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Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (2)
In many ways, Nicholas Green was an ordinary seven-year-old boy, but he became a source of life for seven people and a beacon of inspiration for the world. Nicholas was born on New Year’s Eve 1986, a new bundle of joy to greet the New Year. Along with his baby sister, Eleanor, and his parents, he enjoyed life and all the fun associated with being a child. With the help of his mother, Maggie, he read all seven books of C. S. Lewis’ epic The Chronicles of Narnia. He loved to role play and considered himself a perfect Saint George, pointing out to his parents that he was half English. However, as his parents would often say, he fit the model of Saint George more because he always wanted to do what was right.
When Nicholas was seven years old his family took a vacation to Europe. Among many places they visited was the beautiful Swiss Alps where a family photograph captured Nicholas in front of the fabled Matterhorn. Four days later the family was in Italy sightseeing like so many other American tourists. The date was September 29, 1994. As Nicholas’ father was driving a rental car, a band of robbers approached in a daring robbery attempt. In the process, Nicholas was shot in the head. He was rushed to the hospital and after a short amount of time the doctors told his parents that the boy could not survive. He remained in a coma for two days, but the doctors told his parents that Nicholas was brain-dead.
Although the shock and the trauma of the recent days’ events could not be calculated, Nicholas’ parents asked that their son’s vital organs be transplanted into needy individuals. At the time, organ donation was a rare event in Italy. Thus, Nicholas’ heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and corneas were used to bring new life to seven Italians, including several children who were near death. The resulting dramatic increase in organ donations in Italy has now been called “the Nicholas effect.” In a very real way, Nicholas Green brought new life to several people, but the broader effect of his life and the decision of his parents to share that life with others might be incalculable.
The story of Nicholas and his ability to give new life in multiple ways to several people is truly inspiring. The selfless act of grieving parents who had lost their son was a true act of charity and love. More directly their decision to utilize Nicholas to assist others shows how new life can come in the midst of death and darkness. Thus, this heartwarming story serves as an excellent illustration of Saint Paul’s message to the Corinthians in today’s lesson — that Christ is the one who conquers death and brings new life. We can be confident that Jesus will bring new life to us. We, in turn, must do what we can, in our limited and finite ways, to bring new life to others.
In today’s lesson, Paul continues his basic resurrection theme that he has expressed throughout the whole of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15. We first heard of the resurrection of Christ. We were taught that Jesus’ death and resurrection was a supreme sacrifice of love for us. As Christ so sacrificed for us, so must we be willing to sacrifice ourselves, our material possessions, personal needs, and opportunities for the betterment of all. In this way we build the kingdom of God in our world. We were challenged to see the new life Jesus can give us and how we must adequately and properly prepare for this great event. The résumés for life today and for eternal life tomorrow are very difficult. We must spend as much time if not more on the latter if we are to find God at the end of our days. Today Paul concludes his message of new life by saying Jesus is the one who brings victory over death, transforming the perishable into the imperishable, mortal into immortal. As Paul says, God gives us victory through Jesus Christ.
Paul speaks of the new reality we will find at the resurrection of the dead. At the sound of God’s command the dead will rise. As Nicholas gave new life to so many, so Christ will transform what is mortal and perishable about us into the immortality of God. Death will have no power; death will be vanquished. God’s victory will prevail. The sting of death, namely sin, will be routed by God. Sin and death will no longer have power over us.
Paul concludes by saying that people must be steadfast in the Lord. If we remain faithful to God’s command, our labor will not be in vain. Rather, to the contrary, we will move forward in our common efforts to build God’s kingdom in our world.
Transforming hopeless situations into ones that find and generate life is not always easy, but there is ample evidence that such events have happened numerous times. Nicholas’ story is rather dramatic in that through death he brought victory to so many. He made the impossible possible for others. History presents us with numerous examples of life and victory springing from the clutches of defeat and death. In the history of warfare this is certainly true. How was it in 480 BCE that a vastly inferior force of some 300 Spartans and about 1,000 other allies was able to hold off the entire Persian army at Thermopylae?
While the Persians eventually won the battle, the courage of the Greeks, the casualties they inflicted upon the Persians, and most importantly the time the battle consumed, afforded the Greeks time to consolidate their forces in order to win a decisive naval battle at Salamis. This brought Greece victory in the Greco-Persian War and halted the expansion of the Persian empire into Europe. How was it that the upstart American colonies with a ragtag group of soldiers and without sufficient supplies and divided loyalties among their people were able to defeat the finest military force in the world at the time? I’m sure that most common folks at the time felt the effort was futile. Yet, the colonists rallied behind their leaders and after eight long years of war managed to defeat the British.
There have been some famous political victories that also probably seemed impossible. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was basically an unknown person on the national political scene. All of his rivals in the quest for the Republican presidential nomination were better known and generally speaking eminently more qualified than he: New York Senator William B. Seward, Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates, a distinguished elder statesman from Missouri. Yet through some excellent politicking and a sense of determination, not only did Lincoln win the nomination but the White House when the Democrats split their votes between two men (John C. Breckenridge and Stephen Douglas) and a third-party candidate, John Bell. In more recent memory the pollsters and the American populace in general gave Harry Truman no chance at all in 1948. Most were calling New York Governor Thomas Dewey the winner long before the voting even commenced. However, when people awoke to Truman’s upset victory many thought the impossible had been made possible.
