Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Published: April 26, 2015

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during a Mass at the 107th Knights of Columbus State Convention at the Embassy Suites hotel in Little Rock on Saturday, April 25, 2015, and during confirmation Masses at St. Benedict Church in Subiaco and St. Joseph Church in Tontitown on Sunday, April 26, 2015.

Bishop Taylor

One of the greatest privileges of my life was to be chosen to work on the cause of canonization for the Servant of God, Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. He gave his life for the faith on July 28, 1981 in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, where he had served as a missionary for the previous 13 years.

This was a difficult assignment in the best of times: 40,000 extremely poor parishioners who spoke Tz'utujil, a Mayan language, rather than Spanish. They lived in on the shore of a beautiful but highly polluted lake. Life expectancy was 42, infant and maternal mortality was sky high, and practically everyone was illiterate.

But this was his flock and he sought to be for them the very best shepherd he could possibly be. He worked hard to attend to both their spiritual and material needs and shared their life with all the attendant dangers this entailed. But then in 1980 things got much worse as the war that Guatemala's military was waging on their own people — and particularly against the indigenous population — came to their area.

Jesus did that on Good Friday, for sure. But actually he had already laid down his life for us years earlier. That's what the story of his temptations was about at the beginning of his public ministry: death to self.

Guatemala is a small country. It is less than 80 percent the size of Arkansas but in one year's time — the year leading up to Father Rother's death — eight priests were killed and many more were so terrified and intimidated by the wolves that were threatening their flock that they fled, leaving their sheep to fend for themselves.

In the words of today's Gospel, those who fled showed themselves to be merely hirelings. But Father Rother stayed. And he didn't just stay, he ministered to his flock throughout this frightening time. Following one massacre of 16 persons by the army, he claimed the bodies and buried them for the parishchurch because their families were too afraid to do so. He searched for kidnapped catechists, much to the annoyance of the military.

He allowed terrified parishioners to spend the night in the relative safety of the parishchurch building, which saved many from the nighttime forays of the paramilitary death squads, again at considerable personal risk to himself. And then one day they came for him and he paid the ultimate price, laying down his life for the sheep. If he is canonized, he will be the first American-born Catholic priest to be declared a saint.

I share this with you because today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. When Father Rother was ordained a priest, he became what we call an "alter Christus" ("another Christ") and so he sought to be Christ for others in everything he did. Jesus said, regarding himself, "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

Jesus did that on Good Friday, for sure. But actually he had already laid down his life for us years earlier. That's what the story of his temptations was about at the beginning of his public ministry: death to self. And that's what enabled him to challenge people with truths they didn't want to hear and to reach out to people on the margins of society. He was their shepherd and he had come to save those who were lost. And Father Rother modeled himself on Jesus.

On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I ask you: 1.) To pray for your priests and religious, that the Lord may continually mold them to be good shepherds; 2.) to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life; and 3.) if you are single, to open your heart to the possibility that the Lord might be calling you to serve him in this way. We don't have to go to Guatemala to find wolves that would prey on the flock today. There are plenty of wolves right here in Arkansas — more discreet than those of Guatemala in the 1980s, but wolves nonetheless — and we need many more good shepherds to tend to the flock the Lord has entrusted to our care.