Oscar Romero was a gifted communicator. His talent and bravery as a preacher would be his lasting legacy as a leader of the El Salvadorian church and witness to God’s Kingdom, as well as the cause of his martyrdom: his sermons were broadcast over radio, you see, and Radio YSAX was bombed in hopes of silencing him, but Romero would continue to preach until, quite literally, the very end, when he was eventually assassinated on a day like today, on March 24th, 1980, while wrapping up one last sermon in which he shared the Good News of Jesus Christ and what it means for holy living today:
“We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”
Those would be fateful words, and yet, they ring true today as much as they rang true back then, and they prick our hearts right here, as much as they stirred those hearts over there.
Yes, there’s a lot we could say about why Monsignor Romero was killed that day, about what he was so moved to preach for and against; the history of El Salvador, this troubled nation literally named after the Divine Savior through conquest and strife, deserves careful study from all of us who profess the same faith in that same salvation, particularly in the Global North.
But today, we want to focus on the person of Oscar Romero. This was a man of God practicing an ancient faith in the Age of Mass Media, who many now regard as the Patron Saint of Christian Communicators. This, afterall, is a Lenten offering from Epiphany’s media and communications guild, and we cannot help but search for gleanings to nourish our own vocation before we wrap up this video series.
We also can’t help but notice the mysterious juxtaposition of this day with the next! Today is the Feast of Oscar Romero and tomorrow is the Feast of the Annunciation, a very strange day in the church calendar, where we remember Christmas in Lent, a mere days before we follow Jesus into Jerusalem in triumph, defeat, and ultimate glory.
Romero also paid very close attention to the liturgical calendar when he prepared his sermons. He called these conjunctions of sacred and secular time “the presences of Christ.” We like that idea: every day is an incarnation of the living God among us, and every time we make that claim is a feast of annunciation.
At Epiphany, we’ve adopted the Annunciation as THE day–day 1 of year 0, so to speak–with the Archangel Gabriel as THE church communicator–our patron saint of email blasts, worship bulletins, and YouTube live streams. We took on the Angel Gabriel’s name and holy mission long before we fully understood the work that God was calling us to step into with this pandemic; last year, we had planned to be commissioned and blessed as a Guild with and by all of you, but our hopes were dashed, as the coronavirus had other plans; now, one year later, we are beginning to realize that the Holy Spirit had been way waaaay ahead of us all along. What we thought we knew about the task of church communication was but a faint echo of God’s true calling.
We can’t help but notice these connections because our ministry of church communication is very much a work of synergy–of “working together”–of combination and assemblage, of braiding and weaving, of bricolage–whatever metaphor works best for you.
Epiphany’s Communications Minister, Jad, likes to talk about what we do here as “montage” — Shot A plus Shot B equals Idea C. This comes out of classical film theory, which discovered that the very same image can have very different meanings when spliced into new contexts.
But we don’t need to care about cinema to notice that–as Christians, we have our own special word for this kind of relational reality: liturgy. We work together in synergy every time we come together in worship: me plus you and you and you… plus God.
Those who study Romero’s sermons notice a similar kind of splicing together going on in his preaching–or what one scholar calls his “diptych character.” Romero was known to start his homilies with a section of church or national news; he sometimes called these sections “the gazette of the life of our church” or “my diary of this week”–world events presented simply as the reality that the Word of God can and will illumine. He always focussed on expositing the readings of the day, but unsurprisingly, it was his narration of weekly events that elicited the strongest reactions–both positive or negative.
Preaching mattered to Oscar Romero. Not because that’s just what you do as a priest on a Sunday morning, but because communication is fundamental to the very structure of existence! Can you imagine love without communication? That would be like… planning a vacation out of town without first making maps, paving roads, or even inventing the wheel! It’s unfathomable!
Love is communication and God is always communicating, because God is love–so how and what we communicate matters a great deal to God. That is what we believe about our work as church communicators because that is what we’ve learned about God’s love: it is always a conversation, a relationship, a synergy of message and messenger, sender and receiver, eternity and temporality, Holy Spirit and Holy Mother.
That’s the space we occupy as followers of Christ seeking to share his story with our words and our images and our sounds: this ministry lives in that silence between the Angel Gabriel declaring “because no word shall be impossible with God” and Mother Mary responding “be it done to me according to thy word.”
And in true form, Romero extends our multimedia metaphor even further–this work of ours? It isn’t ours alone. He preaches:
“The best microphone of God is Christ, and the best microphone of Christ is the Church, and you are the Church; each one of you from your place, from your own vocation: the religious, the married, the Bishop, the Priest, the kindergartener, the college student, the day laborer, the construction worker, the woman selling in the market. Each one of you, wherever you are, needs to live the life of faith fiercely because you are a true microphone of God our Lord in your context. Thus the Church will always have preaching. The Church will always be a homily even if we lack the happy opportunity that I have every Sunday of entering into communion with so many communities that during this week have made known to me their longing to hear again this radio station, which has become as basic as bread for our people. But on the day that the forces of evil deprive us of this wondrous means of communication that they have in abundance, and the Church is reduced to nothing, know that they have done us no real harm. On the contrary, then even more will we be living microphones of the Lord declaring his Word everywhere.”
As church communicators, we know that the medium itself is part of the message–for Oscar Romero, the microphone was an extension of the pastoral love and care he had for his nation. For us, it’s YouTube and Zoom and Instagram–all these spaces we step into to extend the same seamless tapestry of care that is our shared vocation. But we all have our platforms in whatever context we find ourselves in. Mary humbly offered nothing more and nothing less than her own body and helped change the cosmos. May we strive to do the same. We do all this with love, because God is love, and because it’s God’s love that we try our very best to communicate.
Text by Jad Baaklini
Watch the full episode below: