Bottom line: God never gives up on us. No matter how cold or hostile, never give up on that other person.
Many historians consider Winston Churchill the greatest orator of the twentieth century. During dark years he rallied the British nation - and free men everywhere - to stand against Nazi barbarism. It is said, however, that he gave his most famous speech not during World War II, but afterwards. At a commencement ceremony, a speaker gave Churchill a long (and long-winded) introduction. Churchill walked to the podium and spoke softly, but firmly: "Never, never, never, never, never give up." He returned to his chair and sat down. The listeners were stunned silent, then one person brought his hands together. Immediately the entire crowd stood and started applauding and cheering wildly.
There may be some legend in this story, but it does sum up the spirit of Winston Churchill.* It also sums up today's Scripture readings.
Moses had every reason to give up on the Israelites. At the command of God, Moses had worked miracles and led the Israelites through the sea. But they quickly forgot God's mercy and began worshiping false gods. Moses, nevertheless, continued to intercede for them - and they got a second chance.
This reading might give us the impression that God was all set to destroy the Israelites and that Moses' prayer got him to change his mind. It is a little more complicated than that. The Israelites' behavior had brought destruction upon themselves, but as we heard in the Psalm, God is always ready to show mercy. He does not give up on us.
We see that clearly in the Gospel. Jesus describes an amazing father who did not give up on his ungrateful son. Jesus tells us that God not only waits for us, he also goes out to actively seek us. He is like a shepherd trying to rescue a sheep that gets separated from the flock. Or like a woman who loses a coin and has to turn the house upside down to find it.
And let's face it. We often do not want to be found. We prefer to hide from God. In this regard, many people can identify with C. S. Lewis. As a young man he had become an atheist. But he had a nagging fear that God might actually exist. Lewis describes his state of mind with these words: "Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God.' To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat."
We sometimes stay away from God, like a mouse hiding from a cat. But in C. S. Lewis' case, God did keep pursuing him. Eventually Lewis yielded. He writes: "In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed." Lewis described himself as "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." Like the Good Shepherd, seeking the lost sheep, God did not give up on C. S. Lewis. Lewis in turn used his gifts to bring many others to Christ: by writing children's stories, science fiction and delightful expositions of the Christian faith.
In today's second reading, we hear about another convert, in this case, the most famous convert ever: a Pharisee named Saul from a city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) called Tarsis. We know him better as St. Paul the Apostle. Before Christ touched him, Paul engaged in some miserable behavior: arrogance, bullying and blasphemy. The worse thing he did was to encourage a mob to murder an innocent man. They did it by surrounding the young man and throwing large rocks at him. The man was Stephen, a deacon of the early Church. St. Paul was the main one responsible for the death of this promising young man. But, in spite of that crime, God did not give up on Paul. And by Paul's conversion he taught the Church one of its most important lessons: Sometimes our greatest enemies become our greatest apostles. Remember that when you talk to people who are cold or hostile to the faith - our goal is not to win arguments, but to win souls. Never give up on anyone. Never, never, never, never, never give up.
*On October 29, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow School. By then England had withstood the worst on the Nazi bombing raids. Here is part of that famous speech:
But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period--I am addressing myself to the School--surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson:
Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.
Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.
From Archives (24th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Homilies on Prodigal Son:
Confession of Sins and New Creation
The Reproach of Egypt
Return of the Prodigal Son
Who is The Prodigal Son?
Bulletin (Picture of New Church Boiler, Letter from Sister Maritza, How Fulcrum Benefits Holy Family)
Preaching Schedule (Sept - Dec 2007)
Mark Shea compares Pope Benedict and Vice President Cheney's Statements on Torture
Review of Bella by Steven Greydanus
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus on The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
Pictures of Earthquake Damage in Pisco (I will be traveling to Peru at this end of this month)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
About Stephen Hawkings' Grand Design. (Note: He has been wrong in the past.)
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