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So Much More

If you’ve ever looked into cancer research, you’ve probably heard of the molecule p53. For decades, it has been touted as the holy grail of finding a cure for most cancers. When the DNA in a cell becomes damaged by agents such as toxic chemicals, radiation, or ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight, this protein plays a critical role in determining whether the DNA will be repaired or the damaged cell will self-destruct. If the DNA can be repaired, p53 gets the damage fixed. If not, it prevents the cell from dividing and signals cell death. By stopping cells with mutated or damaged DNA from dividing, p53 helps prevent the development of tumors.

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Since the 1970s, we’ve thought that if we could just fully understand how p53 works and what happens when it doesn’t work (and tumors begin to grow) then we could cure all types of cancer! Unfortunately, as you’ve probably guessed by cancer still being a thing, it was not that simple. The p53 protein turned out to be extremely complex.

Almost 20 years ago (2002), it was shown that 80% of p53 mutations in cancer were found in the DNA binding domain, which makes sense because 10 years before that (1992) transcriptional regulation through DNA binding was shown to be its main function. Transcription is when the information of the DNA is copied to messenger RNA so that it can be sent out telling proteins how to be made and what to do. In this one duty of regulating transcription, it targets OVER 125 DIFFERENT REGIONS of DNA. That’s a lot of different tasks p53 has to deal with. All of those jobs, though, fall under one role, transcriptional co-activation. But since 2002 p53 has also been found to function in transcriptional repression, regulation of translation, homologous recombination, and the induction of a transcription-independent apoptotic response. If a protein could wear hats, this one wears many of them.

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Growing up in Kansas, I learned very early that farmers, like p53, also wear many hats. (figuratively and literally) When working and living on a farm, no matter what crop or livestock you have, there are so many different jobs to do! The Rother’s family farm in Okarche, Oklahoma was no different. On their 560 acres they grew winter wheat, oats, barley, and alfalfa, and raised 30-head of Angus cattle. All of those things have different needs that the farmers have to be attentive to and give time to.

The Rother family life not only consisted of working on the farm, but they tried to center everything they did around God and their Catholic faith. This made quite an impression on their son Stanley who decided at a young age he was called to be a priest and finally became one in 1963.

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It was around this time that Vatican II was happening on the other side of the world. Pope John XXIII made missionary activity and evangelization a priority of this council through the decree Ad gentes. The Oklahoma City diocese listened to this call and sent a number of missionaries to foreign lands, especially Central America. Fr. Rother was one of them and was sent to Guatemala in 1968.

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While there, a lot was asked of Fr. Rother, he had to say as many as five Masses in four different locations on any given Sunday, and he performed as many as 1,000 baptisms a year. Luckily his farming background had trained him for being able to deal with so many different things. Working in a small community, he also brought a hard-working attitude and many other useful skills from Oklahoma. In his time there he helped fix broken trucks and work the fields. He built a farmers’ co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station for the community. Unfortunately, although loved by his congregation, at that time Guatemala was in the middle of a vicious civil war and Rother became a casualty of it. A martyr for the faith, staying in a dangerous area to serve his people, Fr. Stanley Rother was beatified in 2017.

I love reading about Fr. Rother’s story, not only for his courage and his great quote of “The shepherd cannot run from the first sign of danger.”, but because it shows him as a complex human being. Yes, he was a priest, but he was also a farmer and a handyman, and had a real love for his community.

I feel like all too often we distance ourselves from our priests, seeing them as some sort of sacrament vending machine. When we do this we can forget to see them as a person. We are robbing them of the completeness of their human dignity. Unfortunately I’ve heard a lot of people complain about priests who have other hobbies, saying that it takes them away from their ability to serve completely. I find it to be quite the opposite. When we see these men as real human beings and not just statues with no feelings, they are more relatable. Maybe your priest loves video games, that might not be relatable to you, but I guarantee there are people in your parish that love that about him, and it brings them closer to the priest and the church.

At this point it is the end of July and almost all of the priest transfers have been made. You might have a new priest, you might have lost a priest, you might still have your old priest but wish you had a new priest. Whatever your situation, I invite you to get to know the priest(s) you have. Every single one of them is a complex human being with other things in their lives. They have hopes and dreams, friends and families, hobbies and pasttimes. Find out who they are! Invite them over for dinner and get to know what they enjoy outside of sacraments. Maybe it’ll be something you like too, like reading, hiking, or science. Even if it is not, it is good to know more about them. It will better inform your view of them and help you to better receive the message and the leadership that they have to offer you and your community.

Let us all be thankful for the priests we’ve had, celebrate the priests we currently have, and pray for vocations to priesthood in the future. And on his feast day, Blessed Fr. Stanley Rother, pray for us.