December 4, 2021
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We Are Left to Choose—in Freedom

We Are Left to Choose—in Freedom

Fr. Mychal Judge, O.F.M. (May 11, 1933- September 11, 2001)

Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that he promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5) This is, obviously, a rhetorical question. The answer is a resounding “YES”

In any age of the Church, there are those people who love Jesus and love His Body, the Church, more than they love themselves. They are mostly faceless, self-effacing, unassuming people, who put into practice, fully, Jesus’ new commandment of loving each other as he loved us on the cross. They are people who are “poor” in the sense that they do not use as a determining factor for action what gain, what advantage for them might be attained, but how much they can give of themselves to others.

A prerequisite for belonging to the elite of Christ-like people is to have the center of interest always outside of oneself. They are poor as far as self-interest is concerned, but “rich” in mercy, love and compassion. They are “rich” because they are filled with Christ. We are familiar with two of them: Many are deeply edified by the heroic conduct of St. Damien De Veuster (1840-1889) in the Leprosy Colony of Molokai. The whole world is moved by the supreme sacrifice made by St. Maximillian Kolbe (1884-19-41) to spare the life of a father who was selected for execution in the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz in 1941.

Here are two much less known, yet still included in this choice elite of Christ-like people.

In September 1943, a case of ammunition exploded while German soldiers were inspecting it. Two German soldiers died and two were injured, but survived. Convinced that the explosion was not an accident, German officials decided to execute 22 inhabitants of Torrimpietra, a town outside of Rome. The explosion investigation conducted by Salvo D’Acquisto, the local police officer, determined that the explosion was accidental; but the Germans remained unconvinced. To save those 22 innocent people, Salvo D’Acquisto declared that he had caused the explosion. He was killed by a firing squad. Salvo D’Acquisto was 22 years old. 

On September 11, 2001, in response to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, Fr. Mychal Judge (1933-2001), chaplain of New York City Fire Department, hurried from his friary of St. Francis of Assisi to offer spiritual assistance to the victims of the terrorist attacks. While carrying out his priestly duties he was killed by debris falling from the South Tower. 

Yet, daily, God inspires people to be enriched by Christ Jesus rather than expect personal gain by offering preferential treatment to the rich and the powerful of this world. These are people with pure eyes, who see Jesus disguised under the pained features of the poor and the needy. They gladly forget their personal needs; they are willing to give up comforts, perks and profits readily available to them and choose to go to serve in places where their personal safety cannot be assured; or they go to some remote mission territories, or anywhere else they can help relieve the pain and suffering of others.

I have to mention these people because they are those through whom God fulfills this prophecy: Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense. (Isaiah 35:4)

It seems odd to put together in the same sentence the word “God” and the word “vindication,” yet God’s plan is precisely this: to restore order wherever evil and selfishness have caused disorder, pain and horrific losses. It is not that God gets even with those who are self-absorbed or indifferent or simply, blatantly, wicked but, rather that, in His infinite love, He finds ways to reach them and make them realize that their ways are not only wrong but also self-destructive. God’s vindication is therefore totally different from our brand of vindication. It operates away from vengeance and towards enlightening, converting, healing those responsible for evils and/or by inspiring people with a compassionate heart to step in. Thus, God’s vindication is brought about, around the clock, on two fronts: by touching hardened hearts and by calling to action mostly unsung heroes, like those whom I mentioned before.

The first one, of course, whom the Father called, is His only begotten Son Jesus, God made flesh like ours so that the Father’s vindication may be off to the most desirable start. However, the stark reality is shocking: the vindication started by Jesus 2000 years ago has not been followed by a sufficiently large number of generous people ready for self-immolation. That is why, today, we are invited to hear and to live out this particular Word of God. That is why Jesus resorts to a very forceful, symbolic action: He puts his finger into our ears, touches our tongue and cries aloud over our lack of engagement, our tiredness, our excuses and even, perhaps, our indifference: “Ephphatha! Be opened!”

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we should try to answer the following question with brutal honesty: How many times before, has the Lord already tried to get us to open our ears to the cries of the poor, to the plight of the oppressed, to the tears of those who suffer? And, what expedient might we have devised to ignore his call, to clam up and crawl back into our safe shell?

Yet, we are always left to choose in freedom. It is so by the Father’s divine decree as freedom is the most important prerequisite for responding to Him in genuine love. The choice is (a) to come up with new excuses to silence the voice of the Lord or (b) to let this Holy Communion touch us directly in the heart and begin that process of self-transformation that will, eventually, bring us enough courage and love to ephphatha, to open up to that share of the work of compassion and direct engagement assigned to us.

May all of us find it within ourselves to volunteer for the noble and much needed task of bringing about God’s total vindication and divine recompense for a mission well done!

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin