Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, the common theme of the Scripture passages is that of “forgiveness.” Not only do the passages talk about how God forgives us, but they also show that we are to imitate God by forgiving others.
In the reading from Sirach, for example, we hear how wrath and anger are hateful things. Unfortunately, the sinner hugs wrath and anger tightly. The Scripture, however, says,
The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the Lord?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
Remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
Remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults (Sirach 27: 20; 28: 1-4, 6-7).
Forgiving others is a difficult Christian commandment. Perhaps that is why there have been no politicians in our nation clamoring to engrave it on a stone or hang it up in a courthouse. But, it is a Christian commandment none the less, and one which catechists strive to teach in their faith formation classes.
Today we look at a Catholic catechist who not only taught students the Faith, but he lived it in a very dramatic way. His name was Peter To Rot (pronounced Toe Rote).
Peter, third of six children, was born around 1912 in New Pomeranian, New Guinea. His father, Angelo, was the chief of the village, and his mother was Maria. Both Angelo and Maria had become Catholic Christians in 1898, and they were very devout people.
Peter was Angelo’s favorite child, and he tried to groom him as a leader. When Peter was seven years old, Angelo sent Peter to school even though school was not required in those days. Peter was a very capable student, and he was always ready to help those in need. For example, he was known for climbing coconut trees to obtain coconuts for elderly people who could not do so.
When he was 18 years old, the parish priest, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart, asked Angelo if Peter could study to become a priest. Angelo, however, said that it was too soon in history for a native of New Guinea to become a priest. Angelo did agree to let Peter study to become a catechist, so Peter went to Catechist School in Taliligap that the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart ran.
After his third year in catechist school, Peter returned to his town of Rakunai and, at age 21, became the youngest catechist. He not only taught in the parish school, but he also visited and prayed with the sick.
When he was 24 years old, he married a woman named Paula, and together they produced two children.
In January 1942, war came to New Guinea, and Japanese landed on the island where Peter and Paula lived. The soldiers sent the missionary priests to a prison camp. Before leaving, Peter’s parish priest told Peter, “I am leaving all my work here in your hands. Look after these people well. Help them, so they don’t forget about God.”
Peter did just as the priest instructed. He visited the sick, prayed with the dying, taught the children and adults, and encouraged those who were frightened of the war.
Peter also gathered the people in one place each day for prayer. However, as the bombings increased, he realized it was too dangerous to have people all in one place. Therefore, he established small groups that would meet in different places to pray and support each other.
Unfortunately, Japanese spies learned that Peter was continuing to lead the people in prayer, and he was imprisoned. On July 7, 1945, when he was 32 or 33 years old, the Japanese occupiers killed Peter. Before his death, however, Peter told the village chief to take care of the people. And to another friend, he said, “If it is God’s will, I’ll be murdered for the faith. I am a child of the church and therefore for the church I will die.”
Pope St. John Paul II beatified Peter To Rot on January 17, 1995 in Papua New Guinea. Blessed Peter To Rot’s feast day is July 7th.
In the United States every fall, we celebrate the work of catechists like Blessed Peter To Rot and give thanks for the thousands of people who devote their time and talents to teaching the Catholic Christian faith to children, youth, and adults.
And today, we especially remember one of the key elements of our faith that catechists throughout the world pass along to others: we must forgive those who harm us, for only when we forgive, can we expect forgiveness.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
- “Bl. Peter To Rot.” Catholic Online – Saints & Angels, no date.
- Contributors to Wikipedia. “Peter To Rot.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 1 June 2017.