An Okie Saint

Earlier this month the Vatican declared that Father Stan Rother died as a martyr in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, on July 28, 1981.

A missionary from Oklahoma he earned the love and respect of the indigenous people who were in his parish. He learned their language – and they called him A’plas.

Henri Nouwen wrote Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story and María Ruiz Scaperlanda’s book, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother: Martyr from Oklahoma, will be out at the end of September. So I won’t say much about his life.

But Father Stan is another witness of God’s love for the poor and the costs of discipleship.

He was not unaware of the costs and the dangers, especially in Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s. As he wrote in his Christmas 1980 letter:

“A nice compliment was given to me recently when a supposed leader in the Church and town was complaining that ‘Father is defending the people.’ He wants me deported for my sin.
“This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. 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.”

Yet he did leave for a time when he was informed that he was on a death list. However, he returned.

All of us, not only those in mission lands, need the witness of Father Stan so that we can have the courage to stand with those in need, at the margins of this world – as Pope Francis says – offering a sing of love and perseverance in the midst of dangers and trials.

For martyrs aren’t made at the moment of death. Martyrs have prepared for their self-giving by a life of putting God and others at the center. Death is accepted because life has been given –  as Jesus did.

Crucified Christ in Santiago Atitlán Church

Crucified Christ in Santiago Atitlán Church

What is this among so many?

There’s a lad here,
who’s got five barley loaves and two fish.
But what use are they with this many people?”
John 6: 9
N. T. Wright translation

This morning I’m going to the village of Oromilaca for a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion as well as a meeting with the youth.

What do I say to these people about today’s Gospel (John 6: 1-11) of Jesus multiplying the bread and fish?

My experience in Latin America has been the incredible hospitality of the people. Even though they have little, if you come to visit, you will be offered something to eat or drink.

I remember the first time I was offered a “tortilla” in a Salvadoran village. I thought I would get only a tortilla, but they had a full meal prepared – tortillas, beans, rice, cheese.

Recalling this I’ll talk with then about the kid with five loves and two fish.

“Not much,” as Andrew protested, “for so many people.”

But enough.

A kid offers what he has.

We are called to offer what we have, no matter how little it may seem. Nothing is too small. God can make miracles of feeding with almost nothing.

No one lacks something to share with God and others. No one is so poor that she cannot give the little she has.

No one.

And God works miracles with what we give.

For our God is not a God of scarcity, but of abundance.

A lunch offered in a rural Honduran town

A lunch offered in a rural Honduran town

The martyred seminarian and companions

Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?
We are able.
Matthew 20: 23

When James and John – or their mother – ask for seats of power in the Reign of God, Jesus first asks them if they are able to share in the cup of His passion. They say yes. Even though they hesitated several times, most notably in the Garden of Gethsemane, they did suffer for their commitment to Jesus and His Reign.

The question is whether we are ready – at any moment – to give our lives for the Reign of God.

Othmaro Cáceres

Othmaro Cáceres

Thirty-five years ago today,July 25, 1980,  a young seminarian, José Othmaro Cáceres, was martyred.

Othmaro was studying for the priesthood in the diocese of San Vicente.  He had been involved in the evangelization of the parish with Padre Higinio Alas. Whenever he visited his family, he met with many of the young people in the area.

On July 25, he was meeting with young people within the walls of an unfinished church in Los Leones, Platanares, just outside Suchitoto, El Salvador.

cacereshermita

Los Leones unfinished church

He was going to be ordained shortly and so they were probably planning his first Mass in the chapel near his family’s home with some young people who followed him around when he visited home while studying in a seminary in Mexico.

While they were there, a joint operation of the Salvadoran Guardia Nacional and a death squad came upon them.

Othmaro and thirteen others were killed. Several young women escaped. According to one report, Othmaro had left the meeting for a short time and the young people were sharing candy. He hid in the brush and when he thought all was clear he was walking to another place when one of the invading forces saw him and said, “Here’s the one we’re looking for.” He fell on his knees, asked God for forgiveness, and was killed.

2001 procession

2001 procession

In 2001 I took part in a Mass in the walls of that church which is still unfinished. Relatives of Othmaro were there as well as mothers and relatives of some of the young men.

I felt I was on sacred ground, the ground of martyrs.

Would I be ready to five my life? Only God knows and only God can give me strength to respond with love at that point.

But what is important now is that each day I drink from the cup of the Lord, truly opening myself to God and to others, learning how to give of myself, to empty myself for others – as José Othmaro Cáceres did.

caceres-foto

Today I pray for that grace of self-giving.

——

An extract on the marytyrdom from my unpublished study of Suchitoto can be found here: The massacre of Los Leones extract

The first photo is from the exhibit in the hall of the martyrs at the Universidad CentroAmericana (UCA) in San Salvador. The final photo was taken at the 2001 Mass in Los Leones, a photo held in the hands of one of Othmaro’s relatives.

A Lebanese hermit in Mexico

In January 2012 I went to San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, for the wedding of a friend.

One day I went walking around town and visited a few churches. In one I saw the image of a saint with ribbons on his arms.

