Sunday, March 13, 2005

Who Will Have The Final Word In Your Story And Mine? Will It Be ‘The Hitchhiker’ Or Jesus?


(Fifth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on March 13, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read John 11: 1-44.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2005]

“The Hitchhiker.” It’s one of the most disturbing episodes of the old Twilight Zone television series from the 1960s.

The story concerns a young woman from New York named Nan Adams. Nan is on vacation; she’s traveling by car from Manhattan (where she works) to Los Angeles. However, along the way, she gets into an accident. That’s where the episode actually begins: the roadside mechanic is in the process of changing Nan’s flat tire.

As she’s standing there, waiting for him to finish his work, she suddenly notices a man up ahead on the side of the road with his arm extended and his thumb up, in a typical “hitchhiker pose.” Later she sees the same man at a gas station. Fifty miles further down the road she sees him again. In fact, everywhere she goes, she finds this hitchhiker—and it terrifies her. She can’t seem to escape him.

Finally, at the end of the story, they meet one another face-to-face, and the hitchhiker makes clear who he is: Death. Then Nan comes to the shocking realization that she had actually died in the earlier car accident. (Remember, this is the Twilight Zone!) The episode closes when the hitchhiker gets into Nan’s car and says to her, “I believe you’re going MY way.”

Sooner or later, every single one of us will meet that “hitchhiker.” Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany, met him in today’s Gospel story—and spent four days with him! Interestingly enough, Lazarus also met “the hitchhiker” a second time—a fact which separates him from the vast majority of the human race! That’s because when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he brought him back to THIS life—to this mortal existence! Hence, at some point afterward, Lazarus physically died again!

This miracle of the raising of Lazarus, although very impressive, was really only a sign. It was a sign of something better, something much better that was on the horizon, namely, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday! And, by extension, it was also a sign of the resurrection of the just—the resurrection that will be experienced by all those who leave this life united to Jesus in the state of grace.

Here, of course, we’re not talking about a return to a mortal existence (as was the case for Lazarus); we’re talking about entering a life that is perfect and forever—a life that comes from the risen Christ himself! As the Lord said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and [he] who lives and believes in me will never die.” (In other words, he will not experience eternal death when his earthly life is finished.)

But to RECEIVE this life in the end—this eternal life—we must CHOOSE life now!

Not coincidentally, we get in the end what we choose now! That’s the meaning of the text we just heard from Romans 8 where St. Paul writes, “If [and that’s a very important word in the text—if]the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you [in other words if you’re choosing to obey God and live in the state of grace—and choosing to repent whenever you fall into serious sin], then the One who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through the Spirit dwelling in you.”

Now you might think that “choosing life” would be relatively easy, especially given the alternative!—but it isn’t always. And that’s especially true in our contemporary culture, where sin (which leads to death) is often glorified, and where killing the innocent is sometimes portrayed as a great blessing.

The fact is, in many ways we are all encouraged on a daily basis to reject life and choose death (and the things that lead to death). This is something we need to understand, so that we won’t get caught up in it all.

Just look, for example, at the film that won most of the major Academy Awards this year: Million Dollar Baby. In case you don’t know, this is the story of a female boxer—paralyzed from the neck-down in a fight—who in the end is MURDERED by her “compassionate” trainer, who disconnects her ventilator and gives her a triple dose of adrenaline!

I wonder if Dr. Jack Kevorkian was a consultant for this movie? Here choosing sin and death is portrayed as a courageous and noble act!

Or how about the case of the severely disabled woman in Florida, Terry Schiavo? This has been in the news a lot lately. Terry’s husband—a man of dubious moral character—has been trying to do her in for some time now, with the help of activist judges (those, unfortunately, are pretty easy to find these days!).

Her parents, thankfully, are trying to save her life, because she is not terminally ill! Governor Jeb Bush (God bless him) has also made several efforts to try to prevent Terry’s MURDER (which would happen, incidentally, by the removal of her feeding tube and her eventual starvation).

Some doctors say she’s in a “persistent vegetative state” (that’s the way the media usually “spins it”); but other doctors maintain that she is, in fact, “minimally conscious,” since she appears to recognize and respond to the voices of family members and close friends.

In any case, here, once again, death is being glorified—by Terry’s husband and by some of his supporters in the secular media and the courts.

To receive life, we must choose life—and that means, among other things, recognizing and respecting the dignity of every human person, especially the weakest and the most vulnerable.

I began my homily today with a reference to the old Twilight Zone episode, “The Hitchhiker,” and that’s precisely how I’ll end it.

I said at the beginning that I found this particular show very disturbing. Looking back on it now, I think I found it so unsettling—so upsetting—because its message was so real! It was a powerful reminder of the fact that physical death is unavoidable. In the end, it will come for us all.

But if we “choose life” here on earth by remaining faithful to the Lord and by dying in the state of grace, then we need to know that our personal story will end a bit differently than this TV program ended—and that, believe me, is very good news!

Oh yes, the Hitchhiker will still make his appearance. He will come to us as he came to Nan Adams in the original story, and he will say the same thing: “I believe you’re going MY way.”

But at that point, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior—the Resurrection and the Life—will burst onto the scene. He’ll come like the ultimate hero of the ultimate story, and he will have the final word. He will say to Death, the Hitchhiker: “No. You’re wrong. Get out, and never come back. This one, you see, is going MY WAY.”

Let’s pray today that Jesus Christ—and not the Hitchhiker—will have the final word in your story and in mine.