Jesus told us to look at the signs of the time. They are quite chilling! Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who was the Archbishop of Bologna, Italy reports that Sr. Lucia, one of the visionaries from Fatima, sent him a letter with this chilling prediction: “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family.” He added, while “speaking with John Paul II, you could feel that the family was the core, since it has to do with the supporting pillar of creation, the truth of the relationship between man and woman, between the generations. If the foundational pillar is damaged, the entire building collapses and we’re seeing this now, because we are right at this point and we know it.”
This November 7th will be our 57th wedding anniversary. With over half of the marriages in the U.S. now ending in divorce, I have been thinking a lot about commitment lately. The Church, in the wisdom and mercy of Christ, recognizes that there are legitimate reasons why a marriage was never valid. In these cases, a Decree of Nullity is issued stating that a marriage never existed. Thank you, Jesus, for this kindness! Unfortunately, though, many people give up on one another and the grace of their Sacrament at the first difficulty. Their vow meant nothing, and they never had a concept of Christ being present in their marriage in a special way. No marriage sails through life without great trials. Ours has been no exception, but we gave our word and divorce was never an option.
Giving our word to another person and God that we will stick it out until “death do we part” doesn’t seem to mean much to people any more. Not honoring the commitment of our word is all through our society. Athletes sign a multi-year commitment to play for a certain price and the next year demand to be traded or set out for more money. Their word has no value. Corporations break their contracts and word as a regular part of their daily business. How can we, as a people, even begin to understand the awesome commitment of the Covenant God has made with us through the blood of Jesus? Everyone else breaks their word, why not God? Why should God keep His word when we certainly do not deserve it? Commitment and honor have been put on the endangered species list. America hasn’t always been this way, and it doesn’t have to stay this way! We need heroes, men, and women of integrity, as examples to us all.
There is an old country and western song with the words, “my heroes have always been cowboys”. I must admit, for me this is true. I grew up in Texas in a ranching family. My uncles had me on the back of a horse looking at the southern end of a northbound cow before I could walk. In a book on the early history of Texas there is a whole chapter on my mother’s family, “The Cowan Cowboys”. In the Institute of Texan Culture in San Antonio is a picture and story on one of the Cowans who was an early Texas Ranger. From the first sip of my mother’s milk, I began to be instilled with the values of truth and honor. I was told over and over again that a man could be dirt poor and if his word was good, he could hold his head up anywhere. I remember setting around an old potbellied stove, glowing cherry red with the burning oak wood, and listening to my grandparents and their friends who had been born in the late 1800’s. I listened in fascination as they talked about cattle drives to Kansas and other far-off places.
I listened with rapt attention to stories of men who looked other men in the eye and shook hands and entrusted 10,000 head of cattle and their family’s future to the integrity and word of another. No contract signed. No guarantees given. They fought the weather, indians, floods, and wild animals across thousands of miles of hard land. They drove the dreams and destiny of a nation and they brought back the cash needed to build the land. If they didn’t it was because they were dead on some lonely prairie. Legends and a land were born, birthed by men and women who became bigger than life by their extraordinary commitment to honor and their word. I listened to stories like the one of how less than 200 men crossed a line drawn in the dirt to give their commitment to defend the Alamo against tens of thousands of the troops of Santa Anna. Their commitment unto death bought the time necessary for Sam Houston to get ready, and freedom for Texas. It was taught to me early in my life that there are things worse than dying. Liars were more despised than egg sucking dogs!
My dad was a quiet man, and I am proud to bear his name of Lloyd. He went overseas during the Second World War just before I was born. I didn’t see him until I was 18 months old. My dad had been in the medical corps during the war and was sick to his soul with the torture, death, and dismemberment of war. When he returned home, he longed for solitude and he took me on his shoulders for long weekends on the rivers of our area. He would never camp around other people, preferring the peace and quiet with our little family. I grew to love the great outdoors and the beauty of God’s creation. I learned to cook and be self-sufficient. My dad never was rich. He worked in construction after the drought wiped us out of the cattle business in the late 1950’s.
