Tuesday, May 2, 2023

A Living Church: The Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine

Our minivan chugged down the interstate and I gasped as the twin belltowers came into view: we were nearing the newly dedicated shrine to Blessed Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma farm boy who became a Catholic priest and martyr in 1980s Guatemala. Cries of joy and excitement rang out in the vehicle. After months of anticipation, we were finally here to explore the shrine and attend daily Mass as a family. My eyes began to well up with tears, and only continued to do so as we stepped onto that holy ground. The buildings and grounds were lovely, and the weather was gorgeous, but what choked me up the most was the experience of simply being there: The shrine felt alive!

There were people strolling across the plaza, people walking up the Tepeyac hill replica, people in the pilgrim center and its museum. People moved through the main church in prayer and awe before packing the chapel for daily Mass. 

In the ensuing months, my children and I have continued to visit regularly, and I am still struck by the life here. Even on days when we do not see huge numbers of people, there is still a unique vitality to the Blessed Stanley Rother shrine. From a married couple from South Carolina to Dominican sisters from Texas to the local families and individual people from the Oklahoma City area and the ever-present geese that wander the grounds, there is a sense of joyful renewal in this place.

I have lived in the Oklahoma City area for the past several years, and it is a gift that we have accessible, frequent liturgies here. Yet, even with daily Masses spread throughout the metro, many Catholic parishes feel somewhat dead during the day. 

The church buildings are locked and the offices are quiet, almost tomb-like. Simply entering a church to pray before Christ during the week is a difficult, if not impossible, feat at some churches. While we may encounter a familiar face at our parish or at the Pastoral Center, where the archdiocesan offices are located, people often are busily on their way somewhere—a meeting, lunch, various other activities. 

But here, at the Blessed Stanley Rother shrine, we see people milling around in small groups, visiting and praying. Children bound towards the fountain with laughter. A family strides up Tepeyac hill, a fresh bouquet of flowers in hand, to place before the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The sacramental grace flows freely and Jesus Christ is present in the Tabernacle and in the monstrance, which is placed on the altar each afternoon.

God is here, and we come.

We come as pilgrims, seeking divine help as we hold onto God in this broken world. We bring our sorrow, joy, exhaustion, and determination. We bring our petitions and prayers of thanksgiving. We bring our babies and toddlers and elderly brothers and sisters in Christ. We bring everything that we have and are as we worship God in this place, and we come to ask Blessed Stanley to pray for us on our journey. We come from near and far, as the Mystical Body of Christ.

I hope that those who come to this shrine will let themselves be impacted by the grace of the sacraments here and by the peace of this place. I hope that we will let God change us through our pilgrimages, regardless of whether they are daily, weekly, or only happen once or twice. I hope that we are open to bringing this grace and change from God to our families, workplaces, parishes, and communities, to that we can actively build God’s kingdom. The Blessed Stanley Rother shrine is filled with God’s life, and that life should not be contained to a patch of ground next to the interstate.

Let’s allow God’s life to flow in us, and to flow out of us. Let’s allow God to work in our lives, even when it makes us uncomfortable. And let’s continue to look to the life and example of the Shepherd who did not run from his flock.

Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us!

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