
--- Faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ … the poor … God’s criteria and man’s criteria
The second reading also speaks to us about the presence of Jesus. Saint James tells the Christians: show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ (James 2:1). It is inconceivable that someone would be called a Christian and then not make a preferential option for the poor like Jesus did. It is scandalous that Christians today criticize the Church because the Church has opted for the poor. Is this not Christianity! True Christianity is proclaimed by Jesus through Saint James who says: It is inconceivable! If you have faith in our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ then you must treat the rich and poor in the same way and you will not allow yourselves to be deceived by appearances (an adaptation of James 2:1).
When we say for the poor, we do not take sides with one social class --- please note this. What we do, according to Puebla, is invite all social classes, rich and poor, without distinction, and we say to everyone: Let us take seriously the cause of the poor as though it were our own because, indeed, it is the cause of Jesus Christ, who at the time of the Final Judgment will call to salvation those who treated the poor with faith in him: Whatever you did to one of these poor ones, the neglected, the blind and the lame and the deaf and the mute, you did for me (an adaptation of Matthew 25:40). Jesus is giving us an example: his presence (and thanks to God he is still alive) and the Church, that tries to renew herself despite the persecution and misunderstanding, will continue to proclaim the same laws of God. This is true politics because it does not treat people as first or second class citizens but says: those who adhere to the faith in the glorious Lord, Jesus Christ, incarnated in the miseries of humankind, should show no partiality in dealing with people (an adaptation of James 2:1)
Recent documents of the Church, especially the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, state: The development We speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of every person and of the whole person (Populorum Progressio, #14).
Unfortunately, sisters and brothers, we are the product of a spiritualized, individualistic education. We were taught to try to save our soul and not worry about others. We told those who suffer: be patient, heaven will follow, hang on! No, that is not right. That is not salvation! That is not the salvation that Jesus brought. The salvation that Jesus brings is a salvation from every bondage that oppresses human beings. In today’s readings those slaveries have been enumerated: the desert, partiality in relating to people, using the criteria of the world in our human relationships. All of these are a form of slavery! It is necessary that people who live in slavery and oppression break the chains (fear that enslaves the heart, illness which oppresses the body, sadness, concern and terror that oppress our freedom and our lives).
Does it not appear to be a form of slavery, a true humiliation when we are servile? In order to maintain good relationships with those who are powerful the humble have to accept humiliation.
b) The liberation of Jesus
---God comes with vindication
Notice in the first reading the proclamation concerning the liberation that God brings: Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save. He will restore health to your bodies and the desert will flourish (an adaptation of Isaiah 35:4-7). What wonderful words to express the liberation that God desires: vindication. Here we are not talking about selfish vengeance but rather putting things in right order. In other words, we are all sisters and brothers and there is no reason for people to be humiliated. The vindication of God is love and so may all people come to understand the meaning of God’s love.
--- Divine recompense
Recompense: when someone has been offended, another comes to offer recompense, to atone, to ask for forgiveness. Jesus comes to ask the Father’s forgiveness because women and men have offended God by displays of partiality in their relationships and by fear and oppression. This is not faith in God. When Jesus died on the cross he made atonement and brought about God’s vindication. This is the vindication and the just demands that the Lord desires: that we free our hearts from sin. Sin is the cause of all of this and those who shout and speak and engage in efforts on behalf of liberation but oppress and kill and do evil --- these people have not understood that the only violence that saves is the violence that one does to onself, the violence that one does to make amends to God for one’s sins.
The whole person has a transcendent dimension and an historical dimension. Therefore as we reflect on the gestures of Jesus, I want to look at these dimensions of the human person.
c) Transcendent dimension
In the first place Jesus is concerned about the deaf man. Jesus, if he had been selfish or had adopted an individualistic spirituality, he would have passed on by, like the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and would not have even noticed the deaf man. Nevertheless, Jesus pauses in front of the deaf man and with the patience of one who administers a sacrament, makes ritualistic gestures: he places his fingers in the man’s ears and places saliva on the man’s tongue. Look at the power of Jesus’ body. Jesus is God in person, incarnated in the body of a man and everything that Jesus touches has the power of God. The fingers of Jesus are the fingers of a man, like mine, but within Jesus there is something that is not present in me: the divine person of the Son of God. Jesus touches the infirm and they are healed! He could have made the desert flourish just as he calmed the waters and the storms.
