Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, we once again encounter the image of light. Specifically, we hear these words of Jesus: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16).
In this passage, “light” refers to the good deeds we do as people.
But before examining this concept in greater detail, let’s look at how the heroic deed one man did shines through the ages.
Aloysius H. Schmitt was born on December 4, 1909 in St. Lucas, Iowa, a small farming community. Even at an early age, Aloysius told his parents that one day, he wanted to become a priest.
As a teenager, he entered Columbia College – now known as Loras College – in Dubuque, Iowa. After graduation, Aloysius joined the Archdiocese of Dubuque and was sent to study theology at North American College in Rome. Aloysius was ordained a priest of the archdiocese on December 8, 1935.
After he had served as a priest in different parishes, Fr. Aloysius expressed a desire to become a chaplain in the United States Navy. The archbishop granted his request, and in 1939, Fr. Aloysius was assigned to the battleship, USS Oklahoma, which was based at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Fr. Schmitt’s rank was Lieutenant, Junior Grade.
Fr. Aloysius made himself right at home on the ship. Because he was a very friendly and witty person, he loved to be around people and get to know them. In addition, he loved to be of service. Not surprisingly, he could be frequently found roaming the decks of the ship and assisting others in whatever tasks they were doing. Fr. Aloysius considered no work to be “beneath” him.
Fr. Aloysius also celebrated Mass for the Catholic sailors, and he celebrated non-denominational religious services for the non-Catholic men. He treated everyone with respect.
On December 7, 1941, Fr. Aloysius had just finished celebrating Mass when Japanese torpedoes hit the ship. The priest and many of the men were trapped below, and the only way to escape was through a small porthole.
One by one, the men began crawling through the hole to safety. When it was Fr. Aloysius’ turn, however, something in his pocket prevented him from going through the hole. The other men tried to push him through, but he told the men to bring him back in. He wanted to save the rest of the men instead of himself.
Fr. Aloysius helped twelve men get through the hole safely before the water engulfed him. Fr. Aloysius Schmitt has the honor of being the first American chaplain of any denomination to give his life in World War II.
Following his death, the United States government awarded him a Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his sacrifice. Fr. Aloysius’ remains are in Christ the King Chapel at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa – his alma mater.
Fr. Schmitt is also remembered in North Carolina at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville. The Catholic chapel at Camp Lejeune was first dedicated to St. Aloysius in honor of Fr. Aloysius H. Schmitt. Later, it was rededicated as St. Francis Xavier Chapel on January 27, 1943.
From the inspirational story of Fr. Aloysius H. Schmitt, and today’s Gospel selection on light from the Gospel of Matthew, we can glean many things. Here are just three.
First, the reason we do good deeds is because that is what is commanded of us as Christians. We don’t do them to “earn salvation,” for salvation is a free gift from God for us. We do good deeds because Jesus has commanded us: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5: 48).
Second, when we do good deeds, generally it is best to not broadcast them. Jesus, in fact, warned us of that very thing. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “…take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not low a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their rewards” (Matthew 6: 1-2).
And third, sometimes it is fruitful and necessary to deliberately let your good deeds be known to others. Teachers and parents do that all the time when they model certain behaviors so that their children can learn how to behave in Christian-like ways. In these instances, the teachers or parents are not bragging about their own behavior, but rather, are simply giving the child or youth practical direction by showing practical examples of desired behaviors.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we let our light shine before others. If someone were to film us during our daily lives, what would they film? Hopefully, they would film a saint.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: Allen J. Troupe, “Fr. Aloysius H. Schmitt: Iowa Boy, American Hero,” Internet,
markomalley, Nov. 11, 2010.