My Life is For My People

Who is Father Stanley Rother?  Not a household name, except perhaps for the people in the state from which he hailed, and I knew nothing about him. My dear friend Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, the incredibly talented and award-winning author and journalist, has done her part in rectifying our ignorance with her new book, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma.

Given how many things are on my plate right now, it says a lot that once I picked up the book I did not put it down again until I finished it.  No small part of that is simply that Maria is a gifted storyteller who paints vivid descriptions of the man and the people who he served.

A large part of what compelled me, however, was the man himself.  Rother, once thought not smart enough to complete seminary studies to become a priest who seemed more at home tilling the fields or building retreat facilities than writing sermons, deserves to be remembered for his selfless commitment to his people, a commitment that led to his martyrdom.

Maria’s book takes us through Rother’s family background, his upbringing, his struggles in seminary and his early priesthood.  But the most compelling part of Rother’s life begins in 1968, when he was appointed to Oklahoma’s Guatemala mission team.  We learn from Maria about Rother’s growth in his life as a missionary.  One commentator observed that Rother “didn’t go there to do anything.  He went there to be there, with the people.  And because he was there, other things happened…like the school, and the clinic, and farming the fields.”  He was tireless in performance of his pastoral duties as well as developing cropland and other activities designed to better the lives of the poor in the area he served.

Alas, Guatemala during the time Rother was there began to look more and more like the El Salvador in which Oscar Romero ministered.  (And much of what I read about Rother reminded me of Romero.)  Violence and unheavel, massacres,  disappearances, persecution of the church as well as the people.  It was an increasingly dangerous situation, especially for those, like Rother, who raised their voices for social justice.

In early 1981, Rother made the last of his visits to his family.  At the time it was clear his life was in danger and most people believed he should not return to Guatemala.  He himself knew that if he returned he would be deported or killed.

But stronger than any fear or concern for his own safety, Rother felt, “I need to be with my people.  When warned not to return he said “My life is for my people.  I am not scared.”

And so he did return, much to the joy (and surprise) of the people he served and served with.  And he paid the ultimate price for doing so.

If you want to be inspired, if you want to look at the life of someone who truly deserves the label hero (as well as martyr), if you want an example of what it looks to give such a complete “yes” to God that you can accept whatever consequences flow from it, read Maria Scaperlana’s book about this man, Fr. Stanley Rother, “the shepherd who did not run.”

I would also encourage you to take a look at Maria’s blog, which you can find here.






2 thoughts on “My Life is For My People

  1. I was blessed to visit the place of Father Rother’s martyrdom at Santiago Atitlán twice.

    Coincidentally, my old friend Mike Fields (and his wife Karen), in New Zealand to celebrate his 62nd birthday, is just reading up on Stan (good friends of his are well-acquainted with the family from Oklahoma).

    I think Maryknoll productions did a film on his life…

  2. Fr. Stanley Rother, “the shepherd who did not run.”

    “I need to be with my people.” When warned not to return he said “My life is for my people. I am not scared.” – Father Stanley

    “Certainly the message of Christ is counter-cultural to our governmental institutions. At times it may even be counter-cultural to our religious institutions” – Jesus and Power (02-03-16)

    “Anyone who understands the preferential option for the poor ought to be able to understand the claim of Black Lives Matter. We need to focus on those who stand in the greatest need of protection and help.” – Black Lives Matter and the Preferential Option for the Poor (02-02-16)

    “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
    “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (From this morning’s Gospel reading Lk 5: 1-11, USCCB 02-07-16)

    From a Christian perspective we are, and continue to be, informed that Fr. Stanley, Simon Peter, and St. Paul (like ourselves and most all of God’s children) were imperfect. Reflecting upon our own shortcomings and transgressions most often gives us pause. Imagine the stress, struggle, toil, compromise, regret, and burden many families and individuals trapped in situation and place as Susan described in her post, ‘Black Lives Matter and . . .’ shoulder daily, hourly, each minute with their decisions and actions. If all could respond in life like the martyrs. . .

    . . . the concept of “white martyrdom” developed: a martyrdom without blood, but still facing off against violent hatred of the faith. This white martyrdom consisted in a total offering to God, dying to self, the world, and its allurements. (Catholic Exchange 02-01-12)

    Who are “my (our) people?” Do the ‘shepherds’ truly know their sheep? From a Christian perspective, if through the ‘New Evangelism’ all are called to die to self and be Christ’s presence in the world, why do so many faiths – including the Catholic Church – all too often profess and preach to the ‘concept’ of good and evil and not to ‘our’ humanity (mind and body) and ‘our’ Spirit (heart and soul)?

