As I think many of you know, the Vatican has approved the addition of the feast of Blessed Stanley Rother to the liturgical calendar of the Diocese of Little Rock as an optional memorial and because of its importance for us, I have given permission for us to transfer this observance to the weekend liturgies in our diocese this weekend of July 28-29. Hence the special readings from the Common of Martyrs chosen for this Mass.
And I think that you will see that these readings are especially appropriate for a farm boy — indeed a wheat farmer — who gave his life for Christ: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies it produces much fruit.” Blessed Stanley, like countless martyrs before him, was faithful to the end and his sacrificial love continues to produce much fruit.
This Gospel passage is taken from what is, in effect, John’s equivalent of the Agony in the Garden found in the other three Gospels. In John it occurs as a discourse out in public in the middle of Holy Week, after Jesus’ anointing for burial in Bethany and his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and prior to the Last Supper, not later that evening as in the other Gospels. Here Jesus is talking about his “hour.”
You will recall that in the days and months before his death, Blessed Stanley knew that his “hour” was coming. The forces of evil were closing in on him and the same was true even more so for Jesus. Blessed Stanley was resolved to make sure that they didn’t take him alive so that he might not say things under torture that might put someone else’s life at risk. Jesus spoke about the approaching “hour” of his glorification, lifted up from the earth, drawing everyone to himself — dying lifted up on a cross.
In both cases, the most gruesome moment of their life would be their moment of greatest glory. How can this be?
• Well, first of all, the cross will glorify Jesus and the assassins’ bullet will glorify Blessed Stanley because in both cases, by doing the Father’s will they are glorifying the Father.
• Second, their death will glorify the Father because by accomplishing his God-given mission in life Jesus will win our salvation and Blessed Stanley will help to bring that salvation to others.
• Third, their death will glorify the Father because through it they will break the power of sin and death. Jesus definitively and Blessed Stanley by uniting his death to that of Jesus.
Satan will do his worst but will not prevail. The Roman authorities will assert their political and military power, but their sentence of death is powerless to take Jesus’ life because it is just an afterthought: he has already offered it up freely — and therefore it is no longer theirs to take.
And the same was true for the Guatemalan authorities and Blessed Stanley.
The religious leaders will do all in their power to silence Jesus, a man who proclaimed truths that undermined their authority and unmasked their hypocrisy, but when it came to the word of God, Jesus would not be silenced. He continued to proclaim God’s truth undeterred. And so did Blessed Stanley.
Both of them glorified God because they were “all in.” Jesus sought to please God above all things, without worrying overmuch about whether this pleased the crowds or the powers-that-be or even his own disciples. Jesus was that grain of wheat bursting with life within, which when planted the afternoon of Good Friday sprouted on Easter Sunday and continues to bear unimaginably abundant fruit today. And the same was true on a much more modest scale for Blessed Stanley.
Jesus was one seed buried 2,000 years ago which has produced two billion Christians today —1.2 billion of whom are Catholic.
Blessed Stanley was another seed buried 37 years ago and since then his parish has already produced nine priests after 434 years of no vocations whatsoever. And think of all the other billions of Christians who have preceded us over the course of more than 100 generations of believers since Jesus’ death 20 centuries ago.
But you know, this abundant growth has occurred in part due to the fact that in each of these 100 generations, the seed has been planted anew in order to produce the next harvest.
You and I are that seed today, and we will glorify God if we are “all in” like Jesus was and like Blessed Stanley was, embracing our own crosses with sacrificial love like they did.
These crosses are not adversities that we couldn’t avoid anyway — everybody faces adversities and there is nothing especially redemptive about merely enduring the unavoidable troubles of life. No, these crosses are adversities that we could have avoided but don’t because embracing them is what faithfulness to God requires. To do so will mean that like Jesus, we too seek to do God’s will in everything, not our own will or giving in to the well-meaning pressure of our family or peer pressure from our friends. God’s will for us comes first.
Blessed Stanley didn’t have to return to Guatemala and the adversity he knew awaited him there, but he knew in his heart that this was what God was asking of him. So he did return despite the fear of his friends and the strong opposition of his family.
So also for us: putting God’s will first will require us to deal with adversities that we could have avoided, but it is only by doing so that we will accomplish our God-given mission in life and do our own part to break the power of sin and death in the world we live in today. Satan may do his worst and, as with Jesus, appear to do us great harm, but he cannot prevail if we are fully united to the Lord.
If you offer up your life fully and freely to the Lord, no one will be able to take your life from you because you have already given it away. If you proclaim God’s truth undeterred, no one will be able to silence you. Oh, it will lead to a cross, but that’s where God’s power lies and it is by embracing the cross with sacrificial love that we glorify God.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies it produces much fruit.”
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