There is power in God. Therefore, when Jesus is with the deaf man, who perhaps was unable to speak because he could not hear (he was deaf), his gestures say everything: touching the ears and the tongue, raising his eyes toward heaven, groaning. These gestures speak to the mute man who is unable to talk and needs a tongue. These gestures speak to the deaf man who cannot hear and needs ears: signs of liberation. Jesus is telling him: You have a transcendent destiny: heaven. I myself have come from there. How wonderful must have been Jesus’ gaze toward his Father: the infinity of God. True liberators are those who remember that only in God can they find their destiny and their liberation. People who know how to pray and how to raise their minds and hearts to God are intimately related to the Kingdom of God even if they do not understand all of this. This is the redemptive dimension. What good would it be if Jesus had restored the deaf man to health and then this man did not use this gift to serve God? He would have been condemned. What good is beauty and what good are material possessions and what good is money if they do not serve the transcendent dimension of the human person? This is the progress that Jesus desires for women and men with regard to their transcendent dimension.
d) Historical dimension
This, however, does not mean that the human person is only transcendent. Today the historical dimension of the human person is in need of liberation. I hope that this week I will be able to present you with copies of my pastoral letter which speaks about the contributions that the Church is able to offer to the nation during this time of crisis. Among the eight things that we are able to offer is the following: the human being is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling its mission: the human being is the primary and fundamental way for the Church (Fourth Pastoral Letter, #53).
Here we are referring to the concrete, historical person who lives today. For this reason the bishops in Puebla attempted to look at the people in Latin America and from there I apply these things to the reality of the people of El Salvador. I have visited some of the slums where people live in poverty and misery and are hungry. These are the people to whom we must proclaim: As Church we do not have gold or silver but we want to share with you what we have: in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise and walk (an adaptation of Acts 3:6). Develop yourselves! We do not want a mob or people who are manipulated. We want people who are true images of God and even though they might live in slums or the mountains, they should be respected. They are the same as the people who live in the capital.
In my Pastoral Letter I state: This ideal brings together all the dimensions of human reality, excluding none, and it does not reduce the faith merely to the improvement of the social or political order. Today, however, we should stress the social and historical dimensions of this liberation, as Puebla requested : “Confronted with the realities that are part of our lives today, we must learn from the Gospel that in Latin America we cannot truly love our fellow human beings, and hence God, unless we commit ourselves on the personal level and, in many cases, on the structural level as well, to serving and promoting the most dispossessed and downtrodden human groups and social classes, with all the consequences that will entail on the plane of temporal realities” (Fourth Pastoral Letter, #55).
Therefore, the human person has a transcendent dimension but also an historical, temporal and concrete dimension. This is the person who is called to eternal salvation but who today is dying of hunger or does not receive a just wage. This is the person who has a vocation and is called to rejoice in heaven but God has also created this same person to be happy on earth. This is the person who will be a sister or brother in eternity, living with all other people, but this is also the person who has to learn how to be a brother or sister on this earth and not hate or kill other people.
--- The destiny of the poor: rich in faith
When Jesus, through Saint James, speaks about not despising the poor person and giving preference to the rich person, he asks a question that could serve as an examination of conscience for each one of us: if you do this have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? Listen, my beloved sisters and brothers, did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that he promised to those who love him (James 2:4-5). It is not enough to be poor, rather we must be poor and love God; we must be poor and in the grace of God. The Church and divine revelation say that the poor have a certain higher capacity than other social classes that makes them able to understand the message and the redeeming actions of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, we cannot forget the historical dimension of the human person but we must also be concerned about conversion. It is said: God choose those to be rich in faith (James 2:5). Thus because of their love for God they rejoice in the eternal destiny that God saw as their preference while they were here on earth. My beloved poor sisters and brothers, you are the majority of those who are participating in this reflection and I want to count myself as one among the poor. I know that it is only on this path and in this situation that we can discover, sincerely and authentically, the truth. Let us attempt to be worthy of the presence of God! Let us be poor and worthy so that God can make us rich in faith and rich in the love of the Lord. This is our treasure! We do not want anything except that which will enable us to develop our historical dimension. I do not want to be, like someone from the BRP said to me, the opium of the people. Never! I am saying here that the development of the transcendent dimension should lead to a greater development of the historical, social, economic and political dimensions of the human person. I am saying that God not only created heaven for people after their death but has also created the earth for all people. This is not opium.
