Sunday, October 14, 2018

St. Oscar Romero: Bishop and Martyr

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while celebrating the Eucharist.  Since then, the people of El Salvador and many others from various parts of the world have revered him as a martyr. After more than three decades, Rome has finally officially recognized his martyrdom. He was beatified on May 23, 2015 and will be canonized on October 14, 2018. Why is Oscar Romero honored as a saint? What is the meaning of his martyrdom?
 Traditionally, the recognition of martyrdom was reserved for those put to death in “odium fidei” or in hatred of the faith during times of persecution. There were times in the past when Christians were hated on account of their faith. They were persecuted for being Christians. Many were given the choice of renouncing their faith and thus save their life or hold on to the faith and lose their life. The focus of martyrdom was their suffering and death which was seen as the consequence of confessing and holding on to their faith. Those who persecuted them were mostly non-Christian rulers who rejected the faith and who were filled with hatred for the Christian faith and those propagating it. This was the case during the first three centuries of Christianity and during the period of missionary expansion in Asia.
The circumstances of Romero’s death was different. El Salvador was governed by a repressive regime made up of Christian Democrats who were controlled by the military. Many believe that Romero was assassinated for defending the rights of the poor and for denouncing the injustices and repression carried out by the regime. There were doubts whether he was really murdered in odium fidei. This was one of the reasons for the slow progress of his cause. In 2014, when asked about Romero’s martyrdom, Pope Francis commented:
“What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbor. And this is a task for theologians.”
Thus, in Feb 2015, when asking Pope Francis to recognize Romero’s martyrdom, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints affirmed:
“He was killed at the altar. Through him, they wanted to strike the church that flowed from the Second Vatican Council. His assassination was not caused by motives that were simply political, but by hatred for a faith that, imbued with charity, would not be silent in the face of the injustices that relentless and cruelly slaughtered the poor and their defenders.”
While the congregation broadened the understanding of odium fidei to justify Romero’s martyrdom, there is a need to explore further the meaning of his martyrdom. This is necessary so that the martyrdom of many others – clergy, religious, lay faithful, members of Basic Ecclesial Communities - who were murdered in El Salvador and in other places in Latin America and the Philippines may be recognized. 
I propose that in looking at martyrdom there is a need to clarify and deepen the understanding of the faith. Faith is not simply a set of divine truths or Church doctrines that we profess, affirm or hold on to. This faith is not only expressed through the celebration of the sacraments and devotion to the saints. It is also shown by giving witness to the faith through acts of love, justice, mercy and compassion. The love of one’s neighbor especially the poor and the oppressed is a concrete expression of this faith.  This is the faith that does justice. This is the faith expressed in liberating praxis. This is the kind of faith  that Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Church of El Salvador tried to live. This kind of faith was considered subversive – a threat to National Security. The persecution in El Salvador and the martyrdom of Oscar Romero and others can be seen from this perspective – in hatred of a faith that is integral and liberating.
There is another framework for understanding Romero’s martyrdom that goes beyond odium fidei.  We can use the framework of Vatican II – the so-called Triplex Munus. The prophetic, kingly/pastoral and priestly mission of Christ, the Church, the clergy and the lay-faithful. Like Jesus, the cross – martyrdom – is the consequence and expression of faithfully carrying out the three-fold mission within a hostile environment.

