This has been a difficult week. We all witnessed the devastating effects from Hurricane Sandy and the impact it had on so many people. A weather disaster of major proportions!
Another disaster of major proportions struck the central parts of this country 137 years ago. Throughout the 1800s, farmers in the plain states had to deal with locusts, specifically Rocky Mountain Locusts, and this problem peaked in 1875. This was the year that the plain states experienced a swarm of locusts so massive that it blocked out the sun. A physician by the name of Albert Child, living in Nebraska at the time, measured the size of the swarm by telegraphing reports from surrounding towns. Because of him and his efforts, this event is forever known as Albert’s Swarm. He documented the swarm as being 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide. That’s 198,000 square miles. Experts estimate the total number of insects within that swarm to be between 3 to 12 trillion. These locusts not only devoured all the vegetation along their path, they also ate curtains, clothing, leather from saddles and harnesses, tree bark, wool from live sheep, and the wood from rakes, pitchforks and window frames. This swarm marks the largest concentration of animals ever recorded. A very strange phenomenon indeed! Stranger still is the fact that within 4 short years the locusts in that area all but disappeared; and by 1902 the Rocky Mountain Locust was officially declared extinct. That’s only 27 years after that massive swarm. Very strange, and no one has been able to explain why.
But there is a story told of a farmer named John who lived in the area at the time. John was a faithful Christian. When the swarm was approaching his farm, John prayed fervently to God to save his farm from the locusts. But sadly John’s crops were devastated along with all the other farms in the area. Some of the other farmers in the area ridiculed John saying, “You’re so faithful to your God. What good did that do you? The locusts ate our crops and yours too.” John however understood his place in creation. He understood that everything on this earth belongs to God. He knew that nothing here on this earth belongs to us. He understood that we all come into this world with nothing and we all leave this world with nothing. And while we are here, we are simply God’s stewards. So John replied to his fellow farmers by saying, “This land belongs to God. This is His farm. These are His pastures. And these locusts are God’s locusts. And if God wants to feed His locusts on His pastures, that’s His business and it’s okay with me.”
I wanted to share that story with you because of the recent events that we all witnessed due to Hurricane Sandy. A devastating and destructive storm! History tells us that our world has experienced many disasters in the past and I am sure there will be many in the future also. But what if we had to prepare for an imminent disaster, what would we do? Obviously, I think we would want to prepare an emergency survival kit. The experts suggest that such a kit should include things like a cell phone, batteries, a flashlight, radio, money, food supplies, water, and a first aid kit.
But what if we were faced with something really big; something that would threaten the very survival of our species? In addition to our survival kit, what is it that we would want to take with us to preserve for the future What would be the most important thing that we would want to protect for the benefit of all future generations? If we seriously consider that question, shouldn’t we include something that would answer the ultimate questions of life for our descendants? Questions like, who am I? Why am I here? And what is the purpose of life? Shouldn’t we include a Bible?
In today’s Gospel, one of the scribes came up to Jesus and asked Him a similar question. The Jewish community lived by a set of 613 laws and precepts that governed their society. Which one of these is the most important? Which one must we preserve, protect and emphasize for future generations? When Jesus answered that question, He quoted Sacred Scripture. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5. “Hear o Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
And He quoted Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He said that love is what is most important, love of God and love of neighbor.
Yes, we live in an imperfect world. Yes, we live in a world with many problems and occasional calamities and disasters. History tells us that such things are a fact of life. But in the face of all of these imperfections and problems, it is vitally important that we remember who we are. Each and every one of us is a child of God. And we are all loved very much by our Heavenly Father, loved more than we can ever possibly understand. It is important that we come to that understanding because our Heavenly Father wants nothing more than for us to love Him in return. And to demonstrate the love that we have for Him by loving those whom He has placed in our lives.
Nothing in life is more important than this unconditional love. This message that Jesus left us is so vitally important, and yet it is so fundamentally simple that even a child can understand it and accept it.
The second law of thermodynamics tells us that nothing in life is permanent. Everything changes over time and eventually everything will fade away and perish. Ideally we would prefer that our bodies remain stable, healthy and alive, but we know that our mortal bodies are bound to the same law. No known exemptions to this law have ever been observed. The principle of deterioration, death and decay is built into the very fabric of our universe. It is a fact of life.
We all know this to be true, but most of us live our lives ignoring the reality of the inevitable. We live under the common misconception that we are physical beings and that within this physical body of ours resides our spirit or our soul. As such, we believe that we too are condemned to suffer consequences of this universal law.
However, this concept of who and what we are is inaccurate. It denies the fundamental truth of our existence. We are not physical beings who just happen to contain a soul or a spirit. We are, in reality, spiritual beings who just happen to be residing temporarily within this physical body. Our bodies may be subject to this second law of thermodynamics, but we are not. The essence and substance of who and what we are will live eternally. And while we are here on this earth, nothing is more important than the love and respect we show, not only for one another, but also for all of God’s creation.
During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a motivational speaker, writer and professor by the name of Leo Buscaglia who became quite popular. He appeared many times on Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the 1980s. He used to teach a non-credit course at the University of Southern California titled “Love 1A”. He spoke, wrote and taught extensively on the ultimate purpose and meaning of life. And I would like to close by repeating his words.
He once said, “Don’t spend your precious time asking “Why isn’t the world a better place?” It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is “How can I make it better?” To that question, there is an answer.”
He also said, “Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time. It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other. For love is life, and if you miss love, you miss life.”
REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.