By Monsignor Frank Chiodo
One of the things history teaches us is the positive impact a single person can have. Some time ago, I stood in Boston at the North Church. I looked up at the church bell tower. There Paul Revere saw the two lanterns hanging from the steeple warning of the impending invasion of the British army.
One man, Paul Revere, rode the country side shouting the warning, “the British are coming, the British are coming.” One man, a dramatic positive impact.
I visited the presidential library of President Franklin Roosevelt. One man with a vision for our country led the nation out of the Great Depression and saw our country to the brink of victory in World War II. One man, a dramatic positive impact.
Rosa Parks, an African-American woman refused to give up her seat on a bus in the South and helped set the stage for the civil rights movement. One person, a dramatic positive impact.
God did not make us patriots at the time of the revolution or a president who can lead us out of the depression. None of us bears the name of Revere, Roosevelt or Parks. But no matter how insignificant we think we are, no matter how powerless we feel, no matter how alone we seem to be, each of us can make a difference. Every one of us counts. You, you, you, you, me.
True change for the better begins with simple people like you and me deciding to stand up and stand out, to speak up and speak out in defense of the dignity and sanctity of every human being, from womb to tomb. True change for the better takes place when ordinary citizens like you and I refuse to remain silent in the face of violations of our religious liberty. A liberty being threatened by recent decisions of the executive branch of the federal government which hamper our ability to express our moral teaching within our ministries, threatening our constitutional freedoms.
I believe it is no coincidence that God has placed us in this great land at this moment in history. I believe God is asking us to recognize our mission, to make a difference, to stand up and be counted, to defend the principles of freedom upon which this great country was founded. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Many fail to recognize that happiness can be attained only when we first defend all human life. No one can truly be happy who is not free to exercise his religious rights without restraint or constraint by any agency or person. If history teaches us anything it is this: Whenever life and liberty are in jeopardy, true happiness escapes us and civilization as we know it is in danger of ending up like so many great societies before us, on the ash heap of history.
Sometimes we underestimate the impact our personal witness can have. Sometimes we undervalue the significance of one person’s commitment to speak up for the truth. We can be drawn into the cycle of criticism and complaining and just give up. An old saying puts it best: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” If everyone would light just one little candle what a bright world this would be.
Allow me to paraphrase the following meditation:
“Someone once asked the Lord whether his witness to the truth had any value; after all he is only one person. And this is what the Lord said: ‘My child, I’ve often heard your question and this message is my answer; hear me well. You are concerned about the hungry world, the misery of those who are starving and you ask what can only one do? Feed one. You grieve for all the unborn children murdered every day, and you ask, what can only one do? Save one. You’re haunted by the homeless souls who wander our streets and you ask, what can only one do? Shelter one.’ ”
“Your heart aches for the plight of the nation, where religious liberty is under attack and the voice of the God of nature and nature’s God is often silenced, but what can only one do? Be the one who makes a difference. Remember my child, 2,000 years ago the world was filled, just as it is today, with those in need and the rights of many were trampled on by the powerful. When the hopeless and helpless cry out to me for mercy, I sent a savior. Hope began with only one.”
The future of this civilization lies in the hands of people like you, you, you, you and me. Can we simply stand by and curse the darkness?
“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” “If everyone would light just one little candle, what a bright world this would be.” Make a difference, speak out, speak up, stand out, stand up.
I began by recalling the great patriot Paul Revere. Another great patriot was Patrick Henry, another model for us. He stood up before his fellow patriots at the time of the Revolutionary War and declared: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
May it never be necessary for anyone in this great land to be forced to make that momentous decision.
[This is the speech delivered by Monsignor Frank Chiodo, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church, at the Stand Up for Freedom rally two weeks ago at the Capitol building in Des Moines, IA. It appeared in the online version of the Des Moines Register.]