--- Interiority … taking him aside
There is a detail that I would like to reflect on more deeply, not meaning that I want to spend a long time on this point but I do want to intensify our reflection. When Jesus is dealing with the deaf man, the gospel tells us that Jesus took him off by himself, away from the crowd (Mark 7:33). What a significant gesture for our time. Saint Mark, faithful to his theological ideal, presents us Jesus carrying on his ministry on behalf of the Kingdom of God but the people cannot understand this. Therefore, Jesus tries to hide many things that could lead people to a mistaken belief about the Kingdom. Yes, he hides things! With his disciples he reproaches them many times because they do not understand the meaning of the Kingdom. But in front of people he is reserved because at the proper time he will speak the word that people need to hear in order to understand the meaning of his presence and the Kingdom.
Leaving aside for a moment the theological meaning of the Kingdom of God hidden as a mystery in Christ, Jesus takes the deaf man aside. But here I also see another meaning in this gesture. The multitude, the voice of the world, the noise of loud speakers, stereo music --- all of this confuses and confuses. There is only one place where people encounter God and where Jesus is also able to make transcendent gestures and gestures of love toward the poor deaf man: alone, in the interior of the person, as we said last Sunday. My sisters and brothers, today there is much noise: the occupation of churches with noise from loud speakers blaring all day long that has wearied the people in those neighborhoods, gun shots, shouting --- all of this does not bring about salvation if it is not brought into the depths of our interior where we can reflect and then plan. Everything else is simply ruins!
Jesus offers us a salvation that makes us anew and does not destroy.
--- Jesus, the new man
When the prophet Isaiah, which was read today, announces the character of the Messiah in the mysterious figure of the Servant of Yahweh, he speaks words that many do not understand: A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench (Isaiah 42:3). These are wonderful words that are telling us that Christ is not a wrathful man because a reed was broken --- a reed was just broken and was tossed aside. But with the meekness of a doctor, he straightens it, he remedies it and once again we have a good reed. He does not extinguish the wick because there is only one coal among the ashes. With patience he removes the ashes and begins to blow on the coal and puts some pine and wood on the fire and the fire once again begins to burn. This comparison also refers to Christ because he renews and makes anew that which was lost.
--- Jesus calls the sinners
What else can we say about Jesus who walks among deaf and mute people, walks among lepers and sinners? The hypocrites reproached him: Look, your master is eating with sinners and the Law prohibits this (Luke 5:30). Jesus told them: Your hypocrites, the healthy have no need of a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners (Luke 5:31-32). During these days it is beautiful to look within ourselves and see where we have need of Christ. Here in El Salvador we seem to be throwing stones at one another as if the other person is to blame while we see ourselves as not culpable but rather as victims. Those who believe they do not need Christ, whether they be the Pope or a bishop or a priest --- these people are arrogant. The Virgin criticizes these people in her Magnificat: he has dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart… but lifted up the lowly (Luke 1:52, 53).
Jesus is the person who makes anew the history of his own people. It could be said that human rights for the remnant are about to be crushed but Jesus gathers up these people in time and unites the people with their human rights and from this comes the salvation of the world.
--- Jesus becomes incarnated and one like us
What else could we say about the incarnation? Saint Paul says: [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself … coming in human likeness. He took the form of a slave and died on the cross like a common criminal (an adaptation of Philippians 2:6-8). Roman citizens never imposed the sentence of crucifixion on one of their own citizens. This was an unworthy punishment for the free citizens of Rome. To die by crucifixion was a sentence of death reserved for slaves, thieves, unworthy people and the dregs of society. This is, however, the death that Jesus accepted --- the death of a criminal. It was for this reason that the early Christians found the crucifix so difficult because they said: if Jesus died in this way, then he is not worthy to be adored. Thus Jesus destroyed his own dignity in order to draw closer to the depths into which human dignity had fallen and then lifted it up. The letter to the Philippians continues: Because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Philippians 2:9-10). This is our hope: Jesus became incarnated and became one like us. My dear sisters and brothers, we also ought to embrace humanity as it is.
Blessed are the people of El Salvador who at this time are not ashamed of their own country but embrace it, not to make it worse but to create it anew! Blessed are the people of El Salvador who during this month of independence recognize that not everything in our nation is glorious. The National Anthem that we sing often sounds like a terrible sarcasm. Nonetheless, I want this anthem to be sung one day in the future with greater enthusiasm because today we have made a contribution to the development of people in all their dimensions.
Jesus is risen and his resurrection offers us eternal life. From the day that Christ rose gloriously from the tomb, the new history of humanity began. People can experience the reality of their redemption to the degree that they believe in eternal life with the Risen Christ. The Council states: the transformation of the world began with the risen Christ (an adaptation of Lumen Gentium, #48). The Church has the task of proclaiming, Sunday after Sunday, in every celebration of the Eucharist: Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
First, God comes in person to save us. Christ is in the midst of the world’s needs.
