Love one another like the shepherd who cannot run

We went to see him not once, but twice. Laid to rest beneath the floor of the mausoleum chapel in Resurrection Cemetery in Oklahoma City, Father Stanley Rother’s grave was peaceful and quiet — not at all representative of his violent end at the hands of intruders in 1981 Guatemala. My husband and I stood with our son both before and after Blessed Stanley’s beatification Mass, thanking the Oklahoma native for his courage and witness of faith and love.

There is much that is appealing, even dramatic, about Blessed Stanley’s story — so much so that even Hollywood’s interest has been piqued. A missionary to Guatemala, Father Rother found himself on a death list for standing up for the safety and rights of his adopted and beloved people. When he could have escaped to America for safety, he opted instead to go back into the lion’s den, unable to leave his flock behind to suffer alone. This line of reasoning prompted the now-famous phrase: “A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” and Blessed Stanley paid the ultimate price for his decision.

But Blessed Stanley’s inspirational and powerful witness isn’t only found in his life’s dramatic conclusion. It can be found in his determination to follow where God was calling him throughout the course of his life, even when the way wasn’t easy. Where did this come from? A family upbringing that was centered on the Lord. Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City put this beautifully during a recent conversation I had with him.

“Faith, prayer were the very fabric of the life of (Blessed Stanley’s) family and household,” Archbishop Coakley said. “Every evening they would kneel after dinner and pray the Rosary, whether the kids wanted to or not, and I’m sure there were some days they would have preferred to do something else. … So it was who they are — that is, they were Catholic. Faith had been such a normal part of life.

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“It wasn’t something added on, it wasn’t something compartmentalized, it was the very fabric and stuff of their home life, and I think that is something we can learn,” Archbishop Coakley continued. “I think we tend to think sometimes of faith and devotion and religion as an add-on rather than the very foundation of family life.”

Having the Faith as the foundation of life from an early age is, I’m convinced, what has propelled Blessed Stanley down this path to canonization. So not only is he a role model and an inspiration for priests, but he’s a role model and inspiration for those of us who have been blessed with the vocation of family life.

He challenges us all, as the pastor of the Old Cathedral in Oklahoma City said in his homily Sunday morning, to “Love one another like you are a shepherd that cannot run.” In short, to love one another as Jesus loved us.

Thank you, Blessed Stanley Rother, for your heroic witness, and pray for us.