Some thoughts for this coming Sunday, based on the Gospel, Luke 12: 32-48.
“Where your treasure is, there is your heart,” Jesus tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel.
There is a legend about Saint Anthony of Padua that might surprise us. Many of us think of Saint Anthony as the saint to find lost keys; I admit I spent several hours searching for some credit cards I had hidden and prayed hard to this saint. He is also known as a wonder worker for all the miracles attributed to him.
But he was an awesome preacher who was not afraid to speak the truth. He denounced the vices of his day – not just drinking and gambling, but especially greed and usury.
One day, Saint Anthony was at a funeral for a rich and avaricious man in Tuscany. He began to cry out that the man should not be buried in the hallowed ground of a Christian cemetery. For his greed and usury, his soul was condemned to hell and his body had no heart – literally!
People were confused and astounded but they sought out some physicians who came and opened the chest of the dead rich man. They found that he had no heart.
But then some people went to the rich man’s house and opened his money boxes. There they found his heart.
When we put our trust in wealth and power and domination, these take away our heart; they harden our hearts and we live half-dead, since what supposedly moves us is dead matter – gold, silver, cash, coins, and all types of possessions. In fact, we don’t own these possessions; they own us. And so we walk about, heartless.
But there is another story that may help us see how we can live with our hearts in the right places.
For several years, an Oklahoman diocesan priest by the name of Stanley Francis Rother was a missionary in the town of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, from 1968 to 1981. He learned Spanish as well as the local indigenous language and even translated the Gospels into their language.
He and his pastoral team served the people, evangelizing them in many ways, including projects to improve the lives of the people.
But in Guatemala this was not a time to be interested in the well-being of the poor, especially the indigenous. Many were killed, villages were destroyed, indigenous leaders were disappeared and killed. Even church workers suffered disappearance, torture, and murder.
At one point, things got very dangerous for Father Aplás, as the people called him. He went to the states for a short time but returned, convinced that “the shepherd cannot run and leave the sheep to fend for themselves.” During the night of July 28, 1981, he was killed in the rectory. He was beatified as a martyr in 2017.
His family arranged to have his body flown back to Oklahoma to be buried there. But the people in Santiago Atitlán asked them to leave them his heart. The family assented. His heart rests in a shrine in the church.
Last year the pastor of the church I work in and I went to Santiago Atitlán, on pilgrimage. We prayed in the church, we talked to the current pastor, and we served at a Mass at the altar where Padre Apla´s presided; I read the Gospel from the ambo where he preached. We also got a chance to speak over dinner with someone who had worked with Padre Apla´s.
But one moment stands out for me.
We entered the church and noted that there were people praying in Adoration before the exposed Eucharist. We knelt and prayed. I took a picture. Later I noticed that in the front side of the altar there was a reliquary with the blood of Father Rother: Jesus in the Eucharist and the blood of a martyr below.
Where was Blessed Father Stanley’s treasure? It was in the lives of the people in Santiago Atitlán. And so, in the church from which he served the impoverished, oppressed indigenous people, there is his heart.
What do you treasure? Where is your heart?
Is your heart with the poor, the migrant, the oppressed – as Father Rother’s was?
If not, there is still time for conversion.