Remembering Romero: Hope derived from Jesuit martyr

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The Faith and Justice Speaker series on Sunday, March 22nd, highlighted an aspect of life that many forget, the importance of remembering.

A large group of students, professors, faculty, staff and members of the St. Louis community gathered in the basement of College Church with open notepads and open ears for a talk by Dr. Matt Ashley, PhD., the theology department chair at the University of Notre Dame. Ashleys talk titled; “Remembering Romero, Remembering Ferguson” articulated the connection between Archbishop Oscar Romero’s life message and the future of St. Louis following the events in Ferguson.  Faith & Justice Coordinator John Burke introduced the speaker and set the theme for the evening — celebrating martyrs in a suffering world.

The key question addressed the connection between Romero’s efforts and SLU students; what does it mean for students to be in solidarity with marginalized communities?  Taking to the podium, Ashley joked about timing his speech to exactly 52 minutes.

Ashley quickly spoke of his passion for the topic and addressed it as dear to his heart.  He separated his speech into three themes: remembering, celebrating and suffering.

Placing great significance on the art of remembering, Ashley noted, “What I choose to remember will determine the type of person I become.”  He separated the message of remembering into three key components: memory, remembering as a spiritual work, and ignition spirituality.  In regards to remembering Romero as a martyr Ashley stated, “We have much to remember and to celebrate.”  While he felt it important to remember Romero’s efforts, he also spoke greatly about how important it is to remember the ways in which Romero himself, remembered. Ashley spoke clearly, and with enthusiasm, while describing Romero’s efforts.  He shared that Romero would begin his homily by remembering the events of the week, events that the authority wanted to be forgotten. “Martyrs are the saints of remembering par excellence,” he said.  The audience listened intently as Ashley articulated the message that martyrs teach us to remember in a continuous way; society teaches us to forget.  “Romero knew how to remember Scripture,” he stated.  He referenced scripture, specifically Psalms and Ezekiel, to illustrate the spiritual dimension of memory and its relevance.  Drawing upon the message “oh taste and see” he advocated the importance of savoring words and truly remembering them.   Simply stated, “You are what you remember when you bring it into your heart.”   

While he spoke, a Powerpoint displayed quotes and bullet points of his speech.  Throughout the speech he referenced medieval texts and several theologians and authors including Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Gustavo Gutiérrez and Ignatius.  Specifically addressing Aquinas, Ashley acknowledged the connection between memory and prudence, and shared the idea that a well-trained memory is crucial for dealing with the world.   

Ashley’s inclusion of Guiterrez also drew light to the teachings of Augustine and the medieval tradition- that a faithful memory of the past is important for the future.   This segment of the speech spoke of the evident union between the martyrs’ memory with God’s memory, both of which placing importance on the marginalized in society and those that society tends to forget.   “The memory of God is something of which we can and must call,” Ashley said.

He spent time demonstrating the parallels between memory and Ignatian spirituality, a topic pertinent for SLU.  According to Ashley, many martyrs were shaped by Ignatian spirituality.  For example, the acts of remembering- exercises, meditation, intentional readings of texts- are all aspects of Ignatian spirituality that martyrs drew upon.  Furthering this message, he made the connection between the Christian practice of remembering Jesus’ suffering.  “You remember something connected with the difference that it makes in your life,” he said.     

The end of his speech included messages of hope for the St. Louis community.  “He [Romero] had a hope that kept him moving forward.”

Ashley took time for questions at the end of his talk.  Questions were raised about the ways people can truly remember Romero’s martyrdom on a daily basis.  Ashley responded, “We can remember that they [the martyrs] gave hope to people.”