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November 11, 2018

November 11th, in the United States, is the day on which we celebrate Veterans Day.  On this day, we honor all those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.  It is celebrated today because on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in 1918, the armistice that ended the First World War went into effect.  It was celebrated as Armistice Day here in the U.S. until 1954, when the holiday was renamed “Veterans Day.”

In his address to the nation in 1919, to commemorate the anniversary of the conclusion of the ”Great War,” President Woodrow Wilson touched on some interesting themes with which I find some parallels with the Christian gospel.  He spoke of how the nation “With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns” was able to rally to a single purpose and so express its material and moral strength in witness of the freedom so cherished by our citizens.  He spoke of this strength underpinning the suffering and sacrifice that people endured for the higher moral good.  He went on to observe that the strength of the individual nation was amplified and enhanced when nations cooperated together in the sharing of their strength.  He highlighted the incredible potential that could be achieved by nations acting together in concert, a potential that could only be dreamed of by nations acting alone.

In our gospel today, we see the “widow’s might” being lifted up by Jesus as an example for all those who would be his disciples.  She gives to the common collection “from her poverty.”  She is making an incredible sacrifice for something bigger than herself and for which she is willing to do without.  She doesn’t offer her leftovers.  She doesn’t give of her largesse. She gives everything she has, she gives of her very livelihood.  She puts herself on the line for the greater good.  And her offering wasn’t all that much.  In fact, her offering was a pittance: “two small coins worth a few cents.”  This is a reminder to all of us to be attentive to the quality of what we give of ourselves.

I highlight this value, not only because it speaks of how we make contributions to the collection in Church on Sunday, but more because of how it is instructive for us as members of the community of believers we call the Church.  In recent months we have read and heard of scandalous abuse and cover-ups.  We have been exposed to reports of divisions among the hierarchy.  Nothing sells in media like a good scandal, and we have had more than our fair share as a church.  I’d like to say it’s going to pass soon, but I wouldn't hold my breath.  Ours is a church that spans centuries, not decades.  It covers the globe, and not just our United States.  It exists in places we have never heard of, and that have never heard of us.  Each place has different needs and priorities, each place being best equipped to address those needs and priorities locally.  One size rarely fits all.  The complexity can be mind-blowing.

Yet for all that, the Church has undergone all manner of scandal and division throughout its long history. More importantly, in all times and in all places, the faithfulness of God shines through the darkness that crime, scandal and sin spew out.  God has raised up men and women as figures of authentic leadership and reform such as Francis of Assisi, Clare, Therese of Lisieux, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, Charles Borromeo, Thomas More, among countless others.  Whenever we experience deep division and scandal, we also receive a call to wake-up and step-up.  Every difficult time in the life of the Church is a call for men and women, lay and religious, to step up and to give of themselves in sacrifice for the greater good.  The widow gave her coin, but perhaps our call is to give of our expertise, our gifts and talents, our wisdom and experience.  This is a truly self-giving, self-emptying call.  It’s not a call usually answered by those who stand on the edges criticizing and taking pot-shots.  It’s not a call for idealogues, whatever their stripe.  The Church has never experienced reform at the hands of those who call her to account for her disgrace and her shame from the outside.  We all know from our own personal experience of sin that it is far easier to speak of sin abstractly, or to speak of the sin of others, than it is to commit ourselves to conversion of heart and to a conversion of life.  It takes a heroism and a purpose of vision to challenge the Church from within, to personally be more and to grow beyond the painful shame and debilitating disgrace to remember what Christ calls us all to become.  Many veterans have something from which we can all learn.

So today or tomorrow, do something to honor a veteran. Then do something to honor the widow and her self-sacrificing witness to Christ.

 

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