Second, the human progress that Christ wants to promote is that of the whole person, in their transcendent dimension, their historical dimension, their spiritual dimension and their bodily dimension. The whole person must be saved and that includes people in their social relationships so that they will not view some people as more human than others, but will consider all people as brothers and sisters and give preference to the weakest and the neediest. This is the integral human salvation that the Church wants to bring about --- a difficult mission! Often the Church will be identified with communistic or revolutionary subversives. But the Church is aware of her revolution: the revolution of Jesus Christ’s love.
Because the Church’s revolution is the same as Christ’s, my third point is the following: Jesus’ salvation does not destroy but creates new people --- it lifts people up from their weakness and misery and calls them to conversion. How did Christ make Paul, the persecutor, a new person? An ecclesiastical authority might have excommunicated him. But Christ does not extinguish a smoldering wick: so he sends Paul to a spiritual director, baptizes him, sends him into the desert to reflect and Paul returns a new man. The Apostle Paul says: I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God (1 Corinthians 15:9). My sisters and brothers, one day I would like to see all those who are planting terror here in El Salvador, as Paul did in Jerusalem and the Holy Land --- I would like to see these people converted! How I would like to see those who have received orders to kill others and those who order others to kill people, to pause and reflect: what am I doing? I believe that with just a few moments of reflection people would cease this insanity!
The mission of Jesus today in his Church
Therefore, I now try to apply these characteristics of the Word of God to our own history. I invite you to look at the mission of Christ today in his Church, to look at the desert of the bloody and sorrowful world, so many frightened hearts --- all of this that we have spoken about concerning the need for liberation. The Church can give the world liberation because some very good voices rise up in this world --- rise up like the winds in the desert. There are no Christian demonstrations but I read in the newspapers about certain expressions of the just demands of the people, certain petitions. This is the desert that cries out so that these voices are heard. The Church sees in these voices well-springs of the Holy Spirit that also speak in the profane world. These are the voices that bear the power of the Spirit who dwells in the noble hearts of people who live in the world. They can achieve the miracle of making our desert flourish.
What is the Church? The Church that I am going to describe now --- the Church of our Archdiocese and the universal Church --- should not be confused with people in general in El Salvador but should be seen as referring to those people whom Christ has chosen through baptism and who are members of the Church. My sisters and brothers, we should never confuse the Church, the People of God, with the people of El Salvador, the nation. These are distinct entities even though the same person is able to be a member of the society of El Salvador and a member of the People of God, but these are two dimensions of that person’s personality. As Church a person must be a man or woman who believes, who hopes, who places all his/her trust in Christ, our Lord. They make the Church more understandable and serve the world without betraying their own identity. They do not sell their Christian ideology or their faith or transcendence for some advantage in the world. This is the concrete Church about which I am going to give you some news.
Events of the week: in our Archdiocese
There was a clergy meeting this week and the priests of the Diocese studied and reflected on the formation of ecclesial base communities. My beloved lay sisters and brothers, the priests seconded the idea of becoming members of these small reflection groups. There is no evil in what we are doing. Here we simply reflect on the Word of God and the demands that this Word places on our historical commitment on this earth.
We are saddened by the illness of our priests. Father Cristóbal Cortez is still residing here in the Basilica. He had an operation and he is now recovering. Father Antonio Vides, the pastor of Fátima in the village of La Rábida has been ill for several days and so we pray for his health. Father Raúl Flores had a slight cerebral hemorrhage but thanks to God he is recovering. Msgr. Oscar René Campos, even though he is not a member of this diocese, yet he is a good friend of the Diocese and is recovering from an illness.
