Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Often this is called Good Shepherd Sunday because of today’s Gospel selection from St. John.
In this Gospel, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who knows his sheep, and they know him. As Jesus points out, the sheep will follow the shepherd because they know his voice, but they will run away from strangers.
In the end of this passage, Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly’” (John 10: 7-10).
The Catholic Church, appropriately enough, celebrates this day as World Day of Prayer for Vocations. And although the Church recognizes that all vocations are noble and sacred, the special emphasis of this particular day is on vocations to the priesthood and also to the diaconate and the consecrated life. The purpose of this day is to publically fulfill Jesus’ instruction to “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9: 38; Luke 10: 2).
This homily focused on the ordained priesthood, for without it, Catholic Christians would not able to experience the “source and summit” of our spirituality, that is, the Eucharist (Mass).
Today I present one priest who lived a very holy priesthood and was a champion of the servant-leader model of priesthood that Jesus called for at the Last Supper.
Rutilio Grande, more commonly called “Tilo” by others, was born in the rural village of El Paisnal in El Salvador. His parents were poor farmers.
Tilo’s grandmother and older brother raised him in the pre-Vatican II Church, where people were taught that God ordained poverty and suffering in this world, and that the poor should embrace and accept this.
When he was 12 years old, Tilo entered the seminary in San Salvador. But toward the end of his formation to become a Jesuit priest, the Second Vatican Council happened. This Council emphasized the dignity of all persons, especially the poor. Further, it called on priests to return to the ancient Church in which priests were to be part of the people, to be servant-leaders as Jesus taught.
Fr. Grande bought into the ancient model called for by the Second Vatican Council’s Church Fathers one hundred percent.
As a young priest, Fr. Tilo was assigned to work with seminarians in San Salvador. His first action was to assign the seminarians to live in desperately poor communities during their summer vacations so they would know what difficulties the poor endured.
After teaching in the seminary, Fr. Tilo was sent to Quito, Ecuador to the Institute for Pastoral Ministry sponsored by the bishops of Latin America. There, he learned how to organize the poor communities that were oppressed. There, he learned how to teach the poor something they had never been taught, that is, that is was not God’s will that they should be poor and powerless.
At the time Fr. Tilo served as a parish priest, El Salvador suffered from deep inequality, poverty, and civil unrest. Less then one percent of the population controlled the wealth and power of the nation. Half of the children died under the age of five. Often workers on plantations were only paid one tortilla per day for their work.
Fr. Rutilio championed the poor and led them to fight for the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. He challenged the abuses of the military, government, and rich landowners. Needless to say, he made many enemies. So, on March 12, 1977, at the age of 48, government death squads, on behalf of wealthy landowners, assassinated him and two campesinos who were with him in the town of Aguilares. This town was near his birthplace.
His good friend, Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, came to the town where he encountered the bodies of Rutilio and his two companions. Fr. Rutilio Grande’s martyrdom touched the archbishop to the core, and from that day on, Archbishop Oscar Romero – now known as Blessed Oscar Romero – became a champion of the poor and marginalized of society. And like his friend Tilo, he too would eventually be martyred.
After the beatification ceremony of Oscar Romero, Pope Francis was heard to say, “Next comes Rutilio.” The Society of Jesus is currently taking the lead in the canonization process of Fr. Rutilio Grande.
From the Scripture and from Fr. Rutilio Grande’s life, we can glean many things. Here are just three.
First, God has a plan for every human being. As Christians, our primary vocation or call is to be a Christian. That involves living the life of a Christian by following the triple love command of Jesus.
Second, in addition to our general call to be Christians, each of us has one or more calls at different parts of our lives. These calls involve relationships with others, occupation, and the like.
Third, we are all called to do the best we can with the gifts we have.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we are responding to God’s call in our lives.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2017.
Story source: Thomas M. Kelly, “A Priest With His People,” America, June 6-13, 2016.