Sports also provides some important and improbable wins. In 1986, the New York Mets seemingly had no chance to win the World Series. Down three games to two and behind by five runs in the ninth inning, the end looked near. But an error by Boston Red Sox first baseman, Bill Buckner, gave New York new life. They won the game and the deciding seventh game; they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. In a reverse role in 2004, the Red Sox were down three games to none to the New York Yankees in the American League championship series. Playing at home to close out the series, the Yankees looked like a shoe-in, but the Red Sox never gave up. Not only did they win four straight against the Yankees but continued their winning ways with a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals and their first World Series in 86 years. The infamous “Curse of the Bambino” had been broken.
We will face many difficult challenges in our lives, tasks that may seem to be impossible missions. In the journey of our working days we will face trying situations. We may face obstacles that will not allow us to work as we want. Coercion, threat, or the temptation of reward may “force” us to do things in a manner that we know might hurt or ill-effect another. We may be required to relocate in order to stay with the company or worse still our job might be lost. At such times we wonder what we will do and what the future will hold. Families experience many difficult challenges. Some people are asked to walk the road of ill-health with a spouse, child, sister, brother, or another relative. Tough love may be required in our relationship with one who suffers from addiction. Many people must suffer the pain of observing a loved one reject God and the church and opt for the things of the world.
All of us will one day face the death of one close to us. The church will also bring us challenges. We pray fervently to God for our needs, yet our prayers are not answered in the way or time that we want; we might even feel God has abandoned us. Sometimes we lose sight of the road; we move off the track or even reverse course in our journey to God.
We will experience difficult times in our lives, with our jobs, our families, and the church, challenges that may seem to be impossible missions. But if we, like Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and Jesus, can persevere and continue on the road, then God will recognize and reward our efforts. The task will not be easy; the road to God has pitfalls and obstacles. Saint Paul advised his friend, Timothy, of this reality, “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8). But he also assured him, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12).
We must constantly reevaluate our lives and renew our determination to walk the journey of life, which one day will lead to union with God. It will not be an easy journey, if taken seriously, but it is the only path that will one day lead to eternal life. Let us, therefore, walk the road; let us take on what seems to be mission impossible. Certainly the parents of Nicholas Green had no desire to walk the road that came their way, but they realized their son could give new life to so many and thus, despite their grief, made a courageous decision. In a similar way, God will strengthen us, reward our efforts, and use us to complete his work on earth. Let us follow the lead of Jesus. If we can, our reward in heaven will be great.
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
Some of you might like to watch quiz shows on television. The contestants are asked questions and win prizes if they give the right answer. Asking questions can be fun. Suppose I had a prize this morning for the person who could list all Ten Commandments, would you win? I wonder how many adults would win that prize?
Actually I have a prize for each of you. I am going to give it to you just to think about a question. It is a sad question. It is a question Jesus once asked his followers: “Why do you call me Lord and not do what I tell you?” That is a hard question. Why do people say they love Jesus and then tell things that aren’t true? Why do people say they love Jesus and try to hurt other people? If we love Jesus, we always try to do the right thing, don’t we? Sometimes we goof. None of us is perfect, but if we love Jesus we try to be the kind of person he would want us to be, don’t we?
Author Tim Storey tells a great story about how easy it is to rush to pass judgement on others. Tim pulled up in front of his neighborhood barber shop and parked. As he fished around for his wallet, he felt the sickening crunch of metal hitting metal. Somebody hit his car! What an idiot! But when he jumped out to look, Tim didn’t see anyone. As he was muttering under his breath about stupid drivers, a little old lady came out of the barber shop and announced, “I saw the whole thing.” Turns out, he was the stupid driver. Instead of putting his car in park, Tim had accidentally shifted it into reverse. No one had hit him; he had backed into the car behind him.
“Can a blind man act as a guide to a blind man. Will they not both fall into a ditch?”
People cannot teach until they have learned. This is true in every aspect of life, but particularly in the Church. In the Catholic Church we are blessed with a teaching authority. This authority is often given the Latin word for teacher and called the magisterium. The magisterium consists in the Pope, the Bishops, theologians and consultants. The duty of the magisterium is to set the course for us to relate our faith and morals to the evolving times. We take this for granted because most of us have always been Catholic and have always had the body of our faith presented in a rather neat package. But dogmatic statements didn’t just happen. They evolved over many centuries as the Church continues to grow in its understanding of itself.
The magisterium does not just exist among the hierarchy. It also exists in the home among the confirmed. Those who have received the sacrament of confirmation have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to grow in their understanding of the faith. When, as all human beings, we have times of doubt, or times that we have difficulty understanding what we believe or why we believe, we have to go to books and knowledgeable people in the area. We also have to go to our knees and pray to Holy Spirit to help us grow in faith. The blind cannot lead the blind. That is why we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. That is why we have the magisterium.
