WHAT WE ARE IS GOD’S GIFT TO US; WHAT WE BECOME IS OUR GIFT TO GOD.

It is my personal and firm belief that each and every human being comes from God on a definite mission, with a specific message, and a special act of love to share. In other words, I truly believe in the absolute uniqueness of every human being. Stated differently, there has never been anyone like us before, and there never ever will be anyone like us again. Our mission, message and act of love are so very unique, that each and every one of us can rightly say that “I am not here by accident, but God’s providential designs.” This is a privilege, but with this goes the corresponding responsibility to utilise our God-given talents wisely, industriously and productively in furthering the kingdom of God one earth as it is in heaven. “What we are is God’s gift to us; what we become is our gift to God.”

One of the persons I most admire is the eminent African-American educationist, Booker T. Washington, who lived and worked more than a century ago. He has written his autobiography, which has been aptly entitled Up from Slavery.

Booker T. Washington was the son of a slave woman, who worked as a domestic help in the household of a wealthy white American family. As a slave, she had no dignity or rights, but could be used at the whims of her employer. And being so totally helpless and dependent, she had no alternative but to comply sheepishly at all times and in all circumstances. It was into such an unfortunate environment that Booker was born.

Providentially he turned out to be an intelligent and gifted child, but had no means whatsoever of pursuing his dream of a formal education. The family for whom his mother worked had a large library, but Booker was not permitted to enter the homestead, much less the library.

One day his mother fell ill, and the only one to step in as a substitute was Booker. On entering the library, he ardently longed to pick a book and read it, but that was far too dangerous’ the punishment could be very severe. However, on one occasion, his curiosity got the better of him, and he timidly and hurriedly picked a book and began to read. Just then his master entered. Booker froze with fear and wanted to apologise sincerely. To his surprise, the good master asked to reproduce what he had read. And, blessed as he was with a good memory, Booker repeated it almost verbatim. The master was so impressed that he gave him permission to borrow whatever he life and return it when he had finished. Booker’s joy truly knew no bounds. But he still yearned for a formal education, knowing full well that could open a new door to an exciting and rewarding future.

So at the age of sixteen, he pleaded with his mother to go to Richmond in Virginia. The family was so poor that his dear mother could not afford to buy him a bus ticket. Undeterred Booker decided to walk the 500 miles, living off the charity of good people on the way. And that is exactly what he did over the next couple of months.

On reaching a school, he sought admission but was informed that there was no vacancy. Undeterred once again, he volunteered to do odds jobs around the campus. This was granted. And over the next few months, he so impressed his employers with his regularity, diligence and efficiency that the Headmaster agreed to have him enrolled. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Not only did Booker T. Washington go on to become a highly successful student, but graduated with full honours from University. His dreams had come true, but hadn’t ceased. Well aware of the dismal plight of hundreds, who would not be so fortunate, Booker T. Washington went on to found the Tuskagee Institute in Alabama, where hundreds of thousands of African-American students have enjoyed a very good education that, in turn, has paved the way to a very successful career and a most prosperous future. For this singular blessing, generations of alumni are most grateful to the prophetic vision, the irrepressible dynamism, the dogged determination, and the unrelenting hard work of Booker T. Washington. “What we are is God’s gift to us; what we become is our gift to God.”

Blessed as he was with ‘five talents’, Booker T. Washington felt it his personal duty and divine commission to turn out ‘five more’, and this is what he successfully did with boundless confidence in himself and an unshakeable faith in God.

As I said at the start of this homily, it is my personal and firm belief that each and every human being comes from God on a definite mission, with a specific message, and a special act of love to share. In other words, I truly believe in the absolute uniqueness of every human being. Stated differently, there has never been anyone like us before, and there never ever will be anyone like us again. This is indeed our privileged role in this this the first quarter of the 21st century.

Even more, I truly and firmly believe that our mission, message and act of love are so very unique, that each and every one of us can rightly say that “I am not here by accident, but God’s providential designs.” This is indeed a privilege, but with this goes the corresponding responsibility to utilise our God-given talents, as Booker T. Washington did – wisely, industriously and productively in furthering the kingdom of God one earth as it is in heaven. “What we are is God’s gift to us; what we become is our gift to God.”

Said John Henry Cardinal Newman: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I am like a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. Therefore, I will trust Him. I shall do good; I shall do God’s work.”

 

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