Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fragile. Handle With Care (2012-12-25, Christmas)

This is my homily for 25 December  2012 (Christmas Day). I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association and at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City. We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Evening (5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[__01]      Fragile. Handle With Care. This is a Christmas message for you and for me – as the delivery personnel of December 25 – as bringers and carriers of presents/gifts.

Sensitivity is important as transport ourselves – and our presents – to the table or the tree.

Today we are striving for balance.

[__02]         Yet, this balance is not simply to avoid broken glass.  We would strive  for balance so as to protect the gift of life,  gift of the life of Christ born within each of us.

This gift is, in fact, under the tree – and being unwrapped– every day.  Some of these gifts are easier to unwrap – or to rejoice over than others.  

Will we, for example, see relatives, friends today who make us uncomfortable, who are difficult in their words or their actions?

We respect the image of Christ in the other person by handling with care, handling with love.

[__03]           The first Nativity occurs, with….

  • shepherds who handle their sheep with care,
  • the 3 Kings who handle their precious gifts for long-distance ground delivery
  • Mary and Joseph who protect the live of our Savior with care.

This is the ultimate test of fragility and poise and balance – to guard the life of a child or another person who depends on us for attention, for nourishment, for some vital sign.

Fragile. Handle With Care.

[__04]          I’d like to reflect on a recent book, a best-selling biography written about a World War II veteran by Laura Hillenbrand.

In her career, Laura Hillenbrand has been inclined to write about the redemption of a predicted loser, i.e., the redemption of an underdog. Hillenbrand became famous writing about the thoroughbred horse, Seabiscuit, a horse who surprised many observers.

Published in 2010, this World War II biography is about a real human subject, Louis (Louie) Zamperini  from California.

Louie is a young man who serves in World War II as an American soldier, titled “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”

[__05]        The title -- “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” refers to many in the war, but also to Louie himself  - the one who struggles to survive … who tries to remain resilient…and who is redeemed.

Louie has talents which even make him the “favorite” in at least one area of life, the predicted winner due to his physical/running talent. Yet, Louie encounters many hurdles/obstacles in World War II serving our country in Hawaii and the Pacific.

David Margolick summarizes the arc, the trajectory of young Louie’s life  this way, in a New York Times review:

Zamperini grew up in Torrance, Calif., and thanks partly to a bout of juvenile delinquency — he became adept at breaking into homes, then fleeing the police — he developed into a world-class runner. He ran the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (even Hitler – [in Germany] -- commented on him) and later, [on the track] [at USC] at the University of Southern California, flirted with a four-minute mile. His coach said the only runner who could beat him was — you guessed it — [the thoroughbred] Seabiscuit.”[1]

[__06]      Louie is called to guard and develop the gift of his physical endurance – through running on and off the track -- early. This is a material gift – a physical gift that will pay off in wartime service.

Margolick writes – “[Zamperini’s life] is one of the most spectacular odysseys of [World War II] or any other war, and “odyssey” is the right word, for with its tempests and furies and monsters, many of them human, Zamperini’s saga is something out of Greek mythology.[2]

But, this is not mythology or even staged-reality TV. It is the reality of war  in  the region of Hawaii and the Pacific where difficult conditions stretch them to guard their resources, the little food they have, and to guard the lives of the injured and sick.

In late May 1943, the B-24 aircraft [the B-24 bomber and plane]  carrying the 26-year-old Zamperini went down over the Pacific. For nearly seven weeks — longer, Hillenbrand believes, than any other such instance in recorded history — Zamperini and his pilot [Phil and their tailgunner – MacNamara began a journey to survive] on a fragile raft.[3]

Unfortunately, shortly after their crash – on their first night floating in the Pacific with only a few bars of chocolate and a few pints of water to survive …. MacNamara – panicked over the crisis – eats and drinks everything.   No food or water remain.

This is a spiritual as well as a physical crisis.  Yes, there is resentment over the action. Louie even once says, “I’m disappointed”.

But, in the end these are the only words spoken about the incident.   Their seven weeks on the raft, drinking rainwater and eating a few fish, continue.

 [__07]        Fragile. Handle Life with care. This is a message that MacNamara, a trained soldier, did not actually follow.

Yet, the incident on the raft is not only about surviving the sharks but also the bitterness of resentment.  On the raft, forgiveness equals survival.  Forgiveness equals teamwork.

Forgiveness equals life. 

Louie, Phil – and MacNamara too – survive through mercy. This is their vital sign, one as important as any signal flare or radio communication.

[__08]      We also live and exist because God sustains us, handles us with care and communicates his love to us.

He brings life to us through the birth of the Messiah, through the Holy Communion we receive at Sunday Mass, at Christmas Mass.

We welcome him we adore him, with love and care.  His life within is fragile, yet capable of growing stronger.   [__fin__]       

[1] Margolick, David “Zamperini’s War”, The New  York Times Sunday Book Review, November 19, 2010.
[2] Margolick, “Zamperini’s War”.
[3] Margolick, “Zamperini’s War”.

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