“Father Abraham, have pity on me” (Luke 16:25).
Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino, who knew Archbishop Oscar Romero personally and advised him on theological questions, said the secret of his spirituality was his encounter with God in the poor. This profound insight, expressed at the regional bishops meeting in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968, as “God’s preferential option for the poor,” became the foundation of Romero’s theology and his understanding of church, not just as an idea but because he was experiencing it in his pastoral visits to the defenseless campesino communities suffering such violence in El Salvador.
Sobrino says that when Romero was with the base communities, “the poor fairly swarmed around them. He took them to his heart, and they were there to stay. And they took him to their hearts, where he has remained to this day” (Witnesses to the Kingdom, Orbis, 2003, p. 20).
Romero’s “conversion,” Sobrino reflects, was to discover a new image of God -- One who accompanies the poor, entering their innocence, their vulnerability and suffering. From the notion of a distant, powerful God, Romero met the self-emptying, self-sacrificing God in the midst of his beloved people, a God who becomes poor, accepting the fate of the "crucified peoples of history."
It is a conversion of mind and heart we are all invited to make this Lent. The story in today's Gospel of the poor man Lazarus, lying hungry and destitute at the rich man’s doorstep, warns us that the gap we put between ourselves and our suffering brothers and sisters in this world will define our eternity. If we do not recognize, know and love God in the poor now, we will not recognize God when we come face to face with him at the judgment. The story, like the call to serve the poor in Matt 25, the parable of the last judgment, is not just a call to help the poor, but a warning to save our own lives by seeing God in the least of our brothers and sisters while we have the chance to love and serve them.
Romero came alive in a new and deeper way because of his relationship with the poor in El Salvador. He is both a saint and martyr because he now witnesses to all of us that this is the path to life, the one place we are bound to find God, in this life and in the next.