Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless all!
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
October 17/18, 2010
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1Thes 1:1-5b; Matt 22:15-21
“I am the Lord; there is no other. I have called you by name, giving you a title…. though you knew me not.” (Is 45:4) “It is I who arm you so that from the rising to the setting of the sun, people may know that there is no one besides me.” (Is 45:4-6)
Even before we were born, God called us by name and equipped each of us for a noble purpose and a special task even if it isn’t always clear to us. Every human life, regardless of circumstances, has been given a unique purpose for living.
The dignity of every human life! Yes, the dignity of your life, however you may find yourself, however insignificant you may think you are, however modest your circumstances. God has a plan for you and whatever it may be, it must shine into the world today.
I would like to retell a story I shared with you many years past.
The year was 1918 toward the end of the First World War. The location was aboard the USS George Washington, a troop carrier, sailing to France in the mid-Atlantic. The people involved were a lowly seaman named Byron Bickell, and the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. Seaman Bickell was on sentry duty late one night, making his rounds topside. The captain of the ship was very worried about German U-boats, not only because of the all the troops aboard, but because he was carrying the president to France who was to begin peace negotiations between the Allies and Germany. So he had issued orders that night: there were to be no lights on above the waterline. (For, you see, even the smallest of lights can be seen for 10 miles on the open sea.) So Seaman Bickell was vigilant. The president couldn’t sleep that night as he was prone to headaches, so he came out on deck, and, as was his habit, he reached into his coat pocket, took out a cigar and lit it. A big red glow was at the end of that cigar. Seaman Bickell saw the lighted cigar, but didn’t recognize who had lit it. So he approached the man closely and was shocked to see it was the president. Remembering his orders, he summoned his courage and went up to President Wilson, and said, “Sir, throw that cigar overboard!” Startled, the president responded, “What?” “Sir, throw that cigar overboard!” repeated Seaman Bickell. After a moment’s hesitation, the president flicked the cigar into the sea.
This is a true story. Byron Bickell was my grandfather. He told me this story when I was a child. He said it was the last time in American military history that an enlisted man gave a direct order to the Commander-in-Chief, and was obeyed.
With all due respect to my grandfather, I say to you, “Do not throw your light, your life, or the life of any human being overboard. Shine! Break into the darkness!” St Paul says, “You were chosen.” (1Thes 1:4) He goes on to say, “Shine like lights in the world!” (Philippians 2:15d) Every human being is meant to live. So also are you. I beg you, become beacons of life and of hope in a divided conflicted world, an increasingly inhuman world dominated by self-interest, technology, and isolation. Certainly, we all agree our world is divided and people are more isolated than ever, and the human person is diminished in respect and value. We speak of acceptance, tolerance, and mutual respect, but too often live lives of separation, anger, and division. Our world desperately seeks lights of unity and peace, of mutual respect and love.
You have been chosen by God to be the answer to the questions many now have about the dignity of human life.
We must ask ourselves: “What will make us a light to the world? What will the world accept as an answer to its questions? What will make sense to the modern world?”
The answer is love, for God is love. Yes, only love for life will satisfy the hearts of people, nothing else in the long run. No other explanation will suffice. Only love for life will be recognized and accepted in our world: love for each other, love for ourselves, love for God, and love for his people, the Church. Love for each human life, not just those deemed worthy of life. You see, love is the mind of Christ. Love is the light Christians must bring to the world.
To love an unborn child means to choose what is best for the child. To love a dependent elderly person is to choose what is best for him or her. To love the chronically ill or the stranger means to choose what is best for them. Yes, to love the convicted criminal is to choose what is best for them too. Will we choose life for these people, like Jesus did? Will we respect human life from conception to natural death?
Shine like a light in our world today! Even if you are only a flicker, shine nonetheless! Only a small light is needed to break into the darkness of our world. St. Columbanus once wrote, “…O my Jesus, give your light to my lamp…. Light our lamps and may they always shine and be renewed by you who are the eternal light.”
Do not throw your light overboard! Let it shine. The light you bring to a certain situation may be the very reason that God loved you into life.