I want to speak about a priest who was slandered this week. Father Bernardo Fernández Trejo, the young pastor of the parish of Corazón de María has been defamed as a false Catholic, as a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. I do not simply want to respond to the insolent article that was published but also want to express my warm, pastoral, honest and sincere solidarity with the person of Father Fernández Trejo and with the Claretian Congregation. I want to take this opportunity to say to everyone who is listening to me: the Archbishop is very happy with the ministry of the Claretian Congregation, and today especially with the ministry of Father Fernández Trejo who is responsible for the parish of Fátima and is doing good ministry there. We repudiate the slander and are grateful for the many other expressions of solidarity that have arrived at the Chancery. I especially want to make mention of the Nocturnal Adoration Society of the Blessed Sacrament of El Salvador which is located in the parish there and has an on-going relationship with Father. They find it very difficult to believe that Father is a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. Since they also know that to be Catholic does not mean that one believes in angels and virgins but being Catholic means that one is respectful of the priests and that people know how to adapt the pastoral guidelines of the pastor to the parish. According to the members of the Nocturnal Adoration Society, Father called attention to some people because when he began to celebrate the Mass there was something like a social reception taking place at the doors of the church. People were attending to their friends rather than concerned about worshipping God. Father called attention to this and people were disturbed. Many times the Church, because of her zeal for God, will have to endure the reproaches of people who have no love for God’s zeal. I want to express my gratitude for these gestures of solidarity that have arrived from so many different parts of that parish.
I also want to speak about the women religious because, my sisters and brothers, religious life among us is a sign of the Church’s presence that should be highly esteemed. We are happy at their successes such as the celebration of the profession to the religious life and the celebration of their patronal feast that will be celebrated by the Passionist Sisters today. The Carmelite Sisters of Saint Theresa are going to receive six postulants into their Novitiate. During this month the Franciscans are going to undertake the promotion of vocations to the religious life in their schools. The Bethlehemite Sisters celebrate the religious profession of their novices. I do not know any other details but I am happy that in the community of the Archdiocese the religious life of women is flourishing. Hopefully young women and their families will continue in the silence of their meditation and the silence of their lives to listen to God so that they might discern if they should become part of this presence of Christ in the Church through their dedication to religious and consecrated life.
There are beautiful things occurring in the communities such as in Ateos and Tepecoyo where Father Manuel Loarca and the Sisters of Charity prepared a group of young people for the sacrament of Confirmation. All of these young people were aware of the fact that the coming of the Holy Spirit supposes a new Christian commitment.
The Assumption Sisters who minister in the area of La Chacra brought me to see the difficult situation of the people there, especially during these days of rain. Many houses that are close to the ravine naturally experience the humidity from these storms and this presents a danger to their health, especially the health of the children.
In Aguilares martyrdom is making its painful but glorious selection. The catechist, Jesús Jiménez was killed and you can read in Orientación a beautiful testimony about his life. I want to unite myself with the people of that town in rendering homage to this man. Through him the Church is also honored because he committed himself to his ministry aware of the dangers and the risks that led to his death.
Today at 7:00pm in San Francisco in Mejicanos Father Juan Macho Merino will be installed as pastor, replacing Father Rafael Palacios who was assassinated. The Passionist Community will be represented by a group of theologians from their community. The Passionists will minister in this parish and collaborate with the ministry in the Vicariate.
I also want to greet the members of the Christian Cursillo Movement who met this week on the diocesan level. I have noticed much Christian maturity that their members have preserved. They have adopted a mature Christian methodology and are not attached to one specific method but to the Spirit that gives life and enables them to know how to be in solidarity with their pastors who are responsible for the pastoral ministry of the Diocese. I want to say that we can identify authentic Catholics because they are people who are in solidarity with their bishop. If people are not with their bishops then they cannot say that they are good Catholics. This does not mean that the bishop can act in a despotic manner: do what I tell you to do! The service that the bishop gives must always be one that sees people as primary. In the meeting of the Cursillo movement that I referred to we all participated in such a profound reflection that I believe that the bishop always has much to learn from the people, especially with regard to the charisms that the Holy Spirit gives to people. It is there that the bishop finds the touchstone of his humility and authenticity. I want to thank all of those persons who, when they find themselves in disagreement with the bishops, have the courage to dialogue with him and convince him of his error or to be convinced of their error.
The nurses at the Social Security Hospital made a wonderful gesture as they celebrated a Mass in thanksgiving for the peaceful solution of their labor conflict. As I gave thanks to God I told them: Hopefully one day it is not only the nurses who are in this chapel but all the people of El Salvador, giving thanks to God because they have found a rational path, the path of true dialogue and understanding, a path that allows both sides to resolve their conflict. How beautiful are the solutions when these are dictated by reason which is a distinct characteristic of the human person and not brute force which is characteristic of the animals.
This weekend in the villages of Los Martínez and Jardín de la Parroquia de Tejutla the Christian community has come together in their churches to celebrate days of prayer and fasting for the peace of the country and the unity of the Church. These are gestures that give me great satisfaction because prayer and fasting and reflection on the Word of God are the powers of our Church.
