Come and See
Homily for the Third Sunday of the Year
It was a quiet night in the lakeside village of Santiago Atitlán. Sounds travel far in that isolated region of Guatemala where the only night time noise is that of animals. No AC units. No sound of cars or highways. No planes flying overhead or trains nearby.
The sound of three men breaking into the rectory of St. James the Apostle Church at 1:30 AM must have echoed well beyond the village square. The assailants had come to kidnap, then torture, Fr. Stanley Rother. They had come to turned him into one of the desaparecidos (the missing).
They stormed his room. There were muffled noises of a struggle. Bodies crashing into furniture and against the walls. There was a gunshot. Then another. Then silence, followed by the sound of feet scrambling away.
Fr. Rother never called for helped.
This except comes from a book entitled, “The Shepherd Who Did Not Run.” It tells the story of a priest from Oklahoma named Fr. Stanley Rother. An ordinary fellow who grew up on a farm, became a priest, then died in Guatemala in 1981. On September 23, 2017, Fr Rother was beatified in Oklahoma City. He is the first American-born martyr to the faith.
Around the time that Fr. Rother was beatified, a small group of priests in our diocese gathered on a Sunday evening to discuss this biography and the life of Stanley Rother. I was a part of that group. I remember one of my brother priests mentioning how deeply the book moved him. So much that, several times, he had to stop reading and put it aside. The tears in his eyes made impossible to continue.
This priest was about the same age as Blessed Stanley and from a similar background. I’m sure that these commonalities played a role in the impact that this story held for him.
We all know something of this experience. We Catholics, after love stories about saints. But not just stories about courageous martyrs like Fr. Stanley Rother, rather, we love stories about saints that remind us of that there are saints among us today, saints whose lives closely resemble our own.
I’m thinking of those people we encounter in day-to-day life whose witness to love and service impresses us and, at times, overwhelms us.
Like the coach at the high school who helped your daughter discover her talents and grow in confidence. Or the nurse at the facility where your mother receives rehab, the one on the evening shift who gives your mother tenderness and attention well beyond the call of duty.
Or your grandfather whose wisdom taught you to be a man. Or the brother who went off to war and never home. Or the wife whose tough love carried you through years of addiction.
What it is, at the heart of this life, that makes some people so good at living this life
with all our heart? Most folks would say that it comes down to the word, love. After all, love is what we live for. Life is nothing without love.
This is true. And because it is true, most of us would agree that the words, “I love you,” are among the most important words that a person can say.
“I love you.”
We long to speak those words. We long to hear those words again and again. This is true for most people, but it is not true for everyone.
For saints—those in Heaven as well as though among us—there is another phrase that plays upon the breezes of the soul, a slight whisper heard in the silence of prayer when, once deciphered, a saint will strain to hear for the rest of his or her life. The phrase is not, “I love you,” but rather, “Come, follow Me.”
“Come, follow me.”
This phrase does not replace the words, “I love you.” But it does precede them. It also completes them. Let me explain.
One morning, in the early light of dawn, the Risen Christ looked into the eyes of Peter and said, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Jesus responded. “Then feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” Later, Jesus asked Peter a second time, “Do you love me?” Then, again in the same conversation, he asked him a third time, “Do you love me?”.
It was at this point that the gospel records the final words that Jesus spoke to Peter. The last words of Jesus to Peter, are not the words, “Do you love me?” Rather, his final words were the same his first: “Come, follow me.”
“Come, follow me.” The origin and completion of “Do you love me?”
Have you heard these words? Have you allowed yourself, opened yourself, to hear them?
“Maria, come, follow me.”
“Josh, come, follow me.”
“Stephanie, come, follow me.”
“Follow me to the streets and overpasses where the homeless are lying. Follow me to the hospices where people are crying. Follow me to the prisons where people are sighing. Fellow me to the border where people are dying.”
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Follow me. Do not let your hearts be troubled, I will show you the Way. The Way of the Cross! The way of giving all that you have to give!”
Indeed, this is the way, the only way that leads to the love you so long to hear. The love you so long to say.