The reading from Acts 5, which I will be using as my text for Sunday, portrays Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (Council). They've been arrested for a second time because they continue to preach despite warnings to do otherwise. Peter famously declares: "We must obey God rather than humans!" (Acts 5:29 CEB).
As I was reading and meditating on the text, I thought of those down through history who have stood up to those who required them to act contrary to the calling of God. The word martyr, which we think of in terms of dying for faith, comes from a Greek word that means "witness." Peter and John stand firm, bearing witness to the good news that Jesus who had been crucified is now risen. They are witnesses to this truth.
In thinking of God's call to stand for what is right and true, I must think of martyrs ancient and modern, people who stood firm in their faith, standing up to those who would act unjustly. One of those persons was Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador (El Salvador), who was assassinated by persons linked to right wing death squads. He refused to back down and challenged the military to do what is right on behalf of the people -- to stop the oppression. It was back during the Cold War, back when the United States was supporting right wing governments as a bulwark against Communism. History has shown we were on the wrong side. Oscar Romero wasn't a Marxist. He wasn't even a liberation theologian. But he was a man who discovered the call of God as Archbishop.
How arid we human beings are when the Holy Spirit is not in us! How cruel people become when animated not by God’s Spirit but by the spirit of getting along in the world! It pains my heart deeply to know how our people are tortured, how the rights of God’s image are trampled. That should not be. Without God, humans are wild beasts. Without God, they are deserts. Their hearts have no blossoms of love. They are only the perverse persecutors of their brothers and sisters. That is why there are hearts capable of betraying others, of informing on them, not caring that they are led away to be tortured and killed.15
To be a Christian now means to have the courage to preach the true teaching of Christ and not be afraid of it, not be silent out of fear and preach something easy that won’t cause problems. To be a Christian in this hour means to have the courage that the Holy Spirit gives in the sacrament of confirmation, to be valiant soldiers of Christ the King, to make his teaching prevail, to reach hearts and proclaim to them the courage that one must have to defend God’s law. DECEMBER 5, 1977 (Oscar Romero. The Violence of Love (Kindle Locations 223-231). Plough Publishing House.)
I want to share a clip of the ending of the movie Romero, in which we hear Oscar Romero call out the military, and then be assassinated while celebrating the Eucharist.