December 25, 2016
God So Loved The World
As World War II broke out in Europe, a young devout Catholic journalist named William Halloran enlisted in the Navy Reserves to fight for his country. He was assigned to the USS Arizona, docked at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, William was one of the ones killed in action.
His heartbroken mother, Stella, could have mourned and grieved in silence, or spoken against the terrible war. But instead she spoke up – in favor of the war effort. She began to lead a war bond drive, raising about five million dollars for the construction of a new warship, which the Navy named after her son – the USS Halloran. She then encouraged her other son, Larry, to join the military to fight for the country. Eventually Larry joined the Navy too and was assigned to serve on the USS Halloran, named after his older brother. Larry survived the war and is still living.
For Stella’s tremendous effort, she was invited to the White House three times, and called a hero – for giving up both of her sons and for sacrificing so much for our country. What would cause this mother to send both of her sons on a mission that led to one of their deaths? Her love for her country must have been great if she was willing to sacrifice those most precious to her!
Why am I talking about World War II on Christmas? Because as I was reading the story of the Halloran family in a magazine, I was moved by Stella’s example, and realized that what she did was a beautiful parallel of God’s great love for us.
Consider this for a moment – would you be willing to send your son, your only son, on a mission that would likely end in his death? Most of us would say, no, that is too great a sacrifice! Who could require such a thing? And yet this is precisely what God does. He sends His only Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, the perfect reflection of the Father…and He sends Him on a mission that will lead to death. What could possess someone to make such a sacrifice? Only love of something greater than life – “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.”
What we see here at Christmas is the beginning of that mission. The Son has taken flesh. He has exchanged the glory of Heaven, where His radiance was so bright that even angels had to veil their eyes, and instead became a humble baby. He Who owns all the riches of the universe chose to be born into poverty, without even a house or a bed. He Who can create a universe with just a word chose to become so helpless that He needed to be fed and clothed by His Mother. The mission of sacrificing His life had begun – a mission that would culminate in a complete self-gift on the Cross.
This sacrifice was done out of love for us, pure and simple. The heart of the Father was so grieved that we were separated from Him that He knew He needed to reconcile us. In Jesus Christ, that reconciliation is accomplished. God has bound Himself to the human race forever, now that God has taken flesh and become a man.
So how do we respond? Before William Halloran went off to war, he wrote a letter of resignation to his employer, in which he said, “We who have benefitted [from America] should be willing to sacrifice.” To receive great blessings requires a response.
In Jesus Christ, we are saved. Our response, then, is to live for Him. He gave us His very life, every drop of His blood – can we do any less for Him?
A couple practical ways to make that happen. I run a faith-study for a group of teens in Bethel monthly, and we were talking about the first Commandment last month – “I am the Lord thy God, you shall have no other gods besides Me.” I asked the boys, “How do we know that our lives really worship God, and not make an idol out of something else?” One boy responded very insightfully, “I think a lot has to do with time. How much time do you spend with God?” Very true! Our loving response to God’s infinite love must include spending time with Him – an hour a week at Mass, five or ten minutes a day (at least) in daily prayer, and time spent reading Scripture and spiritual books. He has given us everything – we give Him back our time.
A second way is to conform our lives to His. Jesus Christ was loving, humble, patient, kind, pure…in a word, He was holy. And to life for Him is to live like Him, imitating His holiness. That involves following His teachings, which we can find in the Gospels and in the teachings of the Church. That involves surrendering our will to God and seeking His glory, not our own. That involves making the goal of our lives Heaven, and not riches and comfort and being popular.
God so loved the world that He sent His only Son on a mission that would end with His death. Well, not really – it didn’t end with His death because He arose on the third day. But this mission began here, today, on Christmas morning – the mission of ransoming the souls of men and women from the power of Satan and sin and despair. Christmas demands a response – as the Father loved us and gave us His most precious love (the Son), so in return we ought to give Him our entire lives.