30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Published: October 27, 2019

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during the first Mass of newly ordained Father Tomás Pablo Ajchomajay at St. James the Apostle Catholic Church in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019.


Bishop Taylor

Some of you know that I was the original episcopal delegate for the cause of Blessed Stanley Rother and that I had met him in Oklahoma just about two months before his death. As episcopal delegate, my role was to oversee everything connected with the cause, and I conducted about 50 interviews here starting in 2007.

But there are two things you probably do not know. One is that Tomás’ father, Juan Pablo Ixbalán, was one of my main collaborators. Among other things, he helped to prepare the witnesses and brought them to me so that they could give their testimony. Tomás’ dad had an important role in this process. Another thing you do not know is more personal. For you see, Father Rother’s body was returned to Oklahoma on my first anniversary of ordination and his funeral in Oklahoma was on the first anniversary of my first Mass.

And here I am today in this church preaching the first Mass of the son of Juan Pablo Ixbalán and speaking about Blessed Stanley Rother, who has been a presence in my life ever since. Father Rother is my model for what it means to be a faithful, holy priest. He poured himself out for us in the way he lived his life years before he poured himself out for us in death. Like St. Paul says in the second reading of this Mass, referring to himself he said: “I am already being poured out like a libation … I have kept the faith.”

(Blessed Stanley Rother) lived most of his priesthood here, and learned your customs and your language. Your home became his home. He gave himself to you fully in life long before he gave himself to you in death. And his heart remains here in this church among you, the people to whom he gave his heart as a priest long before he gave it to you as a martyr.

As in the case of all martyrs, so also in the case of Blessed Stanley, what Tertullian said 18 centuries ago is true: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” Or as Blessed Stanley himself said on his ordination card: “For my own benefit I am a Christian; for the benefit of others I am a priest!”

Consider the history of your parish. This parish was founded in 1547 and in the years before Blessed Stanley’s death in 1981, guess how many young men from your parish were ordained to the priesthood? Not a single one in the course of these 434 years. There were a lot of reasons for that, but still, none!

Guess how many young men from your parish have been ordained to the priesthood since 1981, since Father Rother poured out his blood for you? Ten so far including Tomás and when Pedro Mendoza is ordained next year it will be 11. Their names are: Nicolás Vásquez Reanda, FMM; Julio Antonio Celada Galindo; Cristóbal Coché Quic, OSB; Domingo Tiney, FMM; Salvador Quiejú Quiejú; Diego Mendoza Mendoza; Antonio Manuel Tacaxoy; Victor Ramírez Ramírez; Ricardo Vásquez Ramírez; and now Tomás Pablo Ajchomajay.“The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians!”

Today as Tomás begins his priestly ministry in this parish sacred to the memory of Blessed Stanley, it might be helpful to share what I discovered about him in the course of over 50 interviews with people who knew him and worked with him in this parish. The interviews had two parts; the first part was a series of questions about what kind of a priest Blessed Stanley was — his virtues, his personal qualities, his strengths and weakness. And the second part was about the circumstances leading up to his death.

And as witnesses spoke about his personal qualities, it became clear that of all of his virtues, three stood out most clearly: his courage, his humility and his love for the people God had entrusted to his care. Three virtues that any priest needs and which are at the heart of the readings that the Church gives us for this Mass of thanksgiving. In our second reading we see the courage of St. Paul who faced real danger — he said God “rescued him from the lion’s mouth.”

In our Gospel we see humility, Jesus contrasted the pride of the self-righteous pharisee and the humility of the tax collector, who knew he was a sinner and simply prayed “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And in our first reading and responsorial psalm we see love of the flock, “the Lord hears the cry of the poor.”

Tomás, as you begin your ministry as a priest, I pray that you will take Jesus as your model, and then after him, Blessed Stanley Rother. I hope that your priesthood be marked by courage, humility and love of the people you serve, especially the poor and brokenhearted. I find inspiration to be a better priest when I call to mind and try to imitate the courage, humility and love of Blessed Stanley Rother, a priest I can relate to, a priest of my own diocese, who comes from my home, who spoke my language in the way my family speaks it.

And I am convinced that the same must be true for you because from the time he arrived here, he began to become an Atiteco. He lived most of his priesthood here, and learned your customs and your language. Your home became his home. He gave himself to you fully in life long before he gave himself to you in death. And his heart remains here in this church among you, the people to whom he gave his heart as a priest long before he gave it to you as a martyr.

Tomás, we thank God for your vocation. Your response to God’s call is evidence of your courage — many young men fail to respond to God’s call due to fear. The fact that you responded is also evidence of your humility — you have vowed obedience. And the fact that you responded is evidence of your love — you know that you are embarking on a life of sacrificial love. Just like that of Jesus. Like that also of Blessed Stanley Rother. Do you remember what was printed on his ordination card? “For my own sake I am a Christian; for the sake of others I am a priest!” And the same is true for you!