Nick Vujicic was born without arms and legs. He was teased and bullied as a child, and first thought about killing himself when he was eight. He didn’t know if he would get married, be independent, or if he had a purpose, so, at age ten, he tried to drown himself but stopped for his parents’ sake.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
Besides the constant support of his parents, a few key moments in his life gave him a new direction. When he was 15, he gave his life to Jesus after reading John 9, about the man born blind. Nick realized that if God had a plan for that man, which was to reveal the glory of God, then He had a plan for Nick, too! When he was 17, his mother gave him an article about a severely disabled person who lived life with vigor, and this showed Nick that there was another way to live life. That same year, a high school janitor said, “You’re going to be a speaker,” and this pointed him in the direction of helping others through public speaking.
The gift on which we want to focus is that God gave Nick a different choice. We typically live believing that certain things will happen, that we have no other choice. However, God gives us better options. Years ago, I remember reading that other priests were handling the same stress that I was experiencing. The writer said, “The fact that this same world causes considerably less stress for some… indicates that another vision is possible” (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Priest and Stress, 15). Another vision is possible.
The First Reading is from the book of Sirach, the Old Testament book of Jewish wisdom. Listen to the reading’s emphasis on choice, that we’re not forced to choose the bad path: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you. If you trust in God, you too shall live, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice” (15:15). We have freedom! We can follow God and do the right thing!
And not all choices are equally good. Some choices are good, some are evil, some are neutral: “The Lord has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, good and evil, and whichever one chooses, that shall be given”(15:16-17).
Do you want a better life? Then start by choosing it. Do you want to be healed? Do it. One time, St. Thomas Aquinas’ sister asked him, “What can I do to become a saint?” and he responded, “Will it” (Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology). This doesn’t mean that we make ourselves saints, but growth always requires a choice. God will make our lives better, but waits for a choice on our part.
In John, chapter five, there’s a man who’s been paralyzed for 38 years, and who sits by the Bethzatha pool along with other paralyzed people. The text says, “When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’” (Jn 5:6). That’s interesting: Why does Jesus ask if the man wants to be healed? Of course he wants to be healed; that’s why he’s waiting to get into the pool with healing powers. But perhaps it’s not that simple. The text says that Jesus recognized that the man had been ‘there a long time’—why? The man responds, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me” (5:7).
Is this man making excuses for not being healed? Dr. John Bergsma, a Scripture scholar, says, “You can get used to living with your illnesses… This man’s illness is a sign of our sin… We get used to our sins… our dysfunctions, and sometimes we don’t want to change” (Looking Beyond, Track 6, 0:45). We often have a mentality that says, “I don’t have enough time. I have no other choice. I have to do it this way. There’s no other way. I’m too old. It’s too hard. Other people have more opportunities. I tried before and it didn’t work.” But God says, ‘Stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, good and evil, and whichever one chooses, that shall be given.’
In this season Life is a Gift, one of God’s greatest gifts to us is choice.
Two of our active parishioners once became pregnant before marriage. They feared rejection (or at least judgement) from the Church, and knew that abortion was a legal option, but chose to continue the pregnancy. When they met with me, I told them, “A baby is always good news. Certainly a sin has occurred, and you will both need to go to Confession (and live chastely), but your baby’s a gift from God.” Knowing they had my support, they continued to come to Mass here and discovered that the love of those who knew them never changed. They’ve been growing so beautifully over these years, and even counselled another unmarried pregnant couple.
In 2010, St. Paul’s hospital received their first baby dropped off at a box called “Angel’s Cradle”. Presumably the mother dropped off her two-day-old baby whom she couldn’t take care of, putting the baby in a bassinet near the hospital’s emergency entrance, and then an alarm alerted the nurses that a baby had arrived. Subsequently, the Ministry of Children found the child a home. Angel’s Cradle was designed to give mothers another choice! No one gets arrested, and it’s anonymous.
In the horrible case of rape, are there other options? I want to show two videos today. The first is a three-minute video presenting an alternative to abortion in cases of rape.
It’s interesting: Our culture and the media always talk about being pro-choice, but never give us choices other than abortion. They never promote crisis pregnancy centres, never tell stories about the choice of doing the right thing, and never show us ultrasounds so that we can make an informed choice. The only choice they show us is taking the easy way out, which causes more pain in the long run.
Adoption is another beautiful option! Our second video shows that every child is wanted.
One of the hardest choices is the choice to forgive ourselves. A typical situation would be this: A man or woman is involved in an abortion, later goes to Confession, receives God’s forgiveness and love, but still can’t forgive themselves. This dynamic applies to all of us who have committed big sins in our past, whether it’s sex outside marriage, other sexual sins and feeling shame, or whether we’ve hurt people as I did when I’ve hurt people in Confession. There’s a part of us that hates ourselves, that says we should feel this badly as a punishment for our sins.
However, this is all a lie. We should hate sin, not ourselves. God loves us and wants us to be at peace. If He has forgiven us, we should forgive ourselves. God doesn’t want us to live in misery. He wants us to do penance, and turn our lives around.
One of our parishioners who had an abortion told me to tell you about Rachel’s Vineyard, a weekend retreat to find forgiveness and healing after abortion. It’s usually about a dozen people led through different sessions of prayer and reflection about their own experiences, God’s mercy, and unresolved emotions. Our parishioner said the retreat helped her to accept God’s mercy, and forgive herself; it gave her the courage to try to prevent future abortions, as well as the courage to help other people heal.
In two weeks, from February 27, 2020 to March 2, 2020, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., we have our 40 Days for Life prayer vigil. Last year, we had 307 people, this year we’re hoping 400 of us will sign up. If you could please pass the sign-up cards to each other, sign up, and then put them in the collection basket, that would be great. Thank you!
Another vision is possible; God today is giving us another choice. There are two ideas that often motivate me to take the first step when I’m stuck: 1) If someone we loved were suffering like us, what would we want them to do? We would want them to be healed. 2) Does our not forgiving ourselves help anyone? One of the most helpful truths for me was recognizing that obsessing over my sins didn’t praise God; it was saying: God can’t redeem me. The truth is: God can redeem us. He loves us! We are good! He sees us as His children, and wants us to live in peace.
Nick Vujicic is now an evangelist for Jesus, having gone to over 57 countries, giving talks, writing books, and is now married with four children. “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you.”