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.

 

 

 

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