All Saints Day: Grains of Falling Wheat

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12: 24


All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation for American Catholics. It’s also one of my favorite feasts. I love that this solemnity for the many saints who have given their lives, either by dying for Christ or by living for Him comes at this time of year when the seasons are changing. The fact that we pause to remember our faith through memories of these many saints who have gone before us seems like a fitting way to prepare, once again, for the Coming of the Lord.

All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas; it’s like a wheel spinning us through the old story backwards. We begin by contemplating the great saints, then our own family and friends who have passed, to a family day of feasting and Thanksgiving. The wheels turns and we are in the period of self-examination and cleansing of Advent, then on to the day when we remember that God was made human for us and He is born again.

How could anyone not love that?

This year, the wheel spins through another quadrennial rite that is uniquely American. We will elect our president a few days after All Saints and All Souls Days.

I’ve been thinking about specifically political saints. Saint Thomas More, my name saint and a martyr for the faith, Saint Joan of Arc and Blessed John Paul II come to mind.

I also have thought about six saints, none of whom have been canonized, who were martyred in this hemisphere, at the hands of people who, many people believe, were trained and armed by our own American government. They died in the last few decades and their blood cries out to heaven to this day. They are, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Father Stanley Rother, Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford, and lay sister Jean Donovan.

Their stories are especially poignant because they are martyred saints who died at the hands of death squads and assassins who were most likely trained by the United States, ostensibly for the purpose of fighting communist insurgents in Central America. Whoever trained these men, (our government has assiduously blocked inquiries and denied involvement) it appears that the people they ended up “fighting” were the unarmed civilian population of those countries and the Church who tried to defend them.

One thing stands out in each of these stories: These were people who lived out their faith in Christ by walking in solidarity with the poor, the disenfranchised, the “disappeared.” They stood against torture, rape, murder. They gave their lives for this, and they did it in the name and service of Christ the Lord. As such, their lives and their deaths are a testament to the love of Christ and the power of faith in our world today.

I believe that Christians in America are rapidly approaching a time when we can no longer hide in our private piety. We are going to have to “choose this day whom we will serve.” When that day comes, I can think of no better models than Archbishop Oscar Romero, Father Stanley Rother, Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford, and lay sister Jean Donovan.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Archbishop Romero was shot and while he was saying mass on March 24, 1980. He said, “I do not believe in death without resurrection … If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, then may my blood be the seed of liberty and a sign of hope.”

An article in Third World Sunday says,

“The Sunday before his murder, he denounced the military violence in El Salvador. In a rising voice, breaking with emotion, he called on ordinary soldiers to side with the people, to ignore the orders of their superiors. “Brothers, you are from the same people, you kill your fellow peasants … No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God … In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people, I ask you, I command you in the name of God: Stop the represssion.’”

Father Stanley Rother

Father Stanley Rother was an Oklahoma priest who was murdered while serving in Guatemala, a country so rife with terrorism against the civilian population that it was known as “the land of the disappeared.” He was brought back to Oklahoma after it became known that he was considered a marked man in Guatemala. After three months, he told his family that he didn’t want his parishioners in Guatemala to feel that he had deserted them during the fighting. He didn’t want them to ask “Where were you when we needed you?”

In a letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, he said,

The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we might be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the kingdom.”

An article in the August 9, 2010 National Catholic Reporter said,

“Stanley told me that he would not be taken away and killed in the shadows,” said his friend, then Father, now Archbishop Harry Flynn. “Stanley was a strong man and intended to fight his assassins.”

In the early hours of July 28, 1981, Rother was attacked in the rectory by three men in ski masks, shot and killed. Rother’s knuckles were rubbed raw by the fight.


Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford,  lay sister Jean Donovan

Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford, and lay sister Jean Donovan were not only murdered, they were tortured and raped, as well, which makes them martyrs to violence against women as well as the people of Guatemala. They were kidnapped on the evening of December 2, 1980. Their bodies were left to rot on the side of the road. Stories have circulated since their deaths that their murderers were from death squads that were trained and equipped by our own country.




Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

  • Reluctant Liberal

    I’m quite certain I disagree with your politics, but I approve of this post. Thank you for highlighting the lives of people who sought to serve God first, and thank you for not burying the role of the US government and its undiscerning anti-communism in their deaths.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you.

  • Jennifer Craft

    My dear sister in Christ, thank you for this very sobering message. I was so young in the early 80′s. This is my first time hearing of these precious saints. I was moved to tears as I read about each one. Such strength of heart and trust in the Lord Jesus. May God grant all of us wisdom and understanding of these times in which we live.
    “I believe that Christians in America are rapidly approaching a time when we can no longer hide in our private piety. We are going to have to “choose this day whom we will serve.” You are correct about this. As Americans we’ve had such freedom to practice our faith but those days are soon past. There is consideration and tolerance for everyone except those who walk accordingly to Biblical precepts. Thank you so much and may God continue to bless and strengthen you.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Jennifer. You understood what I was trying to say.

  • Ted Seeber

    The existence of the School of the Americas kept me away from conservative politics for a long, long time.

