I have long been fascinated by the idea of conversion and have written about it before. What moves me is not so much an observable shift, whereby someone changes their religion or worldview. Rather, it is the idea that people are capable of radical transformation that gets at the core of our being.
Many of us often feel trapped by the darker corners of our human nature. Like Paul says in Romans, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In light of this, believing we have the capacity to grow and be made new is inspiring.
This week marks the 35th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s martyrdom in El Salvador. Romero was shot to death while celebrating mass, and though no one has ever been formally tried for the assassination, he had gained a reputation for speaking out against Salvadoran military and government’s persecution of the poor and oppressed, as well as the Catholic Church. According to the United Nations, a death squad led by a U.S. trained army major, Roberto D’Abuisson, was the probable culprit.
Romero’s tireless advocacy and solidarity on behalf of marginalized people are, of course, the marks of his greatness. What really stirs me, though, is that he supposedly was not always the man we honor today. When Romero was named to his post in 1977, more progressive members of Salvadoran society were disappointed, while the government and military breathed a sigh of relief; Romero, they thought, would maintain the status quo.
It was the murder of Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande that apparently initiated the grand shift in the theretofore more conservative Romero.
“When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead,” Romero recalled, “I thought if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.”
I think we often use our sins, mistakes and shortcomings to exonerate ourselves from what is possible in the present. ‘How can I possibly live up to God’s call,’ we ask, ‘when I did X, Y or Z in the past?’
Holiness, however, is not so much about what we do as what God does through us. It is an opening of ourselves, allowing God to work in and through us. It can happen to anyone, because God is not limited.
I suspect Archbishop Romero was well aware of this. We should do our best to be, too.
*NOTE: A documentary called “La Voz Del Pueblo” was released this week to mark the anniversary of Archbishop Romero’s assassination. It explores the work of a Jesuit-run radio station in Honduras and its work documenting government corruption and violence. To view it, click here.
Spanish speakers can listen to a homily Archbishop Romero gave the day before he died.