Iglesia Guadalupe, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México

Iglesia Guadalupe, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México

The image seemed very non-Mexican but it was there, right next to an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It was the image of St. Sharbel Makhlof, a Lebanese Maronite monk who lived in the nineteenth century. Today his feast in celebrated in the Catholic Church.*

St. Sharbel never left Lebanon and spent most of his time in a monastery, living most of the later years of his life as a hermit. He was revered as a wonder-worker after his death.

Lebanese Maronites who immigrated to Mexico (and other parts of the Americas) brought their devotion to the holy monk Sharbel with them. (He was canonized in 1977.) Though many of them became Roman Catholics, they kept their devotion to him. Now many people write their petitions on colored ribbons and place them on the arms of St. Sharbel.

The holiness of a monk is spread to another continent, reminding us of the catholicity of the Church, the People of God.

We are one.

That oneness, that solidarity is reflected in the saints who are revered far from their homes.

That solidarity can also be practiced as we remember the Middle East, torn apart by so much conflict these days.

Saint Sharbel, pray for us, asking the Lord to grant us peace – in Honduras, in Latin America, in Lebanon and Syria.

——–

The Maronites are Catholics, with a strong connection to the Patriarchal See of Antioch, who celebrated the Eucharist with a different rite but are in union with the Catholic Church and the pope.

The paradoxes of Saint Bridget

Mother of eight children (including St. Catherine of Sweden), widow, nun, founder of a religious order, noblewoman, giver of alms, critic of kings and popes, pilgrim, mystic, patroness of Europe, and much more – such was saint Bridget of Sweden who died on July 23, 1373. She is an example of a woman saint, like her contemporary St. Catherine of Siena, who does not fit into an image of pious submissive women.

A mystic, she was outspoken against the evils she saw around her – including injustice, wars, and immorality.

A devout founder of the Brigittines, the Order of the Most Holy Savior, she had no qualms in criticizing the popes for abandoning Rome for Avignon. She called Pope Clement VI “a destroyer of souls, worse than Lucifer, more unjust than Pilate, and more merciless than Judas.” Though he didn’t returned to Rome, her order was approved.

A critic of political leaders intent on war and land grabs, she was also, as Margery Kempe said of her, “kind and meek to every creature” who had “a laughing face.”

She received intense revelations of the sufferings of Christ and she suffered in Rome impoverished by her sharing with the poor.

Her life seems full of contradictions or paradoxes.

How could she ever have done all this?

I think the answer lies in this statement of hers:

The poor of the earth have need of a triple mercy: sorrow for their sins, penance to atone them, and strength to do good.

Her love of the God of mercy moved her to respond as she heard God’s call, even though it caused her great suffering. Identifying with the suffering Christ, she could live freely, responding to God’s call in many different ways.

May God grant me that freedom.

I am become death

Today is the seventieth anniversary of the first test of an atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico. As the bomb burst, one of the scientists involved cited a few lines from the Hindu scriptures: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

In less than a month, atomic bombs were dropped on two civilian targets in Japan – Hiroshima and Nagasaki. About 200,000 persons were killed and many injured – all most all civilians.

The United States had become death, the destroyer of worlds, committing what Pope Paul VI called “a butchery of untold magnitude.”

The United States still has a major stockpile of these weapons, The US did manage to persuade Iran to cease from seeking nuclear weapons but when will the US look at the beam in its own eye (Luke 6:42).

Today’s first reading from the third chapter of Genesis speaks of a God who takes note of the suffering of the people of Israel in Egypt. At Moses’ insistence, he reveals his name in the mysterious word, the unspeakable tetragrammaton: Yahweh. I am who am; I will be what I will be.

It is the great “I am” who sends Moses to call for the release of the people from slavery and oppression. “I am” the one who hears the cry of the poor.

In the Gospel, Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus calls the weary and heavily-burdened to come to Him; He will give them rest.

He is not death, the destroyer of worlds. He is the God who saves, who takes on the burdens of His people. He is the God who died on the cross and died under the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – as well as under every form of war, oppression, torture, and murder.

He is the God of life.

Today then is a day to repent, to express sorrow for the use of weapons of mass destruction and for planning to use them in the future.

What the US bishops wrote in 1983 in their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace, must become our challenge:

… we must shape the climate of public opinion which will make it possible for our country to express profound sorrow over the atomic bombing in 1945. Without that sorrow, there is no possibility of finding a way to repudiate future uses of nuclear weapons or of conventional weapons in such military actions as would not fulfill just-war criteria.

Let us follow the God of Life, not the gods of death.

Our Journey

In the prologue to his mystical masterpiece, The Journey of the Mind into God, Saint Bonaventure warns the reader who believes certain things are sufficient:

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Tree of Life, Santa Croce, Florence

reading without unction,
speculation without devotion,
investigation without wonder,
observation without joy,
diligence without piety,
knowledge without love,
understanding without humility,
study apart from divine grace,
gazing apart from
divinely inspired wisdom.

For Bonaventure it was not enough to think things through and “know” them with one’s intellect. One must move to the affective aspect of our lives, where one can encounter Christ.

It’s not enough to think about God. God calls us to let Him come and meet us, open our hearts to a loving encounter with a Person.

God is not an idea. God is a person and God wants us to be the person we are called to be by God’s love.

It’s so easy to just try to “think” about God, to see moral messages. It’s no so easy to open oneself to the Ultimate Other – God.

But we are called to start over each day, each moment, to let our hearts be opened to the Love of God.