Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us
Pope Paul VI, now Blessed Pope Paul VI, had a quote of which I am particularly fond: “if you want peace, work for justice.” I like the quotation because it implies that something active is necessary for change to occur. In a world where we think posting an article we’ve half read on Twitter or signing a petition makes us an activist, I think it’s good for us to remember that that isn’t enough. To impact the world around us, we need to pray. We need to examine and reform our own lives, and we need to get off the couch and engage one another.
America’s newest Blessed serves as a good example of how to do that! I admit I am biased since he graduated from the same seminary where I studied, Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and he’s also the classmate of one of my dearest priest mentors. It’s pretty cool that my former spiritual director, Archbishop Paul Coakley, was so prominent in his Mass of Beatification, but I am also more than inspired by the life and witness of Blessed Stanley Rother.
Blessed Stanley Rother was beatified this past weekend in Oklahoma City. He was a simple priest, not known for great intellect or social acumen, but when he was ordained in 1963, he was known for his genuine kindness and deep prayerfulness. He responded quickly to St John XXIII’s call for the Church in the United States to send missionaries to serve the poor in Central America, and after a relatively short time working in a parish in Oklahoma found himself serving the people of Guatemala at the parish of Santiago Atitlan. He quickly endeared himself to the people, spending great amounts of time with them at prayer, work, and play and also helping to translate the Scripture in to their native language, an Indian dialect. He did not, however, endear himself to the oppressive paramilitary government. Many Catholics suffered greatly under the regime, and he eventually found himself on a death list.
He returned to Oklahoma, but after a private retreat at Mount St. Mary’s, he came to the conclusion, that even though it might cost him his very life, he could not stay away from the people of God who so desperately needed him. He returned to Guatemala, and on July 28, 1981, he was murdered in his rectory. His death was deeply felt by people throughout Guatemala and in the United States. Blessed Stanley’s witness continues to impact the people of Santiago Atitlan to this day. It is reflected quite tellingly in the number of priestly and religious vocations that have come from that small parish in the Guatemalan countryside. The blood of the martyrs truly is the seed of the Church.
Blessed Stanley Rother is now the first martyr born in the United States and only the second person to be beatified on our soil. This incredible man will, God willing, soon be among the canonized, and we will celebrate St. Stanley Rother, priest and martyr. Stanley Rother sought peace in troubled times by working diligently for justice. His willingness to lay down his life for a righteous cause is an inspiration to us all. That’s what I call activism.