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Fr. Glenn: Free To Be Whom We Will To Be

on October 8, 2017 - 8:16am
By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

The Las Vegas shooting, of course, dominated the news this week, as tragedies often do. Remembering that massacre, it’s timely that the Gospel that we read at our Catholic Mass this weekend is the parable of the vineyard owner and the rebellious tenants (Matthew 21:33-43). One very poignant verse in that Gospel passage comes when the owner had finished preparing his vineyard, and “…he leased it to tenants and went on a journey”—a seemingly almost offhand remark, but it speaks volumes about our world.

As we think about Las Vegas, terrorism, wars, etc., one might think that parable phrase might rather be: “He left the patients in charge of the asylum, and went on a journey.” At least those in asylum might have an excuse; most of us left to our own devices—our free will—have none, as we often default to our baser nature … a nature so thinly veiled with societal and religious mores. When the gossamer fabric of “civilization” is ripped away, the animalistic nature within is set we saw in Las Vegas, in Orlando, in Man’s inhumanity to Man around the world.

Oh, that awesome—and yet terrible—gift of free will.  To choose the good…or not. We are faced with myriad choices each day, each entailing choosing—or rejecting—the good. Choosing the good in itself often entails the voluntary and loving choice of suffering over comfort … of personal disadvantage over gain. Of self-sacrifice for the good of the other.

The saints preferred God and their fellow man over themselves; that’s the very reason they are considered saints. A somewhat recent example is that of St. Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish priest imprisoned at Auschwitz in World War II. One day several men were chosen to die by starvation to warn against escapes, and while Father Kolbe was not chosen, he nonetheless volunteered to take the place of a man with a family. He was the last of that group to remain alive, and after two weeks of dehydration and starvation, he was given a lethal injection to clear his cell for other prisoners.

Why did Fr. Kolbe step forward? He could have continued to survive perhaps even the entire war in relative obscurity. But the pursuit of obscurity, anonymity and comfort is often the enemy of—or at least an obstacle to—the good.

How many stories did we see of heroism at the Las Vegas shooting—persons running into danger to help the wounded, shielding persons with their bodies, working to exhaustion to get the injured to medical aid? We saw the same type of self-sacrifice of time, comfort, funds, etc., during the hurricanes, during the Orlando shooting, the Boston bombing, certainly during 9/11, and with every other tragedy. These persons could have fled and nobody would have been the wiser, and yet they chose danger over safety, hardship over comfort and self-sacrifice over personal enrichment … all in preference to the greater good. This is why do we honor the policeman, the fireman, the soldier … not because they choose the easy and safe road, but rather because they choose to put themselves in harm’s way for others.

The choice of the good of others over self is the choice of Jesus Himself, who chose death on a cross in order to offer salvation to all men and women. St. Paul was such a one who gave his all for God and neighbor, enduring severe hardships for decades to spread the Gospel—the Good—to the world, and yet wrote resolutely: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us…” (Romans 5:3-5)…for he held before his mind’s eye the eternity for which we hope, declaring with the assurance which hope provides:  “We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So…we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:7-9)

In the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” the hero Balian warns a monk riding off to war, “You go to certain death,”… to which the wise monk replies: “All death is certain.” Death is certain … inevitable … and thus our time to do virtue brief. We know not when death will come, whether with time or tragedy, so let us exercise courage, trust and selflessness in our relationships with God and with others to do the good. How find such courage? St. Thomas Aquinas writes that both virtue and vice are habit, and each becomes easier and more automatic as they are practiced. And one thing the Christian always remembers: Jesus assures us that He came to serve and not to be served; we as His disciples are thus called to the same.