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Saint Oscar Romero - Mary's Promise of Salvation

The following are excerpts from a homily delivered by Saint Oscar Romero, bishop and martyr, on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. He was canonized a saint on October 14, 2018.

Mary's Promise of Salvation

...My sisters and brothers, I imagine that the devotion that has brought each one of you here to honor the Virgin of Mount Carmel bears some of the same anxiety and hope that led Simon Stock, the superior of the Carmelites, to raise his eyes toward heaven and ask the Virgin for a sign of protection for his Congregation that was being persecuted at the time. Through Simon Stock and the scapular we go back to the almost legendary origins of this devotion. The tradition reminds us that some pious men --- men of the Old Testament who had no knowledge of Mary or Christ --- placed their trust in the promises of the Old Testament and intuited the tenderness and power of that woman who was related to the Redeemer. They loved her without knowing her and were her first devotees. Thus the origin of the Congregation known as the Order of Carmel is rooted in this ancient experience on Mount Carmel. This congregation flourished but was persecuted. So one day, Simon Stock, as he watched his Congregation being persecuted, asked the Virgin for protection. Tradition tells us that the Virgin came down from heaven with the scapular in her hands and told Simon: This is the sign of protection that I bring you. All those who die carrying this scapular will not see the flames of hell. This protection of the Virgin made people feel so powerful that even now, centuries removed from that original experience and even in places where there are no Carmelites, this holy scapular is still seen as a sign of Mary’s protection and a sign that continues to call people and make them feel that they are the beloved children of the Virgin Mary...

...In the first place I say that the scapular of the Virgin of Mount Carmel is a sign of our hoped for salvation, a hope that everyone has in the depths of their soul and heart and life. Those who die bearing this scapular will be freed from and will not experience the fires of hell. This is a promise of salvation. I do not want to deceive people and tell you something that is not true, that is, something that is not supported within each one of us. The Virgin’s promise is intended to awaken in us an eschatological sense, namely, a hope in the “here-after.” Thus we work on this earth with our whole soul and heart set on heaven, knowing that no one can feel permanently at home on earth. Rather we are a Pilgrim People walking toward eternity. The realities of this earth will pass, but the eternal realities remain. Is this not transcendence! The Virgin, like Christ, offers us a transcendental message. This gives a mark of uniqueness to the Church, a mark that no other liberation movement can lay claim to...

In the second place, and this is often not understood by many people and yet it is most necessary to understand because it is also part of the Virgin’s message, namely, the Virgin offers us a salvation that demands work here on earth. I believe that from our youngest days, all of you, like me, embraced and were thankful for the Virgin’s promised privilege, that Saturday privilege that states that those who die carrying the scapular will experience the Virgin releasing them from Purgatory (if by chance they have gone here) on the Saturday following their death. This is not a dogma of faith and so there is no obligation to believe this and one does not sin if one denies this. Those, however, who love the Virgin know that she, in communion with God, is able to do anything and theologically, that is, according to the Church’s principles and criteria, this is certainly possible.

Furthermore, what is the meaning of a plenary indulgence that the Church is able to grant and grants so often? A plenary indulgence is the full pardon of sin and debt attached to sin. Thus people who die after gaining a plenary indulgence will not experience Purgatory. They will not have to wait for the following Saturday. The moment they die, their sins and the debt of sin forgiven and they enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Purgatory exists to purify us of the debt of sin that we have not paid here on earth. But if an indulgence is applied by the Church, who is the administrator of Christ’s redemption, to a soul on its journey to eternity, then those people have gained heaven immediately.

A plenary indulgence supposes the forgiveness of sins and the repentance of those who have detached themselves from all the effects of sin. A plenary indulgence cannot be obtained by those who still bear within their hearts the effects of sin nor are they worthy of heaven because this is an offense to God and nothing stained can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who gain a plenary indulgence have their hearts detached from sin and separated from all those bonds that tie them to sinful realities. They have repented of their sins and separated themselves from all disordered passions. If one has a desire to gain this indulgence then one will obtain a reality that is greater than the Saturday privilege. The Virgin will fulfill the desire of these people and they will be separated from all evil.

But from childhood we also learned something else and I wish to highlight this here this morning: all of this is not a question of the Virgin saving us without ourselves having to make an effort here on earth to obtain this salvation. Speaking of the Saturday privilege it is said that every one must guard chastity according to their state of life. Here when I refer to chastity, I speak of all those earthly realities, all that is mortal, and all that God commands and counsels us to do. Thus, if the scapular is a message of eternity, an eschatological message, a message about the “here-after”, it is also a message of the “here and now.” The scapular is a message about the demands of this world and the fulfillment of our responsibilities in this world. This is precisely the focus of our Church today. When the Church demands a more just society, a better distribution of wealth and a political system that is more respectful of human rights, the Church is not meddling in politics nor is she becoming Marxist-communist. The Church is telling people the same thing as the message of the scapular: only those people will be saved who know how to use the things of earth with the heart of God.

...According to my humble way of thinking, this is the message of today’s feast. I thank all of you who have listened to me with such attention. I want to thank the Carmelite Fathers who have given me the honor of sharing with this devout community in Santa Tecla, this Carmelite community in Santa Tecla. I am most pleased to render this homage to our Lady of Mount Carmel. Therefore, together with the Virgin, for she is also a creature, a woman of our race, let us unite ourselves in spirit to her [the Virgin] and offer to God the sacrifice that is the culmination of all our work: the love, devotion, concerns, and anxieties of all the people represented by you who are present here this morning. How many tears! How many sorrows! But placed on the altar and in the hands of the Virgin, through the Eucharistic mystery they will be changed into the sacrifice of Christ. We know that Mary is great because she brought Jesus into the world --- from her womb into our hearts. The redemption of the world is rooted in her and now as we celebrate this Eucharist during a time of solemn anguish and hope, we pray that the celebration in this beautiful church will bring many blessings to people throughout the country. Amen.

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