Clergy View: Blood Witness of God's Love
"This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:12-13). During the last month, Catholics celebrated a modern witness who laid down his life for his people.
Stanley Rother, a farm boy from Oklahoma, was recently recognized as a martyr and a "blessed" (the step before canonized sainthood). Stanley spent his childhood on his family's farm, attended school, and eventually went off to seminary. Persevering through academic struggles, Stanley became a priest. Ordained in 1963, he spent five years as a parish priest in his home state of Oklahoma, but then in 1968 he volunteered to serve in a mission parish in Guatemala. In this mission, there were daily risks, even in simple things. Father Stanley would spend many evenings in the homes of his parishioners, being with his people in their sorrows and joys. The simple ministry of sharing a meal posed risks as hygienic and food safety practices were poor; thus Father Stanley often suffered bouts of dysentery.
As the years went on, more serious, life-threatening risks emerged as Guatemala descended into a state of civil war. In addition to his normal pastoral work, and caring for the needs of the widows and orphans created by the strife, Blessed Stanley would walk the roads searching for the bodies of desaparecidos (those who had gone missing, likely kidnapped and killed). Given the attitudes of militants, it was a risk of one's life even to seek out and bury the dead. In the midst of these dangers, Father Stanley would reflect, "What do we do about all this? What can we do but do our work, keep our heads down, preach the Gospel of love and nonviolence. ... We just need the help of God to do our work well and to be able to take it if the time comes that we are asked to suffer for him."
Though he was welcome to, and could have easily gone home to the safety of the United States, Father Stanley stayed with his people. As he wrote in his final Christmas letter to family and friends in 1980, "The Shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom." Blessed Stanley did indeed suffer; he was shot in the head in the mission rectory on July 28, 1981, losing his life for his people.
I find Father Stanley's witness a challenge that provokes the questions: have I risked myself for the love of Christ and others? Have I risked pain? Disagreement? Financial loss? Even death? May Father Stanley's testimony of love build us up, inspiring us to give of ourselves without counting the cost, fulfilling Jesus' command: Love one another as I have loved you.