I want to thank the Church for the expression of solidarity that was manifested to CUTS: in a special way look for that solidarity that ought to move the workers toward that Catholic Church that has been so intensely persecuted in recent years. This persecution has included the assassination of priests, priests sent into exile, a media campaign against the positions that the Catholic Church of El Salvador has taken --- positions that we judge to be just. Here they refer to something personal that makes me profoundly grateful to them.
I am also grateful for the letter that has arrived from Teresa Drumon and a Methodist minister. Dr. Jorge Lara-Braud brought me this letter. You will remember that he was the pastor who participated with me in the funeral celebration of Father Octavio which took place in front of the Cathedral. His words still vibrate in my heart. It is clear that kindness has united us in the love of Christ. He sent this letter in which he expresses a profound solidarity not only with me but with all of you who are members of this community that has given him such great delight.
We are all Church. I would like to ask for your help in giving wider circulation to our newspaper Orientación. We have never published so many copies as we are presently doing but we still need help in bringing this newspaper to many other areas. So I ask those Christians, campesinos and people from the city, if you want to help us and are willing to take the risk, we ask you to come to Chancery any day during the week and make your commitment to help us spread the Word of God. Naturally because we are speaking about the Word of God, it carries with it something that is explosive and many do not want to touch it. If it were dead explosives, then no one would be afraid. Therefore in our redaction of the newspaper we are careful to provide guidance, but in the true meaning of the life of the Church. A Church that through her means of communication desires to promote the historical dimension will naturally encounter clashes in history. The transcendent dimension is not enough even though it is necessary to write about this transcendent dimension. The historical and the transcendent dimensions must be balanced and this is what we try to do in our means of communication.
Therefore I take this opportunity to tell you that in Radio YSAX we are making renewed efforts to better our service. One thing, perhaps a little selfish on my part, but I want to recommend to you a new program that will present my homilies in parts. A part of my Sunday homily will be transmitted at 6:30am, 11:00am and 5:00pm. This will be a fifteen minute program. I attempt to make my Sunday homily a powerful moment of evangelization in our Archdiocese and I am able to do this because of the patience and the goodness of all of you who listen to me and spread the message --- and also because of the patience and good will of those persons who listen to me on their radios and allow me to serve them in some way. Therefore I want to thank YSAX for prolonging and echoing during the week this teaching that is given in the Cathedral of the Archdiocese. I celebrate the Mass here but am united with the whole Archdiocese. Here I feel present to all the pastors, religious communities, and communities of faithful Christians. When I know that people are listening to me in Arcatao, Chalatenango, or Cuscatlán I feel that I am not out of place because I am present there in spirit and with love.
Events of the week: in the universal Church
Departing from the realm of our Archdiocese, I want to greet Bishop Barrera, the bishop of Santa Ana. During these national holidays he has promoted a campaign of prayer and true love for our nation. In the newspaper his statements were published and I beg all of you who want to do good for our country to opt for the guidelines of my beloved brother in the episcopate: prayer and true love for our nation.
The Pope invites us to pray for an end to war. He has stated that this will be his intention during his next trip to the United Nations. This trip should be seen as a continuation of the trip that Pope Paul VI made on October 4th, 1969. The Pope is saddened by the fact that the history of this century has been a history of war. He lived, as I lived, the sad years of the Second World War.
The Pope also spoke about those who were injured in the Dominican Republic and asks that we help them both morally and economically. The disaster of hurricane David claimed one thousand lives and three thousand others were injured and four hundred are missing. The hurricane has caused 150,000 to seek refuge and resulted in damage estimated at 1.5 billion dollars. How will this poor nation come to life again? We hope that the creativity of the people of the Caribbean will enable them to bring up from their fertile soil that which the hurricane has washed away.
Events of the week: in our civil life
The hurricane also brought tragic consequences here among us. In our country the rains here claimed the lives of six members of the same family in the village of Renson-Irca: the Vásquez family. In the neighborhood of Lourdes at the end of El Pasaje Arriaza, Nelson Armando Rojas died and in the neighborhood of El Calvario in San Pedro Massahuat three others died when a wall of mud fell on them. More than seven hundred fifty families in the town of Bocana del Rio Paz in Ahuachapán were displaced when the river overflowed its banks. Their crops were also washed away.
The violence among us has grown this week because of political motives. We are sincerely saddened by the assassination of Professor José Javíer Romero, the brother of the President. I express my solidarity with the commentaries of Radio YSAX which condemned this crime.
