In November 2008, on the steps of the cathedral in León, Nicaragua, I came across a man who reminded me more of Forrest Gump than a beggar. When I asked if I could take his picture he was gracious in his reply and never once expressed interest in me giving him money.
Picture complete, we sat together a while. Our sitting was mostly done in silence since within seconds I had run through the limits of my Spanish, but every so often he would sincerely say something I didn’t understand. He was gentle in both speech and movement, a simple man in the best sense of the word, the sort who reminds you that you wish to be a tender person. I’ve always liked the line in As Good as it Gets where a gravelly Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man,” but it is a sentiment not confined to romantic relationships. One can experience it in the most unexpected settings, even with a down-and-out stranger on the steps of a cathedral.
It was while sitting with this man that I thought, as I sometimes do, of Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran bishop who regularly irritated Right and Left alike. Gunned down on March 24, 1980, his homilies still circulate in books such as the Violence of Love, reminding the reader of that terrible period in El Salvador’s history as well as challenging us with timeless, sometimes deceptively simple, themes. It was 37 years ago, on Easter Sunday in a country wracked by poverty and oppression, that Romero spoke the following:
You that have so much social sensitivity, you that cannot stand this unjust situation in our land: fine – God has given you that sensitivity, and if you have a call to political activism, God be blessed. Develop it.
But look: don’t waste that call; don’t waste that political and social sensitivity on earthly hatred, vengeance, and violence.
Lift up your hearts. Look at the things above.