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I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive – against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border… they will not allow him to enter. -Father Rutilio Grande
It was recently the feast day for the newly canonized saint, Oscar Romero.
I learned something I didn’t know: Oscar Romero’s appointment to archbishop was a disappointment to the priests who had been working hard for justice in their regions. Romero’s track record up to that point made him a good choice for the status quo, which is why the power players in the church and state in El Salvador chose him. They expected Romero would be compliant based on his careful, orthodox, and safe approach to ministry. He would not rock the boat.
But Romero had lost a friend. And it changed him.
His friend, Father Rutilio Grande, was murdered by security forces of El Salvador. Grande had been speaking loudly against what he saw happening by the government — unjust actions that brought violence, denied people their rights, made people hungry and poor. He was not popular among those with power. After preaching a sermon in the wake of the deportation of a fellow justice-seeking priest (So that if Jesus crosses the border… they will not allow him to enter), he was murdered. There was no investigation. There was no truthtelling. There was no justice.
Later Archbishop Romero said: “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path’.”
It was love that called Oscar Romero. It was friendship. It was not someone else’s suffering, it was his own.
We live in a culture that sneaks us into same-ness. The algorithms of the internet show us more and more content that we already like, already believe. The forces of economics push us into neighborhoods surrounded by folks who earn and spend the same way we do. We live near, work with, worship together with folks who are like us. It creates in us a strange sense of our own normal-ness — and a sense that those who are unlike me are are somehow strange or wrong, somehow complicit or sinful. And it insulates us from their suffering.
The way of the gospel is a different way. It’s a calling into friendship. Friendship means we don’t try to suffer with one another — we genuinely suffer, because our lives are connected. We don’t believe it to be a kindness to defend a friend’s dignity, to grieve a friend’s death. It is a natural response to the love that binds us together.
I think this is what we mean when we say we are one body. It is a calling that, during times of injustice, pushes some of us who live in safety toward more danger. It pushes others out of danger toward those who can welcome them into safety. It pushes all of us toward a God who calls us his friends.
And this is good news.