No one left Behind

3rd Sunday of Epiphany
Beloved in Christ, on Nov. 13, 2004, Chris Marquez was on standby, part of a Marine quick-reaction force. He was getting ready to take a nap when the call came for help.
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Members of a platoon had been ambushed and were pinned down inside a house; Sergeant Bradley Kasal joined the squad that went to rescue. Entering the house, and as he moved toward the wounded in the next room, he and another Marine were raked in the legs by rifle fire. Then the grenades rained down.
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The men formed a plan: two would shed their gear, including rifles, then run in and out of the kill zone, extracting casualties one by one as other Marines provided cover. It was crazy, but maybe a way to get the wounded home. Bullets rained down, everybody was shot up pretty bad. “He had lost so much blood,” Marquez said, he looked like he was going to pass out.” But Kasal refused to leave until everyone else was out.
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Friends in Christ, one of the watch phrases of the military, is ‘No Man Left Behind. It is the confidence that every effort will be made to get you out, if you are hurt or in trouble or captured. Why is this so important? Because of the effect it has on morale.
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One of the most dangerous missions of the Vietnam War was the attempt to rescue 65 American POWs held at the notorious Son Tay prison. A 116-plane armada flew hundreds of miles over mountainous territory at treetop level to the prison camp. As it turned out, the prisoners had been moved. They had to return empty handed. Yet, when the POWS learned of the attempt, “morale soared.” They no longer felt abandoned or forgotten.”
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Friends this is very noble and heroic, but these efforts are focused on the value of our earthly, physical life. Of much greater consequence is the salvation of souls, and the rescue of others from Eternal damnation. The Centurion in the gospel today is very noble; he is seeking help from Jesus for his slave. A slave was nothing. A thing. A tool, in those days. No one would have such compassion for a slave, and so Jesus can perceive the goodness in this Centurion.
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Yes, Christ heals that slave, he healed the leprous man, and so many others. But what he is really interested in, is saving souls. We ourselves admire a Marine who gives everything to rescue his buddy. No man left behind. But the question we can pose to ourself can be: Is this my attitude toward others? That no one will be left behind? We hope to save our souls; we work for that, we pray for that. But what about the others? Can we say in our heart, we wish that no one will be left behind? Do our prayers and actions and words reflect this? It is said, you can’t get to heaven if you don’t bring someone with you.
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Our Lord will say in the gospel, Two will be working in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two will be grinding meal; one will be taken and the other left. two will be in bed; one will be taken and the other left. Our own motto must be, no one will be left behind. Not one of our family members, not one of our neighbors.
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It’s true, the Enemy is raining down bullets and grenades on people today – many people we work with or know, are pinned down by the Devil’s hellfire. But we want to save them, we want to rescue them. St. Francis de Sales so passionately wanted to save a group of heretics, that he crawled on a frozen log over a chasm every day to preach to them.
‘Lord, give us this passion for the salvation of souls.’
‘Lord, make our hearts the hearts of apostles.’
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Now we are not faced with a frozen log, nor with bullets or grenades. The task for us is more subtle, and as the Lord will say, we must be cunning as serpents and innocent as doves. What we need, is a powerful attractive force, to bring wayward souls to God. And that attractive force is two-fold: prayer, and human virtue. Under the influence of prayer, it is usually human virtue by which we attract a wayward soul.
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Jesus did this. We see how he shows compassion, healed bodily ills: the leper, the Centurion’s slave. His person was attractive, people wanted to be near him – He did the human things that people would respond to, so that they would come to him to be healed in their souls. We must use human virtue to attract souls.
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When we are known in the office as responsible, hard-working, amicable – people see that. The wayward soul sees that; the atheist notices this. And they notice our sincerity, our fairness, and good humor. Our wayward adult son or daughter – they see our love, our faithfulness, our kindness; yes, sometimes they hear us speak about faith, but what penetrates over time is our human virtue.
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With this kind of soil, we can plant a seed – it may not be we who see the harvest, in this life; but with prayer, the harvest will come.
May the Blessed Virgin intercede for us; Mary, pray for us, that we will seek lost souls for Christ, so that no one will be left behind.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas]

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