Oscar Romero and the Voice of Truth
I’m going to take a page out of Davies’ book and do something today with my preaching that I rarely do: use a visual aid. And that visual aid is my prayerbook.
This combination prayerbook/hymnal was given to me by St. Michael And All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas at the conclusion of my internship with them when I was in college. It has my full name, Whitney Elizabeth Rice, embossed in gold on the front, and I never enter a liturgy without it.
But I’m here less to share with you this prayerbook than to share what’s inside it.
I’ve found that the extraneous contents of a priest’s prayerbook, what he or she has paperclipped or taped inside it, are interesting and revealing.
And one of the main pieces in mine relates to our feast day today, Christ the King. So let me give you the full tour.
I only have one thing inside the front cover: a yellow sticky note with 36:5-11 written on it. That’s the verses of the psalm text for Monday in Holy Week.
Ever since I became a rector back in 2011, I’ve done a Eucharist every day of Holy Week, but because the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday services are so simple, I’ve never had bulletins printed—we just do the service right out of the prayerbook.
And without a bulletin, I need to know what the texts are, especially the psalm, which I’m usually leading away from the lectern. So that sticky note stuck, and every year it helps me get Holy Week off to a good start.
I have a lot more things clipped in the back of the prayerbook.
First are the words of emergency consecration.
That sounds exciting and rather dire, but it’s really just the words you need to bless additional bread and wine if you run out halfway through distributing communion. When that happens, you’re always a bit flustered, and you don’t want to remember how to look it up.
So here it is, in largish print and ready for me to turn to at a moment’s notice if I need to. “Hear us, O heavenly Father, and with your Word and Holy Spirit bless and sanctify this bread that it, also, may be the Sacrament of the precious Body of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who took bread and said, ‘This is my Body.’ Amen.”
Done: Instant Eucharist!
Then I have the words of Cranmer’s Fraction Anthem, which I’ve been using as my Offertory Sentence. “Christ our Paschal Lamb is offered up for us, once for all, when he bare our sins on his body upon the cross, for he is the very Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world: wherefore let us keep a joyful and holy feast with the Lord.”
Next I have a sticky note with 2 Corinthians 1:19-20, just because I love it and in encourages me: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you… was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’”
And here’s the last extra bit I have in my prayerbook, and the most important to me.
This is a photograph taken of Archbishop Oscar Romero moments after he was shot at the altar while celebrating Holy Eucharist.
Archbishop Romero was recently beatified by Pope Francis for his martyrdom and his committed work on behalf of the poor and the marginalized in El Salvador. He consistently spoke out against the torture and assassinations used by the dictatorial government as means of social control, and advocated relentlessly for human rights and economic justice until he was assassinated himself in March 1980.
I bring Oscar Romero up today because today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.
This holiday was created by the Pope in 1925 as a direct witness against the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe in the 1920s, in an effort to remind Christians where their ultimate loyalty lay.
That reminder was necessary in El Salvador in the 1980s, and it is necessary today.
We are not defined by our nationality or our political leaders.
We are defined by our identity as beloved children of God and called disciples of Jesus Christ.
Our actions reveal how truly we adhere to that identity.
Oscar Romero cleaved to it so closely that it claimed his very life.
But that should not surprise us. The road to resurrection always leads straight through the Cross.
The one thing that binds all the great saints and martyrs of ages past together is that the love of God and the work of living it out were more real and more important to them than the continued survival of their physical bodies.
That’s a pretty high standard, and one I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to live up to.
But their stories, from Jesus all the way down to Romero and the people giving their lives today for love, remain as inspiration to us and a call to live out truth.
Truth seems more slippery than ever in today’s world of constant accusations of fake news.
What is the line between welcoming all opinions and viewpoints, and descending into a destructive relativism that creates a skin-deep false peace?
Another way of asking the same question: what are your spiritual and theological deal-breakers?
Where do you say, “I’m not really sure about this, there’s more than one way to look at it,” and where do you say, “This is the truth, and I stake my life on it”?
We may have a lot of the former, as good open-minded people do, but we need a few of the latter as well.
I’m more than willing to leave a lot of wiggle room on things like the Virgin Birth or whether we need seven sacraments or just two.
But I’m going to put my foot down on a few things.
“God loves you,” is one theological deal-breaker for me.
When it comes to God’s universal and eternal love, I say, “No, this is it. There is no room for opinion on this. This is bedrock truth. I stake my life on it.”
And if I were Oscar Romero or any of the other brave martyrs of history, named and unnamed, I’d be ready to give my life for it.
Because I know it’s the truth.
Jesus says something really helpful to us in our gospel today, in our era of the truth seeming increasingly complex and hard to pin down.
He says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Even though we uphold a set of theological principles spelled out in the Nicene Creed, we don’t owe our certainty to any abstract philosophical conclusions.
We know what we know about the love of God because of a relationship.
And that relationship is between God and every single one of us as individuals.
That relationship became manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.
We know what we know, we define Truth itself, because of Jesus Christ, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, and his unending love for us.
And so he tells us, as we search for Truth, that all we have to do is listen to his voice, in our scriptures, in one another, in our community, and in the depths of our own hearts. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
So way back in 2009 when I was a curate, a baby priest just learning how to do everything, I served at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis. And one day I drew the weekday noon Eucharist for Oscar Romero’s feast day.
I had an experience at the altar that day that changed me.
I was overcome by the honor of standing at the altar just like he did when he gave his life for his people, walking in the footsteps of so many men and women through time who have defended the poor and the oppressed.
It was like time became transparent during the Eucharistic prayer, and my hands shook as I elevated the bread and wine because I felt so small and unequipped to be standing in their shoes.
Ever since that day I have carried this picture, taken moments after he was shot, in the back of my prayerbook with John 10:11, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” written under it, to remind me that the first and highest duty of a priest is to love, protect, and nurture the people given into her care, no matter the cost.
So what are the bits and pieces of inspiration and call and reminder that you have clipped inside your prayerbook, or your calendar, or your diary, or your Bible?
What do you rely on to remind you who you are and who you want to be?
The feast of Christ the King is a call to return to our strongest commitments, our highest callings, our most urgent priorities, and our deepest loyalties.
When the chips are down, whose voice do we listen to?
What actions do we take?
What are we prepared to sacrifice for the cause of love?
Jesus tells us today, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
If we belong to the truth, we belong to God, and if we belong to God, we belong to each other.
And belonging to each other means that giving ourselves in love is the easiest choice imaginable.
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