He sent my mother through beauty operator school and then she sent him through barber school. Men, rich and poor, came from all over to Lloyd’s Barber Shop, not only for the haircuts, but to be around this quiet man with humor and integrity. His strength of character and an invisible mantle of authority made him a confidant to many. Even though my dad was the youngest of his family, older brothers and sisters came to him for help and advice. An old south Texas saying applied to my dad. If he told you a red ant could pull a freight train, you had better buy your ticket and get aboard because it was going to move! His word was his bond. I would have rather had a whipping than to disappoint him. This great man left me a legacy far beyond money when he died in 1973 at the age of 49.
The years have brought many changes in my life. What I learned as a kid brought me to Salesman of the Year for a Fortune 500 Company, million-dollar club member, and on the advisory board to management. Christ eventually brought me to Himself and the realization that in Him I had everything. The money and fame were filthy rags compared to Him. I came to understand that my life work was to spread the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On Calvary He made a commitment to me and I will spend my life trying to live out my commitment to Him. Commitment costs. King David understood this.
In 1 Chronicles 21: 22-24 we read, “David said to Ornan: Sell me the ground of this threshing floor, that I may build on it an altar to the Lord. Sell it to me at its full price, that the plague may be stayed from the people. But Ornan said to David: Take it as your own and let my lord the king do what seems best to him. See, I also give you the oxen for the holocausts, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the cereal offering. I give it all to you. But King David replied to Ornan: No! I will buy it from you properly, at its full price. I will not take what is yours for the Lord, nor offer up holocausts that cost me nothing.” You can’t give God someone else’s commitment. Rendering excellence to Jesus exacts a dear price. Few are willing to pay the price that a lifelong commitment to Jesus demands.
The Church too has its heroes. Pope John Paul II repeatedly pointed them out. They are the heroes of our faith that have lived out their commitment unto death. When they spoke their profession of faith, “I believe”, it was a solemn declaration honored with their last breath. They are the martyrs, and the Church is built on their blood. In “As The Third Millennium Draws Near” our Pope states, “At the end of the second millennium, the church has once again become a church of martyrs. The persecutions of believers – priest, religious, and laity – has caused a great sowing of martyrdom in different parts of the world. The witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants”. In our century there has been more martyrs than in all the other centuries combined!
Pope John Paul II has called them “unknown soldiers of God’s great cause”. Not all martyrdom ends with the shedding of our blood. There are many witnesses and opportunities for martyrdom all around us if we look. The moms and dads who welcome life as a gift of God and live in less material comfort as a result are martyrs. The person who tells the people they work with that cursing and off-color jokes is offensive and are ridiculed and shunned afterwards are martyrs. Sometimes just getting up and getting the kids to church while an unbelieving spouse makes life miserable is martyrdom!
We are in a time of decision. We must re-evaluate our lives in the light of the Gospel. Does our word spoken in church each Sunday at the profession of faith mean anything? Will we live up to our promise to God and each other to love one another until death do we part? When our children learn to be Catholics and citizens of this land by watching us, will they learn to lie and to seek self-gratification at all costs or will they learn truth, honor, and integrity to the will of God? With the worldwide explosion of martyrs, there is the real possibility that some of us will be called to give our lives for the Gospel. Be ready. Make your decision now.
We must live every moment of our lives with the possibility of martyrdom and the certainty of judgement. May the God of truth remove the veil of deception from all our eyes and may our children’s children one day have us at the top of their heroes list. St. John Paul The Great has prophesied a new springtime of Christianity. The promised land will be entered by pioneers whose word is trustworthy and courage can be counted on. All of us come from a heritage of people just like that, even you non-Texans. Let’s get back to our roots, that old time religion of our forefathers. God sets before us once again life and death, blessing and curse. God, give us Your grace to choose life! Amen, maranatha, come Lord Jesus.