1st Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
I love a good “call” story. Today we hear one of the greatest “call” stories of all time.
God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called.
God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called.
In today’s Gospel we witness Peter and his brother Andrew called to join Jesus as missionary disciples. Jesus wants to use our natural gifts and professional skills to help him spread the Good News. The first disciples showed a readiness and eagerness to respond to the Jesus’ invitation. How many of us do the same?
Ever heard of Stanley Rother? You may soon know his name as he marches toward sainthood. His is an amazing modern day “call” story.
Stanley Francis Rother was a humble farm boy from Okarche, Oklahoma. He was not a very good student, but he knew his way around the farm. And he could do just about anything involving manual labor.
But God had other plans for his life.
Jesus broke into Stan’s life and called him to the priesthood, called him to become a “fisher of men (and women).”
But Stan failed miserably at seminary, flunking out after being defeated by Latin. The language of the Church never stuck. And he was booted because of it.
This was the early 1960s and Vatican II was about to change everything.
A supportive Archbishop gave Stan a second chance and off he went to a seminary in Maryland where Latin was not an emphasis.
During his time there, Stan was best known for organizing students to improve a grotto than for his scholarly work. But graduate he did, and in 1963, Stan Rother was ordained, and assigned to a parish in his home state of Oklahoma.
After a few years, his Archbishop asked Fr. Stan if he would accept assignment at a sister parish adopted by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma.
Fr. Stan said yes, then packed his Chevy and drove two-thousand miles to the mountainous region of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, landing in the largest community Santiago Atitlan.
Remember, this is a man who struggled with Latin. Now he had to learn both Spanish, and the Tzutuhill Mayan language.
When God hops into our boat we know we’re headed out for deep waters, but it’s usually a place where we find an abundance of fish to catch.
When Fr. Rother arrived in 1968, the assignment was peaceful enough. He would serve with several other priests and a couple of nuns.
In his first few years, he learned Spanish, experimented with crops on the parish farm lands, installed new stained glass windows, refurbished the altar, and became beloved for being the only Gringo priest to visit the modest homes of parishioners, sit on their dirt floors and break bread over a meal of wild greens and tortillas.
Eventually, he would be handed the parish to run on his own.
Remember his struggles with Latin? Fr. Stan became not only fluent in Spanish and Tzutuhill Mayan, he eventually translated the Gospel into the Mayan language.
He was beloved. He found heaven on earth. He became known NOT as Fr. Stan, but Padre "A'plas," a Tzutuhill translation of his middle name Francis. This was a sign of love and affection to be honored with a Mayan name.
But his dream was about to turn into a nightmare.
In 1980, a clash was brewing between the indigenous peoples emboldened by the Gospel’s message of Liberation and a government with its sights set on wiping out the native population.
While many priests and catechists were preaching Liberation Theology, Fr. Stan wanted no part of efforts to criticize the government. He was no radical. He refused to preach rebellion.
He just wanted to tend his flock in peace and harmony.
But in the fall of 1980, the military moved into the mountainous Lake Atitlan area to stamp out a growing native rights movement.
Everybody got labeled a “Communist troublemaker” if they stood up for, or behind the Mayan natives.
Then the disappearances began, and word of murder and torture spread.
One of Fr. Stan’s brightest catechists was kidnapped before his very eyes one night, screaming to Fr. Stan, “Ayuda me,” “Help me.” It was a plea that would haunt Fr. Stan for the rest of his life.
Fr. Stan would soon be on a military hit list.
Shortly after Christmas 1980, the heat on Fr. Stan was too hot. So, he fled Atitlan and Guatemala for the family farm in Okarche, Oklahoma.
While in the states a priest friend invited him to speak at his hometown parish.
Fr. Stan preached saying, “Don’t believe everything your government tells you.” He had a unique perspective, seeing this as less a battle pitting communism vs. capitalism, but instead a battle over human rights.
But his remarks upset a couple of patriotic parishioners sitting in the pews who wrote to the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington D.C. saying, “I feel obliged to warn your nation’s government of the Church involvement within the leftist organizations attempting to establish A socialist (or Marxist) government in Guatemala.”
The letters were a death sentence in the hands of Guatemalan officials.
Just before Holy Week 1981, he returned to Santiago Atitlan, against the many wishes of family and friends and fully knowing he might likely be killed.
A few months later, on a hot July evening, a military death squad broke into the rectory, found Fr. Rother, tortured him, and a gunman shot him twice in the head.
Just last weekend I saw the bullet hole in the floor of the former library now special prayer space. We stayed overnight at the rectory feet away from the spot and concelebrated Mass at Fr. Stan’s parish.
“In death, as in life, Stan was of Oklahoma, but his heart resided in the Mayan church.”
Jesus asks that we give our all for the Kingdom. Sometimes our all means our very life.
Fr. Stanley Francis Rother was beatified by Pope Franics in 2017. His cause is now pending canonization. “(Fr. Stanley Rother) was an ordinary man who found extraordinary courage in his faith.” He followed Jesus’ call to serve the poorest of the poor in Central America. Fr. Stan left behind the comforts of parish life in America. He passed through the suffering of the cross and found paradise with Christ.
What is Jesus calling you to do for his Kingdom?