Thursday, February 4, 1999

Thank you, Congressman Largent -- and I thank all of you for joining us at this annual gathering -- which reaffirms America as a pilgrim people and a nation of faith.

Every one of us, I believe, has a task appointed for us by the Lord. We are reminded: "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." A teacher should teach with all his heart; a parent should care for her child as if all heaven were watching; a machinist should take the utmost pride in a job well-done -- because all of us are asked by God to devote our daily work to others, and to His glory.

All of us have a chance to be made great -- not by our achievements, measured in the world's eyes -- but through our commitment to a path of righteousness, and to one another.

I also believe that our nation has a task appointed for it by the Lord. As the Gospel says: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." [Matthew 5:16] Though our founders separated church and state, they never forgot that this eternal spiritual light illuminated the principles of democracy, and especially the idea of the preciousness and equality of every human being. The truth that underlies the Constitution is that every human being, no matter how rich or how poor, how powerful or how frail, is made in God's holy image, and must be treated accordingly. We have seen, especially in this century, how dangerous and destructive the world becomes when individuals, nations, and leaders forget this eternal truth. Without it, the door to evil is wrenched open, wreaking untold misery on the human race: demagoguery and cruelty, racial hatred and totalitarianism, may enter unchecked.

When we understand our real nature and responsibility as true sons and daughters of the living God, it does not mean we retreat from the world -- even though all of us know how hard the world can be on our ideals. Rather, God asks us to move forward into human institutions and instead of conforming ourselves to them, change them for the better, doing our best to listen to the small, still voice that should guide us.

In Romans, there is a passage: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God...Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good... Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all." [Romans 12: 2-17]

As an old folktale says, there are two ways to warm yourself when it is very cold: one is by putting on a luxurious coat, the other is by lighting a fire. The difference is that the fur coat warms only yourself; while the fire lights anyone who comes near.

We have a comparable choice every day. Indeed, we are at a moment of great spiritualopportunity: to choose right. The end of the millennium is drawing near. So let us carry no spiritual debts into a new time, but recommit to a future where we "elevate mankind's faith...and fill the world with justice." [Maimonides, Laws of Kings, 4:10]

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