Saints Oscar Romero and Paul VI

This past Sunday Pope Francis canonized (declared someone is a saint in Heaven) Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Pope Paul VI and five other Europeans (see page 20). 

The two deceased prelates, Saints Oscar and Paul VI, were the two whom attracted the most attention. Pope Francis conducted the canonization ceremony in the context of Mass and in his homily he linked the Gospel of the day (Mk 10:17-30, the story of the rich young man, who rejects Christ’s invitation to give away everything and follow Him) to the new saints.

“The Lord looks upon him and loves him (cf. v. 21). Jesus changes the perspective: from Commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love — Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God. Come: do not stand still, because it is not enough not to do evil in order to be with Jesus. Follow me: do not walk behind Jesus only when you want to, but seek Him out every day; do not be content to keep the Commandments, to give a little alms and say a few prayers: find in Him the God Who always loves you; seek in Jesus the God Who is the meaning of your life.”

After mentioning that Jesus “does not discuss theories of poverty and wealth,” with the rich young man, the pope said, “[Jesus] asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for Him, the only good. We cannot truly follow Jesus when we are laden down with things. Because if our hearts are crowded with goods, there will not be room for the Lord, Who will become just one thing among the others.”

The Holy Father then warned, “For this reason, wealth is dangerous and — says Jesus — even makes one’s Salvation difficult. Not because God is stern, no! The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates us, suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving. Jesus is radical. He gives all and He asks all: He gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today He gives Himself to us as the Living Bread; can we give Him crumbs in exchange?”

The new saints did not give back crumbs to God, they strove to give their all back to Him who had given His all for them on the cross. Their realization of how much Jesus loved them helped them to have “a heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spreads joy, that joy for which there is so much need today. Pope St. Paul VI wrote: ‘It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song” (Gaudete in Domino, I). Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with Him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow Him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace His way.”

Commenting more about his predecessor, Pope Francis said, “Even in the midst of tiredness and misunderstanding, Paul VI bore witness in a passionate way to the beauty and the joy of following Christ totally. Today he still urges us, together with the council whose wise helmsman he was, to live our common vocation: the universal call to holiness. Not to half measures, but to holiness.”

St. Paul VI is well known for his encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reinstated the Church’s teaching that artificial birth control was against God’s law. He began that document by stating, “The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.” Again this saint is pointing out the joy which we receive from God, even when it includes carrying the cross. 

In paragraph 18 of the document, St. Paul VI wrote, “Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter — only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man. In preserving intact the whole moral law of Marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization.”

Speaking about St. Oscar Romero, Pope Francis said on Sunday, “there is Archbishop Romero, who left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and His brothers and sisters.”

The following day (Monday) the pope had a special audience with pilgrims from El Salvador and at it he spoke at length about St. Oscar. He began with a friendly challenge to the bishops present from Romero’s homeland. “St. Óscar Romero knew how to incarnate with perfection the image of the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for His sheep. Therefore, and even more so since his canonization, you can find in him an ‘example and a stimulus’ in the ministry entrusted to you. An example of predilection for those most in need of God’s mercy. Stimulus to witness the love of Christ and the care for the Church, knowing how to coordinate the action of each of her members and collaborating with the other particular Churches (dioceses) with collegial affection.”

Speaking to the Salvadoran laity, Pope Francis said, “He, Oscar Romero, repeated strongly that every Catholic must be a martyr, because martyr means witness, that is, witness of God’s message to men (see Homily on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27, 1977). God wants to be present in our lives, and calls us to announce His message of freedom to all humanity. Only in Him can we be free: free from sin, from evil, free from hatred in our hearts — he was a victim of hatred — totally free to love and welcome the Lord and our brothers and sisters. A true freedom already on earth, which passes through concern for the concrete man to awaken in each heart the hope of Salvation.”

Pope Francis admitted, “this is not easy, that’s why we need the support of prayer. We need to be united with God and in communion with the Church. St. Óscar tells us that without God, and without the ministry of the Church, this is not possible. On one occasion, he referred to Confirmation as the ‘Sacrament of martyrs’ (Homily, Dec. 5, 1977). And it is that without ‘that force of the Holy Spirit, which the early Christians received from their bishops, from the pope, they would not have stood the test of persecution; they would not have died for Christ’ (ibid.).”

May we read more the works of these great saints, bring it to prayer, and ask God how we can joyfully give our all in love for Him and our neighbor.

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