    It was part of the reason I was anti-Reagan as a teenager, anti-Bush I as a young adult, against the first gulf war when everybody around me was for it, and why I have a scar over my left eye where I took 7 stitches for opening the door to my dorm room when my roommate’s watercolor peace sign was ripped off the door.

    I still cannot be pro-life and vote for a pro-war politician. Of course today, that means I can’t vote Republican or Democrat, and can’t be partisan. They may be divided on the personhood of the unborn, but the political parties are united in the use of drones to kill inconvenient people.

    May the Lord Bless these United States- because I sure can’t.

  • neenergyobserver

    Thank you, Rebecca. A very worthy crew, and while we possibly could debate some merits and demerits here, I won’t. There is something very praiseworthy in anyone who is willing to put their life in the balance for what they believe. And it is very true, we have had some very unsavory allies over the years, could we have fulfilled our mission in a different manner? I don’t know but, we must find a way to lead in freedom without these types.

    I shall remember them on All Saints Sunday as well.

    • Ted Seeber

      I’d even go so far as to question the wisdom of the mission. As a rule, communism as practiced by the atheists (as opposed to how communism is practiced by Catholics- like in monasteries and intentional voluntary communities) falls apart on its own- it isn’t sustainable in the least, and it skews the reward/punish vector towards the lazy and immoral.

      All we really needed to do with countries that fell under that spell, was isolationism. Cut off ties and wait.

      But we couldn’t seem to do that; and today, we’re making the same mistake with respect to radical Islam.

  • Mr. V


    thanks for writing this post. This is the first time I’ve heard of those people. Has the canonization process begun for them?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I believe the process has begun for Father Rother. I don’t know about the others.

    • Ted Seeber

      Funny, I thought I posted this status:
      1. Abp. Romero- Martyr and Servant of God, cause stalled at the moment due to changes in the process Pope Benedict XVI has implemented. Almost certain canonization eventually. Venerated worldwide.
      2. Fr, Rother. Cause opened by Archdiocese of Oklahoma. Venerated locally in Oklahoma and Guatemala.
      3. The Martyrs of El Salvador. Proclaimed as Martyrs, but no cause opened yet at the Vatican. Venerated locally in El Salvador, as well as in their home diocese.

  • Steve Evans

    During this season of remembrance, celebration,and hope in the Incarnation of Christ, we must also look forward to the world-wide blessing of Epiphany and the revelation of Christ to the entire world. This is what each and all of these dear men and women were going about doing. Their sacrifices are not in vain, the legacy of faith continues, and the call to stand up against oppressors regardless of their country or government of allegiance is one that each and all of us who know Christ needs to heed. Whether Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran, Evangelical, Charismatic, or others who name Christ as Lord and Savior we can stand together as the Body of Christ in unified, Spirit-led support of the weak and the marginalized and in opposition to all that attempts to hold any person as less significant than what we are all created to be as bearers of God’s own image.

    Blessings in Christ to you, my sister.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you for this beautiful — and true — comment.

  • Peg

    Thank you for this beautiful post and remembrance on this beautiful feast day. I’ve often prayed for healing for others from Archbishop Romero for a miracle for sainthood. I can still hear Raul Julia’s powerful performance of that preaching in my ears. The sisters have always held a place in my heart but I did not know about Father Rother. Thank you for sharing his story.

    My friends and I were young hippie preppy protesters then trying to take a stand against the school of the Americas and the divisive politics of those days. It was becoming easy to hate Reagan and the republicans,especially when he fired my husband an air traffic controller.

    Thank God for our faith and saints to guide us to a better more centered and peaceful place from which to stand and serve.

    Much like central America, the Palestinian situation needs lots of prayer and discernment.

    Here,s to a strong year of faith for all of us! Keep leading us on Rebecca.

  • Lily

    Thank you for the stories of these beautiful saints. We have so much to be thankful for.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      You’re welcome Lily. Yes, we do.

  • Fabio P.Barbieri

    There is a Saint in my family whose particular office might help many people on this list. St.Clelia Barbieri, 1840-1867, order founder and “patroness of people ridiculed for their piety .” In the current climate, that’s pretty much the whole Church. St.Clelia must be a pretty busy little Saint, which is how she would have liked it.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      That’s fascinating Fabio. It does sound like she’s the perfect saint for today’s Catholic. How are you related to her?

  • Fabio P.Barbieri

    Not directly, obviously, since she was a nun. There are an awful lot of Barbieris in the lower Po area of northern Italy, between the provinces of Ferrara, Modena, Bologna and Rovigo, and they are all related somehow. They include a few more remarkable people: the great painter Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), the historian and philologist Giovanni Maria Barbieri, who practically founded Romance philology in the sixteenth century, the revolutionary trouble hound Ulisse Barbieri, who spent more time in jail for conscience’s sake than out of it – nineteenth century – and was a rather good poet and dramatist, and my great-uncle, a professor of biological chemistry in the University of Bologna who had much to do with moving the neglected land of Romagna to its full potential as one of the most fertile territories in the world. There are Barbieris all over the rest of Italy, but this lot are surely connected, the others aren’t.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I understand. She’s a kin, but not quite sure what degree.

      • Fabio P.Barbieri

        It’s like being a member of a Scottish clan. If your name is Cameron, the current British Prime Minister is your kin, though you aren’t likely to be very close.