I would hope that people would keep in mind the words of the President’s statement. He reminded us that in previous political crimes the victims have been either government authorities or businessmen, but now they have struck at my own family in open provocation. But they will not achieve this objective. It is a magnanimous expression. Let us not continue this violent race of stupid reprisals in which the victim is an innocent person.
Campesinos from the BPR caused damage on the lands of Talcualuya in Opico, lands administered by ISTA. Raúl Valencia, the administrator, was injured. Equipment and furniture were burned. In this regard I remember a recording that Father Astor Ruiz de Estelí sent me from Nicaragua. He stated that he was living in the sacristy of a church that was destroyed. Certain guerrillas destroyed the school but the liberation movement punished the insane attitude of the two young men who were responsible for this criminal action. The liberation of Nicaragua does not wave on high the flag of anarchy or crime. If there have been certain excesses --- and in every war there are such excesses --- the bishops have pointed out these things. We have seen their united and intelligent demands. I believe that our own nation’s demands are distorted because we are not going to rebuild the nation by burning land and busses. I am thinking about Jesus and the liberation that he brought us --- he did not destroy but made things anew.
We are saddened by the assassination of Professor Miguel Angel Flores Joya in Santa Tecla and the assassination of three police officers on the road to San Marcos where a radio patrol car was also burned. The assassination of the police officers is attributed to the FPL.
In San Miguel six students were machine-gunned and it is feared that there will be a new outbreak of violence there. I want to call on everyone, and I know that you are listening, in order to plant seeds of peace and not seeds of hatred I say to one and the other: use common sense. Jesus has told us that we are going to create a nation by building up and not by destroying. We will build the nation by taking a few calm moments for reflection but not by continuing the madness of armed struggle and war that makes us act irrationally. Let us be mindful of the true spirit of the people of El Salvador, people who long for true independence but desire this independence by pursuing rational paths rather then the paths of violence and blood.
Representatives of the transportation industry and their Cooperative Association visited me and asked for my collaboration. They stated: During the past months we have been victimized by groups and persons who are dedicated to burning our vehicles that serve the people. We believe that in the present situation of our country there is no place for such actions. Perhaps the only reason that misinformed or evil intentioned persons can give for their actions is the fact that our business is owned by the ex-president of the republic, Col. Arturo Armando Molina. Therefore we beg you to call upon the public and let them know that our doors are open to show the reality of our business and that the opinion that was previously circulated is mistaken. Dialogue instead of violence! Therefore I say: take some time, just a few minutes, to reflect before deciding to set a bus on fire. Take a few minutes to reflect before pulling the trigger of the machinegun. Take a few moments to reflect before giving a bloody order like Herod: kill him! Yes, even Herod was ashamed of the order that he gave! If he had reflected a little he would not have decapitated John the Baptist. But because of a lewd dancer he gave in to his passions which so often make people blind and unable to reason. The pride of an organization and the pride that makes it impossible to lower our heads lead to an even greater humiliation: our hands are stained with the blood of murder.
I also want to speak about the members of a group from public transportation who made claims against ecclesiastical authorities. I focused on one of their details: speak because your silence surprises us! I say to you: Forgive me. Since May I have been saying that it is not legal to burn buses. The Church has spoken her word about this matter and maintains her position and so today I want to reaffirm this position. I agree with the statement of the bus drivers in which they ask for dialogue among the different groups who have made unjust claims against different businesses and as a result the workers and their families have suffered economic loses. Dialogue! Speak with one another! Do not act in secret but seek ways to honestly speak face to face with one another. There must be dialogue! We are all in agreement with one thing: we want to find a solution to the problems of our country. No one is opposed to this except those who unjustly want to maintain the present order and so we say to them: This is an unjust system! This is institutionalized violence and must be changed so as not to cause other violent acts that are provoked by this present situation.
New claims concerning those who have disappeared. We have raised our voices before but we are still afflicted as we admire the perseverance of mothers and wives and children who come to the Chancery and say: let’s do something . We still have no news concerning Carlos Antonio Mendoza Valencia, a medical student who was arrested seventy-two days ago and has not been found. His wife is expecting a child and hopes that the child’s father will know his gentleness. Miguel Angel Terezón Ramos disappeared fifty-two days ago. Santos Ortiz Asencio was arrested on July 26th. Luis Alfredo Amaya was arrested on May 17th in Usulután. These visits and letters are very painful for me especially when I experience, with them, my inability to do anything for them. But those who can do something, those who know where these people are: say something and relieve the anguish of so many people!
Thanks to God, Rafael Nieto Alvarez, who was abducted eighty-four days ago, has been freed.
