Dewey Wayne Waddell was born in 1935 and grew up in Georgia, and after completing AFROTC at Georgia Tech was commissioned into the Air Force and completed pilot training. He married and had a son and in 1967 was sent to Tahkli AFB, Thailand to fly missions over North Vietnam. On his 47th mission Wayne’s F-105 Thunderchief took anti-aircraft fire and he had to eject. He was captured almost immediately and sent to the Hanoi Hilton. Over the years he was moved several times and they worked him over to try and get forced confessions. He went through many of the same tortures as the other downed pilots that been captured. Now, because his parachute didn’t open completely, he knew it was possible that the Air Force would think that he was killed – and if they thought he was killed there would be not be a need to release him. Then at one point, some East German TV guys came to shoot a show they called Pilots in Pajamas and he was to be involved. He was told not to raise his face to the camera to ensure that his identity was concealed, but every chance he got he lifted his eyes to the camera. Sure enough in 1968 when the show aired, a US military monitoring program that checked Communist propaganda caught sight of Wayne’s face and shots were sent to the Air Force and then to his family and his status was changed from MIA to POW. His family had new hope and in 1973, Wayne was finally released after six years of imprisonment and returned to his family.
So, it’s Veterans Day Weekend, but I also bring up this story about a prisoner of war because in a way that is not completely unrelated, we are longing to be reunited with Jesus Christ who has promised to one day return in glory. As we near the very last couple of weeks before the celebration of Christ coming as our King, the Church presents us with readings that increasingly focus our attention on the end times. Today’s second reading describes how Jesus will come “a second time, not to take away sin, but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.” And in our Gospel, Jesus, after warning us of the behavior of the Scribes and their vainglory and their devouring the houses of widows for gain, speaks of judgment. “They will receive a severe condemnation.” Even the first reading where Elijah runs into the widow of Zarepath describes a time that would have looked like the end – God had passed judgment upon the Israelites and so they were in the middle of a three year drought where no rain fell upon the earth. Everything was drying up and dying off.
Why does the Church want us to think about the end of all things each and every year? For one thing because we are in the end times. In fact we have been living in the “end times” since Pentecost. We are in the final battle, but we don’t realize it because it’s already been going on for about 1985 years. Each of us has been in the battle – we have faced the Beast which is the devil – and we will face him again. The reason we need to be reflective about the end is that we tend to forget. It’s so easy to either think of this life as unbearable and we can’t keep going. Or on the other hand to think that things are pretty good and I’m sure it will always be like this. Jesus Himself tells us, “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….Therefore you must also be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Mt 24:42, 44).”
So, what can we learn from Elijah in the midst of great trial. Well, he does not depend on himself. Today, Elijah is really really hungry to put it mildly. He is so hungry that he asks a poor widow who has every reason to believe that she about to die of hunger to feed him before she feeds her own son. God sends Elijah to the very poorest looking for something to survive. He has nothing of his natural self to give her in exchange. Only the supernatural faith that God can supply for her needs. Had she stockpiled supplies? Nope. But, because of her charity to a man of God she has enough for another year – until the end of the trial and the new beginning.
But, just as the widow had to take a leap of faith that Elijah’s God would sustain her, Wayne had to have the guts to look up at the camera to get himself identified and have a better chance of making it back home. He could have been killed for disobeying. Elijah, the widow of Zarephath, and Wayne Waddell all have something in common. They were all living within a hair’s breadth of leaving this world – and they knew it. We are fragile too, but because our daily needs are more easily met we can forget the love and gratitude to God that keeps our spirits living.
In the Gospel, why does Christ take those Scribes to task? Is it because they seek for glory? Not exactly. Glory is not evil by itself, the problem is they seek it in the world. It’s as if Wayne were to have wanted to have the glory of being the best, most trustworthy captive and never looked up at the camera so that his captors would be pleased with him. The Scribes were seeking glory from the wrong source. They also ate up the poor widows’ money and gave nothing back – they preyed upon the people they should have been protecting. Then Jesus draws attention to this one widow whose story has been now all over the world, because while she had little to live off, she gave everything back to God. Wayne Waddell, risked everything of himself in service to his country, and finally returning to his family safely, he has received honors and glory.
We are all in this together. We get closer to Christ’s return each day. It is our duty to remain vigilant and to remember the lesson to put everything on the line for Christ and the Truth of His love, for He has done more than show His face – He comes to us even now in the Mass and if we live in hope, than our eyes will be lifted up to His.