August 20, 2017
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
On Monday, Aug. 21, many Americans will witness an extremely rare astronomical phenomenon, a total solar eclipse. The sun will appear to be darkened for a time as the moon passes between the earth and the sun, casting its shadow over much of the earth’s surface. The last time such an event occurred across the whole of the contiguous United States was in 1918! Thousands of people will travel great distances to experience this extraordinary phenomenon.
Perhaps it was an actual solar eclipse coinciding with the moment of Our Lord’s death that caused the darkness described in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mt 27:45). An eclipse of the sun is certainly an appropriate cosmic sign for the very moment when sin and death seemed to triumph over light and life. For three days, hope was eclipsed by despair. The Resurrection, however, proclaims Christ’s ultimate victory: the victory of life over death; the triumph of Divine Mercy over human sinfulness. Jesus Christ is the light of the world and this “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).
On July 28, 1981, it must have seemed as if darkness had triumphed in the village of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. That morning, thousands of grieving parishioners gathered in the plaza in front of the massive colonial church as word spread that their beloved shepherd, Padre A’Plas had been killed. During the night intruders had broken into the rectory and murdered Father Stanley Rother, the shepherd who didn’t run.
Hope seemed to have been vanquished by violence, love eclipsed by hatred. But, life and hope were indeed victorious. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church” as Tertullian wrote in the 2nd century. Father Stanley Rother’s witness of fidelity and pastoral charity have inspired countless Christians and non-Christians in Guatemala, Oklahoma and throughout the United States. Today, the Church in Santiago Atitlan is flourishing. The light of faith continues to shine brightly and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Catholic Church has officially recognized the Venerable Servant of God Stanley Francis Rother as a martyr for the faith. He is the first martyr from the United States, and on Sept. 23 will become the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified. In Oklahoma, this event is even rarer than a total solar eclipse! Are you going?
I invite all who read this to come to the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m. to participate in the Mass and Rite of Beatification for Father Stanley Francis Rother. It will be a beautiful and historic event, but more importantly it will be the occasion for an abundant outpouring of grace and mercy upon our Church, our families and community and our nation. There will be ample parking and access. (And I promise that traffic will be far less difficult to manage than for a Garth Brooks concert or a Thunder home game.)
Come and see!