Regarding the labor conflicts I want to say two brief things. First, there is need for adequate legislation. For a long time now we have raised our voices together with the workers and their labor unions and asked for the revision of the labor code. This revision, however, should not be something that is imposed from on high but should take into consideration the voices of those who experience every day these problems: the voices of the workers and the voices of the labor unions. This reform must be done in a mutual dialogue between interested parties: businessmen, workers, governmental authorities. Give more participation to the workers because we already have a very explosive and conflict-ridden labor situation: hostages in factories, uneasiness among families and businessmen. All of this continues to be a day after day situation of violence because there are no legal channels for an adequate expression of labor interests. I also want to tell the workers to be careful to take time to reflect. Do not allow yourselves to be manipulated by outside forces that are not concerned about your just demands. Be equable in your demands and be mindful of the overall social situation and not just your own personal situation. You can read about other particular cases in Orientación.
Finally, as I said before I want to focus on two statements that do not come from the Church nor from our Christian faith but are voices of the desert where the Holy Spirit cries out for life. I would like you to be attentive to this.
The statement of FENAPES (the National Federation of Small Businesses): On one side: strikes, the occupation of factories, private property, churches, on the other side: abductions, the assassination of teachers, students, priests, etc. The flight of investment and belligerent attitudes of some publications rather than leading to understanding and calmness, encourage and create a state of collective psychosis that is harmful to the achievement of the objectives that the people desire. I am in agreement with this statement of the middle class which in El Salvador, like in every other country, is a power of salvation. Let us not destroy them or despise them but rather let us know how to revitalize them and may they themselves be revitalized with Christian criteria so that they can be the providential class in the situation of our country. I believe it is necessary to remind all citizens that the help of everyone in El Salvador is necessary for the achievement of peace, including those who act as mere passive spectators, professional associations and members of your groups. All these people need to speak up and contribute alternative ideas for a solution so that we can concur on a legal exit that will lead to the pacification and the democratization of El Salvador. We have always stated that at this time no one can be passive and that those who have received more must contribute more. We ask the professional groups not only to think about themselves or their advantages or their families but offer what they have received to the common good.
The other statement is from the Center of Judicial Studies. They denounced in a special way the mockery that the Supreme Court of Justice has made of the petition for habeas corpus. Perhaps some do not know the meaning of habeas corpus. It is the petition that a family makes when one of their loved ones has been arrested. A denunciation of the act is presented along with witnesses. For example: they might state that a particular individual in said place at said time was arrested by this particular person and was taken prisoner. Thus they ask that the person arrested be brought before the courts. This is what is called habeas corpus. In this regard an infinite number of documents have been presented to the Supreme Court of Justice and I believe that the Supreme Court is largely responsible for the present situation in our country. They have been lax and irresponsible in dealing with these serious matters and have caused greater harm to the Constitution of the country. The right of habeas corpus is guaranteed by the Constitution. To be inattentive to this right and, even worse, to prostitute this right and combine it with operations of a military character is a horror! A horrible sin against the Constitution!
Thought that leads us to the altar
This is the Church and this is the panorama in which the Church develops her mission. Hopefully, my beloved sisters and brothers, all of us, together with Christ the Liberator, will commit ourselves in this Sunday Eucharist to be concerned about the things that interest Christ. Then Christ comes to save us. But we want Christ to save the whole person and all people in their transcendent and historical dimensions.
Christ’s method of saving is not something negative but positive; he does not destroy but makes anew. Today this is precisely what we are going to do. At the altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice we make present Christ who died and rose. There we have the beginning of the history of restoration because all people, no matter how sinful and no matter how they might have betrayed the Lord, if they incorporate themselves into Jesus’ death and resurrection they become useful member of the nation. Hopefully they who have planted bloodshed and desolation and death and sorrow and crime will heed this call. Now is the time to repent and be converted! Now is the time to live anew! The Church loves you too much to be calm while you continue your journey on paths of bloodshed and violence.
The country, our beloved motherland, expects her children to cease all forms of injuring others and does not want us to beat her or injure her any further. From our perspective on the situation, even that of traitor, let us say like Saint Paul who was converted: I am not worthy to be called your son! But if you call me and I am converted then I can atone for my actions with a life of patriotism, by making a positive contribution to the common good and making anew the enormous ruins that have been created by this irrational and violent situation. Lord, Jesus Christ, we are deaf people but we behold your gesture which raises us up toward heaven and we feel your divine hands touching our immoveable bodies terrified by horror and tremendous misery. Save us Lord, for we have sinned!