Build a Better World

When news breaks out (pretty much every day, it seems) that another group of children was shot and killed at school, another hard-working father was deported, another person of color was treated as less-than-human, another prisoner was executed under the death penalty, another ethnic group was attacked by a prominent politician, another baby was aborted, another Christian was executed in a foreign country, another woman was sexually assaulted… I feel both helpless and overwhelmed with a desire for change.

Many moons ago, Sam Cooke sang about his hope that “a change is gon’ come.” However, it seems like the world has only gotten worse since he shared those words. I don’t think anybody wants to live in a place that has become exponentially more brutal, where our lives are bombarded by horror, injustice, discrimination, abuse, violence, terror, etc. It is especially difficult when it doesn’t seem like it is coming to an end. We pray, we cry out with those in pain, and we beg the Lord for His mercy, but I still feel like we need to do more.

You can only choose one

This hope and desire for change seems so natural and instinctual to me, but I’ve heard many times (from well-intended Christians and non-Christians alike) that there is little to no hope for our world. You’ve probably heard it too: Politics can’t and won’t be the answer. Peaceful protests by high-profile athletes and celebrities will never make a difference. A well thought out Twitter thread is not going to enact real change. Nothing is going to be truly just on this side of heaven.

Even in the Church, we are divided as to how we should approach the issues of the world. There are plenty of Christians that misuse the name of Christ or the Scriptures to further their personal agendas, just as there are plenty who look down on those who try to bring light to injustices of society, accusing them of being too “left” or not focused enough on Jesus.

Other people reduce my discontent to ignorance, saying my generation is too young and easily swept up in the emotional narratives offered by an overly-activist media.

This is all incredibly unsatisfying.

Should I simply surrender to the hopelessness of this world because I’m living for the next? Do I really have to sit back and watch people suffer so I don’t appear more “left” than Catholic? Am I only infatuated with changing the world because I’m young and naive?

Romero, a man to discomfort the comfortable

On March 24th, the Church celebrates the life of St. Oscar Romero, an archbishop who lived in San Salvador, El Salvador during a time of civil war fueled by the government. His appointment was celebrated by Salvadoran political leaders because he was considered a “conservative” priest who wouldn’t do much to support the more “progressive” agenda of the people. Translation: He wasn’t going to do anything.

In his first month of ministry, Romero rarely engaged with the context outside of the Church. He celebrated Mass, baptized children, heard confessions, and buried those who died as a result of the civil unrest; but he didn’t believe a man of the Gospel, especially an ordained one, should get involved with the political upheaval occurring at the time.

Things shifted when his good friend and fellow priest, who worked with and for the oppressed, was assassinated. Romero took that as a wake up call, and moved from being complacent in the face of injustice to boldly speaking on behalf of the voiceless. He gained more and more attention from the government as he became more vocal against the terrors incited by their own military. Romero was shot by hired assassins while celebrating Mass on March 26, 1980, the day after giving a sermon that called on soldiers to stop their mindless killings.

Romero is a perfect example of the inextricable link between orthodoxy and the call to resist injustices of the world; his life (and eventual death) proves that you don’t have to choose between one or the other. No one can look at his example and say it is too radical for Christians to seek justice for social issues. No one will argue that his activism was fueled by a youthful naivete. Instead, in him, we find a man who was more than just an activist; we see an archbishop rooted in the person of Christ, a man who let the Lord work through his actions and words in order to bring real hope and change to a dire situation.

Romero embodies the reality that orthodoxy, faithfulness to the Gospel and the person of Christ, is at the service of the justice and peace that the people of El Salvador longed for. His love of the truth shared by the Church, fidelity to the sacraments, and trust in the power of prayer has to transform our lives inspired him to move to action, to no longer stand by. They became his source of courage in the face of both criticism and danger. He could not be comfortable while his brothers and sisters suffered because of His relationship with Christ. In his own words:

“Humans long for peace, for justice, for a reign of divine law, for something holy, for what is far from earth’s realities. We can have such a hope, not because we ourselves are able to construct the realm of happiness that God’s holy words proclaim, but because the builder of a reign of justice, of love, and of peace is already in the midst of us.”

The Passion of Christ was an action

I think it is especially significant that the Church celebrates the life of Blessed Oscar Romero on the Saturday before we enter Holy Week this year. In a world brimming with violence, suffering, and injustice, it is of utmost importance that we turn to the one who resisted ultimate suffering and injustice with love.

We need Holy Week because it reminds us that Jesus did not passively face injustice; the Passion is very much an action, a response to injustice. The redemption of the world was not a result of Christ simply sitting back and letting things be what they were. Christ’s death and Resurrection were deliberate, radical actions — though ones of love — to the greatest injustice of all: man killing God.

The Passion and Resurrection of Christ illustrate what our own response to injustice ought to be: death, to ourselves, our comforts, and the things the world has become comfortable with; and a rising, moving from a complacency with injustice and to hope rooted in Christ’s victory. Romero clearly understood this when he said, “Blessed are those who are chosen to continue on earth the great injustices suffered by Christ, who keeps on saving the world. Let us turn that injustice to redemption.”

We were all made to live in the hope of a better world. We’ve been given the ability to receive the grace of God and, with Him in our hearts, work together to bring about change that transforms injustice into redeeming power, mercy, and love. The change we hope for will always require action, works of mercy and justice.

What action are you being called to?

Is it serving meals to the homeless at a local food pantry? Writing to your representatives to defend the unborn? Organizing a clothing drive for homeless teens with your friends? Creating a plan for your family to recycle at home? Hosting a fundraiser to help a refugee family?

Whatever it is, do not question your ability to bring about change. Do not give up hope for better things for this world. Do not doubt that the Lord is in the trenches working for it with you. Let Blessed Oscar Romero’s words resonate in your heart:

“Beloved young people, about to choose your life’s vocation, ponder how we are all called to goodness and how the older generation — my own, I regret — is leaving you a heritage of so much selfishness, of so much evil.

Renew, new wheat, newly sown crops, fields still fresh from God’s hand; children, youths: be a better world.”

All quotes taken from The Violence of Love, a compilation of homilies and writings of Oscar Romero by James R. Brockman, SJ.