It’s so easy to pass judgement without all the facts, isn’t it? The other guy is the stupid driver. Jesus could have just as well been talking to us when he said, “Why do you worry about the speck that is in your neighbor’s eye, but pay no attention to the 2″ x 4″ protruding from your own eye?” (Paraphrase) We all do it, don’t we? We look for flaws in others and ignore our own. Actually, that is not too surprising.
Psychologist might restate this statement in these terms: we tend to transfer our irritation over our own failings to others. So we decry another person’s faults as a way of hiding our own. The Lord was quite a psychologist when he said, “First deal with your own faults.” When we go through those negative days when everything other people do irritates us, we have to take a step back and consider what we are doing that upsets others, and, even more, what we are doing that upsets ourselves.
It is so easy to criticize, so easy to judge. But we don’t know the other person’s circumstances or expectations. We don’t know the burdens that they carry. But God knows. He knows the road that each one of us has traveled. Also, God has two vitally important attributes that we don’t have: perfect holiness and perfect love. All of God’s judgements are filtered through His holiness and His love for us. Our judgements are stained by feelings of revenge, self-righteousness, anger, contempt, jealousy. God doesn’t have that problem. No matter what we have done in life, God continues to love us. No sin can shock Him. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
A woman who was dying of AIDS summoned a chaplain to comfort her. Her emotional pain was as real as her physical pain. Everything seemed hopeless. “I’m lost,” she said, “I’ve ruined my life and every life around me. I’m headed for hell. There’s no hope for me.” The chaplain saw a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dresser. “Who is that?” he asked. The woman brightened, “She’s my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life.” “Would you help her if she was in trouble, no matter how many mistakes she’d made? Would you forgive her if she asked you to? Would you still love her, no matter what?” “Of course I would,” the woman exclaimed. “Why would you even ask a question like that?” “Because I want you to understand,” explained the minister, “That God has a picture of you on His dresser too.”
This passage contains a warning: we are imperfect judges. Then, it contains a note of hope: only God, who loves us, can properly judge us.
“A good tree does not produce decayed fruit any more than a decayed tree produces good fruit. Each tree is known by its yield.”
The final statement is that each tree is known by its fruit. When a person does good things, we know this is a good person. When a person is continually stirring up trouble, we know that this person is troubled. The fruit reveals the person. In the same way, it is not enough for us to say we are saved and then live as pagans. Our actions must reflect God’s gift to us. If they don’t, then we are in fact rejecting his grace. Yes, we always depend upon the mercy of God, but we have to respond to this mercy by doing our best to live the Christian life. If we don’t than our fruits, our actions will demonstrate the insincerity of our conversion.
GOD JUDGES OUR INWARD ATTITUDE JUST AS MUCH AS OUR OUTWARD ACTIONS. Uh-oh. To the rest of the world, we may look like paragons of virtue. By our actions, we may appear holy enough to walk on water. But God doesn’t just judge us by our actions; our thoughts and attitudes are equally important in His sight.
Nothing can make up for a heart full of hate. In order to live a life that is pleasing to God, it is essential to get our heart and our actions in perfect alignment. When our car’s wheels get out of alignment, we start to notice a little shimmy in the car. A little extra vibration. At first, it’s just a little distracting. But if we don’t take the car in and get it fixed, that little shimmy will soon turn into a big problem. If we want the wheels to be aligned properly, we must turn the car over to a good mechanic and let him or her work on it. And it’s the same way with our heart. We can’t purify our hearts on our own; we do not have the capacity for holiness within ourselves. We must turn our hearts over to God and let His Holy Spirit work in us.
A guilty man was to be sentenced. The man’s mother, a poor widow, wrote a letter to Judge Lowrey, asking him to overturn the judgement and forget the fine. She explained that her son was broke and unemployed; it would fall on her shoulders to pay his fine. The financial burden was more than she could bear.
With tears in his eyes, the judge signed the docket which sealed the poor man’s fate and adjourned the court. To remit the fine would violate his oath to uphold the law, and justice would suffer for the sake of mercy. But when the judge wrote back to the widow, he enclosed with his letter a personal check to cover both the fine and court costs. Concluding his letter, he said, “I send this check with joy because it gives me the opportunity to be both merciful and just.”
That is the kind of judge God is. He is the perfect judge, both merciful and just. All of God’s judgements are filtered through His perfect holiness and His perfect love. Why are we commanded not to judge one another? Because we’re no good at playing God. Until we can love as God loves, then we cannot judge as God judges. But let us strive every day toward greater holiness and greater love, so that our own thoughts and actions will be acceptable in God’s sight.
This Wednesday Lent begins. I need this Lent. Perhaps you do too. Lent is a time for us to grow in our faith life, let the magisterium and Holy Spirit guide us. Lent is a time for us to look into ourselves. How is the upset we have with others a reflection of our own faults? Lent is a time to consider our living of the Christian life. Do our actions demonstrate Christ’s continuing conversion in our lives?
May you and I allow God to take control of every aspect of our lives.