    EWTN, as well as any faith based media entity, offers professionally polished presentations articulating their mission(s). Such presentations and most homilies offer ‘pearls’ of ‘truth’ and belief for discernment and prayer for the faithful – although they often subtly cull and categorize the consciences of far too many of their parishioners.

    As many who may compile and conjure vivid impressions of socio-economic, ethnic and religious groupings or communities from distance that offers no true (in)sight, it is often easy to rationalize, they (those) are not “my people.” We often know not they, they often know not us – brothers and sisters though we are. . .

    Susan’s posting took hold early this week and still clings tightly. No matter how hard we look, do we see?

    I have been blessed through referrals to design and oversee construction of near a thousand housing units, homes, places of worship, restaurants and places of business and recreation over the past 40 years in the greater Twin Cities for clients and contractors of most North American, Western and Eastern European, Scandinavian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Asian ethnicities. Not a single client has been African American, only one was a minority contractor and only a handful of any of the work force have been African American – Anomaly or systemic?

    Is it possible our country, that most often intends to welcome all as Lady Liberty holds high, continues to offer opportunity to those who reach out and serve “my people” (their community) while also assimilating into and eventually serving the broader community – offers fleeting opportunity to those who (like the residents of Flint Michigan) often through circumstance(s) not all their own struggle to straighten their bent knees and arched backs, and to raise and wipe the tears from their eyes allowing them to see “my (their) people” and contribute as their heart may desire – though their mind denies?

    I believe we look, that we see more than we admit, and too often our mind continues to edit our heart.

    Until we properly see, recognize, affirm, encourage and honor (and yes help impart increased personal responsibility) the bent knees, the arched backs, the knurled hands and the tear-filled eyes, and heavy hearts of those who serve us far too often without being seen, and those willing to re-build our crumbling infra-structure if we would only invest in them, economic injustice will continue to separate, divide and ultimately combine a fractured secular kingdom to the already fractured Kingdom of God no ‘New Evangelism’ will ever heal. . .

    How easily we often place hardship and misfortune and unload personal struggles and burdens at the feet of others. Has not the Church done the same for most 2,000 years?

    Individuality, personal pride, drive, desire, aspirations and more are continually preached as sinful root evils of a godless society. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Temptations all, yes! Sins? What sins?

    In many ways, the Church today often ‘sees’ sin similarly to sin in Simon Peter’s day. Malady, affliction, illness, and impairments are not sin. Most personal behavior is sin venial at best, seldom mortal.

    Who knows a sinful person? What is a sinful person? Who knows anyone that more than half of their awake thoughts, words and actions can be called even venial sins? In most instances the behavior considered inappropriate, disrespectful, hurtful, sourced from temper or anger grows from a sense of (whether justifiable or not) separation, exclusion, loneliness, and misunderstanding, often illness. What were Simon Peter’s sins that had him proclaim, “Depart from me.”

    Imagine continually being told at home, at school, at a place of employment, and from the pulpit that you are broken, unworthy, sinful. My god, most secular teachers and coaches of lessen, activity, sport, etc. are aware of (see) those in their care and offer encouragement before reminding (and yes, often authoritatively) of individual weaknesses that require more sincere effort. Such a sad commentary when teacher or coach is recognized and honored for being the most influential ‘shepherd’ in the eyes of many young adult children of God.

    Is it any wonder some surveys report 87% of millennials believe the Catholic Church is judgmental and hypocritical? When will we open our eyes and see?

    When will those who have been born into or have earned positions to more easily give of themselves in service to others more easily see and answer more fully God’s call – answer in actions that will offer increased inspiration to others?

    “Here, Jesus pairs the Pharisees with Herod. Both, Christian suggested, had power and influence and feared losing that power and influence. They may have started out with good intentions, but each was so focused on keeping their own influence that they failed to recognize Christ.”

    “The Pharisees and Herod together represent the power of the religious authorities and the power of the state. Jesus did not occupy a position of power in either realm. Instead he taught the first would be last and that his disciples were to serve rather than be served.” – Jesus and Power (02-03-16)

    Holy Mother Church, could use lessons getting to know her children more intimately, lessons on how to be a better mother, lessons on nurturing individually not simply preaching to the pews. ‘White Martyrdom’ is most often not a call to respond to violent hatred of (the) faith, it can be likened to a ‘New Evangelical’ calling to more completely offer ourself to God. In daily life, whom is often more Christ like, pastor or parishioner?

    “Certainly the message of Christ is counter-cultural to our governmental institutions. At times it may even be counter-cultural to our religious institutions” – Jesus and Power (02-03-16)

    Are we not all called to stand, to not run? Called to be “the (a) shepherd who did not run?” Called to serve each (a little more) according to our God given Gifts?

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