9 Feb 2014
“‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden?’” (Matt. 5:14) In the name …
This past week I took my daughter Amanda to a doctor’s appointment in Amherst. Then, since it was a school day, Amanda just had to get something to eat before going back to Frontier. Draw it out a little bit longer, you see. We go into Kelly’s Restaurant, just below Amherst College, and make our way to sit down at the counter. On our way in, two ladies at different tables recognized us. One comes to our food sales, but the other woman started talking to me like we knew each other real well. If I don’t recognize the other person when this happens out Amherst way, I ask right away, “Do you think I’m Fr. Smigel?’ Fr. Smigel is the pastor of St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church in Amherst and people say we look a lot alike. As a matter of fact, when Fr. Twardzik was over at the old St. Stanislaus Church here in South Deerfield, he invited me over to lunch one day to meet this Fr. Smigel because he said the two of you have to see each other. I walked into the rectory and both Fr. Smigel and I didn’t think we looked at all similar, but I guess a lot of other people see things differently.
Back at Kelly’s Restaurant, after getting past the moment of confusion, the woman finally realized that I wasn’t the priest she thought I was. That’s when I told her my second line when this sort of thing happens. I wonder, I said to her, if Fr. Smigel ever gets into trouble with his bishop when people mistake me for him and they see me around Amherst with Sharon or my daughters. The lady laughed and then a while later she came over to Amanda and me to chat a little bit. She began by asking if 18 year old Amanda was my wife. Amanda’s all grossed out by this, almost lost her breakfast, but I’m beaming. I’m thinking to myself this woman thinks I’m young enough to be around Amanda’s age. Well, as soon as Sharon got home that night this story was the first thing out of my mouth. What I didn’t tell Sharon that night was the next thing the woman said to Amanda and me after I explained that Amanda was my youngest daughter. “Well, you know,” she says, “sometimes these old guys marry young women.” I went in a couple of minutes from thinking I could pass for a young guy with a young wife to an old guy who was wealthy enough to have an inappropriately young bride.
It’s all how we see things, I guess. The woman first thought I was another priest. I wondered if that other priest ever got in trouble with his bishop because his parishioners thought Sharon was his girlfriend. I hoped the woman thought I was a young guy half my age. The woman then tells me I could be one of these old rich guys with a young trophy bride. And all of this took place in the matter of five or ten minutes. We’re constantly sending out messages and receiving impressions. It happens without even thinking about it. And this takes on a religious importance when we remember what Jesus says to us today in the Sermon on the Mount: “[We] are the light of the world.” In a world filled with the unchurched, where Jesus and Christianity are as familiar a subject to them as the Winter Olympics sport of curling is to me, we become today’s apostles. Our lives and how we choose to lead them explain our faith to people around us. “[We] are the light of the world.” These aren’t only Jesus’ words to His followers on a mountain side in ancient Israel. These are Jesus’ words to us today.
I’m not naïve, but I don’t want to become cynical either. And sometimes I’m on the verge. Honour is a keystone of our military oaths, for example. Then I hear about servicemen and women who are at the controls of our nuclear missiles, cheating on tests about how to operate them. I heard also that back during the Iraq War the branches of the military weren’t meeting their recruitment goals so they began to offer incentives to people who would recommend the military to possible recruits. These monetary payments, however, could not be received by actual military recruiters. Now we’re discovering that low to high ranking personnel were profiting from this program illegally. The way I heard it on the radio one day was that the program was initiated quickly and without any fraud control built in. Even without fraud control, aren’t people motivated any more by their consciences? Here’s where I’m not naïve. I know there has to be controls put in place when money is involved. But here’s where I’m on the verge of becoming cynical. Can’t people do the right thing just because it’s the right thing? Can’t people who pledge honour do the right thing even if they can get away with doing the wrong thing?
On Thursday the US Attorney’s Office in New York City notched a record of 79 and 0 as they convicted another multi-millionaire of insider trading. By cheating, the man won SAC Capital Advisors more than a quarter billion dollars. The US Attorney is still trying to go after the founder of SAC Capital who is not a multi-millionaire, but a billionaire. How much money does a person need before they give their conscience a chance to say, “This is wrong. It’s not worth it.”
The world needs better examples. The world needs people of conscience to step-up and do what is right even when doing what is wrong is possible. And that’s why the world needs the church and church people to be the light of the world. Now this is not to condemn, but to make a point. An actor over-dosed on heroin last Sunday morning. A baseball star was convicted of doping and has refused to accept responsibility. For the first time in a century a Massachusetts State Senator was thrown out of the Chamber last week because he’s in jail for beating up a woman and he didn’t think he needed to resign. We need better examples. We need church and church people to be the light of the world. Sometimes we may think coming here isn’t all that important. I think it’s more important than we even know. Like I said earlier, we’re constantly sending out messages and receiving impressions so may Jesus help us to be the light of the world through the example we show, in His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo