The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time September 3, 2017
Jeremiah 20, 7-9 + Psalm 63 + Romans 12, 1-2 + Matthew 16, 21-27
at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL
I am, and no matter where I live, I will always be an Oklahoma priest. Twenty days from today something will happen in Oklahoma City that has only happened once before in the United States. The ceremony of Beatification will take place in my home town. It will be the first time a person born in America will be declared a martyr in the process of being canonized a Saint. There are other American born Saints, but none of them died as a martyr for the faith. The holiness of their lives was witnessed by their service. In the case of this priest, his service and presence among the poorest of the poor in Guatemala brought the ultimate witness of his murder. I knew Stanly Rother. He was one of our men. He went down to the mission we had in Santiago the year I was ordained, 1968. In 1981, he was killed by those who opposed the work he did because of his faith and the power of his love.
I will be going back home for that ceremony in a couple of weeks, so it is in my mind these days, and never more so than during the time I spent with this Gospel and those readings from Isaiah and Paul. As Isaiah, whined and complained to God trying to get out of what God asked of him, I think of Stan and of myself. I want you to do the same. Think of Father Rother and then think of yourselves. When he was informed that he was on the “Death List” everyone urged him to get out and go home. Other priests, people in the parish, his parents, our Bishop were relieved when he did. But, as Holy Week approached during those months in Oklahoma, he was uneasy and very anxious feeling that he had abandoned the people there who were also being killed with nowhere to go. He told our Bishop, “The Shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” With that, he returned to Santiago. Within months, a group of soldiers broke into the rectory in the night and killed him.
If a farm boy from Okarche, Oklahoma can understand and accept what God asks of him, so can we. His holiness did not come from some divinely inspired insight in the Will of God. It came from simply knowing and trusting that where he was corresponded to where God wanted him to be because he never did anything remarkable in an ambitious way to get there. He simply lived every day open to the will and the call of Christ Jesus. Some will call this “surrender.” It doesn’t need a name. It’s just the path to holiness.
The losing of one’s life does not mean martyrdom. Stan lost his long before he went to that mission in Guatemala. At some point in his earlier life, he discovered that living for God was better than living for one’s self. That’s what it means to die to one’s self. It does not mean you stop breathing, it just means you breath for some other reason that what you can get out of it.
The problem St Peter had with Jesus at this point of formation for the disciples was that he kept trying to take the easy way and avoid all risk. Jesus would have none of that for Peter, and I don’t think Jesus will put up with that from us either. Trying to take control is what Peter was up to, and we do that all the time. It will not work. It will not lead us anywhere except to misery, resentment, depression, and sad frustration. That is a large part of what ails our culture and our society. Too many ambitious, self-centered people want to take control and enjoy the easy life; no matter what the consequence are for someone else. They want to plan their lives without a thought about what God wants for that life God created and brought into being. Thinking as God thinks is what this Gospel proposes. Asking what God might want, and putting that before what I want is the only way. In other words, we may not want to be sick or be old, but maybe God wants us to be sick or old for some divine reason. We may not want to be out of work, but maybe God has a plan for that.
Now, when we proclaim Paul’s words in this assembly, it is God who speaks. You affirmed that yourselves when you said: “Thanks be to God” after the reader said: “The Word of the Lord.” So, God says to us today: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
It is not easy to accept ourselves as we are when this world urges us to take more, to buy more, to use and keep more of everything. But, my friends, we don’t take the easy way. When some voices these days cry out for the supremacy of one person over another, we remember that we cannot be conformed to this age. If you are getting older and everything aches and nothing works right when you want it to, lose your life and discern what is the will of God. Unless you’ve made some bad selfish choices, you are probably right where God wants you. If you’re not as good looking as you want to be and can’t quite keep up with people who seem to always get a break in life, it’s time to discern what is the will of God. Most likely, the will of God is for us to be who we are and where we are able and willing to find joy in the discovery that we might be actually sharing in God’s dream for peace. When we reach that wisdom, our own sins will be a lot less of a problem and we will be free to turn our attention toward the consequences of the greater sin of poverty and injustice. It’s not likely that there will be some ceremony to recognize our lives as there will be later this month for Stan; but it is likely that we too will have become Blessed and Holy eventually taking our place among all the saints.