The martyrdom of Romero may be seen as the consequence of exercising his prophetic mission. Romero denounced the sinful situation in his country perpetuated by those who monopolized wealth and power. He became the voice of the voiceless. He denounced the oppression of the people especially the poor, the injustices, the poverty, inequality, the spiral of violence, the idolatry of the National Security ideology. He called people to conversion – especially those who were responsible for the social evils. He also preached the Good News of the kingdom – of liberation, of justice and peace to all especially to the poor. Romero gave hope to those who found themselves in a helpless and intolerable situation.
The martyrdom of Romero can also be regarded as the consequence and  the ultimate expression of his loving service as  the pastor, the good shepherd of the flock, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many. He was the shepherd who had the smell of the sheep. He ministered to them – especially to the poor who were the majority. He did not run away upon seeing his flock being attacked by wolves – the forces of the repressive regime.
His martyrdom at the hands of the death squads while celebrating the Eucharist can be regarded as the ultimate expression of his priesthood. He did not only offer the body and blood of the risen Christ on the altar, he also offered his own body and blood in memory of Him who died on the cross and rose from the dead. He sacrificed his own life following the example of Christ. This is what priesthood ultimately means.
Thus, Oscar Romero lived to the full what it means to be a follower of Christ. Like Christ he suffered and died to fulfill his mission as prophet, pastor and priest. He walked the way Jesus – the way of the cross. He embraced his own cross – the cost of discipleship. Shortly before he gave up his life, Archbishop Oscar Romero said:
“As a pastor, I am obligated by divine commandment to give my life for those I love… For that reason I offer to God my blood for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador… Martyrdom is a grace that I don’t believe I merit. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death, if it is accepted by God, be for the liberation of my people and a testimony of hope in the future.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Cancer Treatment: A Holistic Approach

Cancer is one of the most difficult disease to cure or heal. So far, no effective treatment for cancer has been found – especially when it has metastasized or spread to other vital organs. Standard medical treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery and radio-therapy does not always work. They are very expensive and there is no guarantee of a cure. These can only extend the life of a patient for a few months or years. That is why for many, being diagnosed with cancer is like being handed the death sentence.
Why is a cure for cancer so elusive? The problem comes from lack of understanding of what cancer truly is and what causes it. The dominant paradigm is that cancer is purely a physiological ailment that requires medical treatment. It is the invasion and spread of malignant cells in the body. These cells may come from the food and substances that are considered carcinogenic -- including smoking. Thus, it is necessary to wage war on these cells – search and destroy – using whatever means necessary: chemical/laser warfare, surgical strikes, etc. Only doctors (especially oncologists & surgeons), nurses and medical technicians can be relied on in this war against cancer. The patient must have the will to fight cancer. Oftentimes it ends in death which is considered a defeat.
To regard cancer as purely a physiological and medical problem is most likely one of the main reasons why it is difficult to cure cancer. It is based on a dichotomy between the body and the mind.  A more revolutionary approach to cancer treatment promoted by oncologists such as Drs. Carl Simonton and Bernie Siegel is to regard cancer as a psycho-somatic disease that requires a more holistic approach to healing. Instead of looking at a particular part of the body or an organ that is affected by cancer, it is helpful to understand the person as whole - the joyful and sorrowful mystery of his/her life, the frustrations, anger, grief, alienation, shattered dreams, failed relationship, etc. It is important to know his/her story. The body is affected by the state of the mind and the soul. Thus, the question that should be asked is: what has been happening to this person before the onset of cancer. One of the findings in studies conducted among patients is that stress caused by sense of loss, anger, guilt and anxiety, a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness can lower the body’s natural defense or immune system and contribute to the growth of malignant tumors and cells.
The question that also needs to be asked is: what are the benefits of having cancer?
For some, it is experiencing the loving care and concern which is lacking in one’s life.
It could also be a means of escape from an intolerable situation, the inner pain or hurt that one has been carrying. It can be an honorable exit, a subconscious suicide. The mind has a powerful effect on the body – it can contribute to sickness as well as to wellness or healing.
Thus, in dealing with cancer patients, there are three dimensions of healing that we should look at:  physical (body), psychological (mind) and spiritual (soul). All these are connected and they influence each other. That is why healing must be holistic.  A more holistic approach can mobilize the power of the mind and of belief. That is why psycho-therapy, counseling, meditation, visualization, prayer and other eastern modalities can be helpful in this.
The healing of cancer patients can no longer be left just to medical practitioners - the doctors and nurses -- and drug companies. Psychologists, priests, spiritual healers and other practitioners of alternative medicine should also be involved. This requires humility on the part of those in the medical profession and openness to collaboration with others in the healing process.
The physical disease may be a symptom for the need for inner healing. Forgiveness and reconciliation form part of the healing process. The healing of the mind and soul may lead to the healing of the body. But even if it does not lead to physical healing, the inner healing itself can already be considered as an achievement. Death, if it comes, will no longer be seen as a defeat.