Summary: Like the widow in the Gospel, little actions of doing good can attract the attention of the Lord, whose Word and grace can work miracles of healing, and can even heal our culture of death.

32nd Sunday in Course 2012

Verbum Domini

Ten Seconds Can Change the Course of the World

On August 3, 1943, General George S. Patton entered a tent in a military hospital in Sicily to visit wounded soldiers. He had just been briefed by one of his commanders that malingering was thinning out the ranks at the front. Amid the wounded warriors was an enlisted man crouched on a stool, his face hazed over. When Patton learned from him that he was suffering from battle fatigue, the general forced him out of the tent and ordered him to be sent back to the front, after first slapping him with his glove. After a second such incident, Patton was privately censured by the commanding general, Dwight Eisenhower. When muckraking reporter Drew Pearson got hold of the story, he raised such a hue and cry that it was feared Patton, the most successful American general of the war, would be sent home in disgrace. He was relieved of his command on the Italian front. Patton wondered, could such a tiny incident destroy an illustrious career?

What the high command did with this ten second mistake was, however, masterful. In England, they built an entire fake army around Patton, complete with blow-up tanks and planes. Adolf Hitler was so convinced that Patton would lead the invasion of France that he treated the June, 1944 landings at Normandy as a diversion, holding back his armored reserve for an assault that never came, and giving the Allies the foothold they needed so that Patton, commanding Third Army on the offensive’s right flank, could be the hammer that broke the German lines and led the push that drove them out of France. Just one year had passed since he slapped the soldier. A ten-second mistake changed the course of history.

Somewhere around the year 33 AD, a poorly-dressed Jewish widow got in line at the Jerusalem Temple, and a short time later she dropped two lepta into the collection box. Two lepta would have been coins that none of us would have bothered picking up from the dirt. But her ten-second action attracted the attention of the man who was God, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Her trivial action caused the Word of God to gather His disciples, to speak a Word that inspired the early Church’s actions, and Luke and Mark’s writing, so that it still animates us today. Like the pagan woman who served Elijah some poor man’s bread, this nameless widow became part of the saving word of God. She inspired millions to take the same step–give to God and the poor everything they owned and take up lives of poverty, chastity and obedience for the sake of Christ. She inspires us to dig deep in our pockets and our lives, to give until it hurts, for the spread of the Gospel in this culture of death. The anonymous woman, like Jesus’s favorite poor widow, his mother Mary, gave all in response to last week’s Gospel challenge: love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole strength, and your neighbor as yourself.

Many of us are hurting this Sunday, and some are feeling pain like never before. Those who love the Church and want to share the blessings of the Word and sacraments with others realize that the Health and Human Services mandate will next August force our Catholic charities, schools and other institutions to violate the natural law of God and the law of the Church by paying, directly or indirectly, for abortion-causing drugs, and for medical procedures and so-called medicines that poison or incapacitate reproductive organs. Our ministries must either submit to this evil or go out of business. We have tried secular remedies for this injustice. We first put our trust in the Supreme Court to invalidate the legislation. Catholic supreme court justice John Roberts, imitating in a way Catholic supreme court Justice Roger Taney in the infamous Dred Scott decision, let the basic taxes of that law pass judicial review. Many religious people then put their trust in a certain outcome of the last election, but that election left the administration, and their unjust mandate, in place. Millions have been praying long and hard, but it seems nothing has worked. The grand gestures, the history-changing actions that would save our religious liberty have one by one failed to materialize. We have, then, to prepare ourselves for the failure of the last secular measure against the mandate, the several hundred lawsuits based on defense of the First Amendment freedoms.

Those bishops who courageously led from the front, bishops in “Arlington, Brooklyn, Green Bay, Juneau, and Peoria” merely told their people to put life first, to vote for pro-life leaders for our country. Please note that they did not tell anyone whom to vote for. Unsurprisingly, just a day after the election, the group ironically calling themselves Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington urged the IRS to investigate whether the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has engaged in “prohibited activity in violation of federal tax law.”

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