Stanley Rother was a young man from Oklahoma who became a priest; eventually serving as a missionary to the poorest of the poor in Guatemala.
In the late 1970’s, Guatemala became embroiled in a bloody Civil War. Priests and religious were being targeted.
Father Rother was urged to leave the country, but he could not abandon the people that he loved. He stayed and was eventually attacked inside the rectory and was murdered. A young man who was only 46yrs old.
Shortly before he was murdered, he wrote to his family explaining to them why he was staying behind.
“A shepherd does not run at the first sight of danger,” he wrote. “A good shepherd shows fidelity and courage to protect his flock.”
It is good for us to hear these words today; especially in light of the headlines of the last few weeks that have made something all too clear for us.
Too many of our shepherds ran.
They looked the other way.
They enabled sin.
Many people are outraged at the church. They feel angry. They feel betrayed. But there is something else they feel. They feel hunger.
They are hungry for justice and accountability for these victims.
They are hungry for an explanation of how this happened.
And we are all hungry for hope.
Within our despair, some have asked themselves “Why they should even remain Catholic.” It is a very good question.
I can only offer to you today my own answer to the question of “Why I am a Catholic” which is incomplete.
I am a Catholic because of Father Stanley Rother.
I am a Catholic because of Bishops like Archbishop Oscar Romero, who died while serving mass in El Salvador.
I am Catholic because of men like Father Jacques Hamel, the elderly french priest who was murdered by jihadists in his village church.
I am Catholic because of men like Father Walter Ciszek, who risked his life to say mass in a Soviet prison, with just a crumb of bread and a few drops of wine.
I am Catholic because of women like Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who heard her calling among the poor and did not turn away.
I am Catholic because of women like the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena. While serving in Iraq during the war, the sisters welcomed Muslims into their convent and provided them a place to pray; explaining, “we do not help them because they are Catholic, but because we are.”
I am Catholic because before me are beautiful parishioners; who are people of faith, courage and conviction.
I am a Catholic because you and so many others bear witness to the miracle of God’s love and mercy; and the greatest miracle of all, the Holy Eucharist. As an unworthy servant, I offer my hand to him at every mass to hold and to consume his living presence.
I am awed; I am humbled and I am totally unworthy, but by God’s grace I am transformed.
I am Catholic because i believe. I believe those words of the creed that we will profess together in just a few moments. Within the creed is our testament of faith that countless men, women and children have given their lives for. We acclaim this proudly in the Sacrament of Baptism: “This is our faith. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I am Catholic because i believe that we can always be better than we are; and no Deacon, Priest, Bishop or Cardinal can ever take that away from us.
I am Catholic because I know that I am fallible and I struggle on my faith journey; but I know that I am not alone.
I am Catholic because the horrible sins of a few cannot erase the generous love of so many. It has been this way from day one, when Christ was executed between two thieves, those He loved abandoned, denied and betrayed Him.
I am Catholic because so many who love the Lord have neither abandoned nor betrayed Him.
Most shepherds within our church do not run at the first sight of danger and they are neither disloyal nor cowardly. They stay with us. They support us. They help us.
Pray with them.
Walk with them.
Hope with them.
Today, in a special way, pray for our pastor Father Donahue, Father Callahan, Father Sam and Father Denny who celebrate mass with us everyday. Pray that their priesthood will never lose heart.
Within our church, we are experiencing stressful times and things may get worse before they get better. But they will get better.
I am reminded of the beautiful Psalm, “The hand of the lord feeds us. He answers all of our needs.”
The one who fed the multitude on a hillside feeds us still, here and now. The God, who preserves even the smallest fragments and sees that nothing goes to waste, will nourish us in this time of need.
Please know that.
Please trust that.
Please believe that.
‘We are Catholic’ despite everything and because of everything.
“This is our faith. And we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”