Sunday, December 02, 2007

How to Ruin Things

One way to ruin a house

(First Sunday of Advent (A): This homily was given on December 2, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Hebrews 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Advent 2007]


Today’s lesson is on how to ruin things.

Now that might sound like a rather negative topic for a Sunday homily, but I can assure you that at the end of it all, the message will be a very positive one.

How to ruin things . . .

If you own a car, and want to ruin it, the good news is you have a number of options. For example,

  • You can drain the oil out of the crankcase and then attempt to go on driving the vehicle (you probably won’t get very far);
  • You can slash the tires, smash the windows and put dirt in the gas tank (that will certainly do the trick);
  • Or you can just “let things go,” so to speak. In other words, you can neglect the oil changes, the tune-ups, and the many other items of routine maintenance called for in the owner’s manual. It will take a little longer, of course, to ruin your car in that way—through neglect—but eventually it will happen.

If you own a house, and want to ruin it, you also have a lot of options:

  • You can have your teenagers play contact sports in the living room, and allow your three-year-old to do artwork on the walls with his finger paint;
  • You can smash the furniture, rip the curtains and break all the dishes and glasses in the kitchen;
  • You can turn on the water in the upstairs bathtub and then let it overflow—for 3 or 4 hours;
  • Or, once again, you can just let things go. You can avoid painting the house, fixing the roof, cleaning the floors and doing all the routine maintenance that’s required to keep a home in good shape.

If you want to ruin a friendship, you can do a number of things:

  • You can call your friend and tell him off;
  • You can spread false rumors about him;
  • You can cause division in his family and break up his marriage;
  • Or you can simply ignore him and pretend he doesn’t exist! Every friendship needs to be nourished by personal contact on some level. Without that contact, a friendship can very easily weaken and die with passage of time.

I give these examples today because on this First Sunday of Advent the focus of our gospel reading is on the second coming of Jesus Christ. This, as most of us know, is one of the foundational beliefs of our faith. As we say in the Creed every Sunday, “[We believe that Jesus, our Lord and Savior,] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” That same belief is expressed in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer when we say, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ WILL COME AGAIN!”

We believe that the physical world as we know it will eventually come to an end. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “We do not have here a lasting city.” At some unknown time in the future, Jesus will come again as our judge, and put a definitive end to human history.

But even if we don’t live to see that day, we will all experience the Lord’s second coming: we’ll experience it at the moment we die! And because that moment can literally come at any time, Jesus urges us in this gospel to always be ready!

Here’s an interesting thought: In today’s second reading from Hebrews 13 it says, “It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Our salvation is also nearer now—at this moment—than it was when I began my homily! Did you realize that? And it will be nearer at the end of my homily than it is right now!

Every second that passes, brings each of us one second closer to the end—to our end.

That end, of course, is also supposed to be a beginning: the glorious beginning of a new life with Jesus Christ in his eternal kingdom. But getting into that kingdom is NOT automatic, as Jesus makes clear in this text! Which is precisely why I entitled this homily, “How to ruin things”! Just as it’s possible to ruin a car, and a house, and a friendship, so it’s also possible to ruin our eternal salvation!

And we can ruin our salvation in the very same ways that we can ruin those other things I mentioned. For example, I said that you can ruin a car by DOING certain things to it: by taking out the oil, by slashing the tires, by smashing the windows, etc. But then I said that you could also ruin a car by simply neglecting it: by neglecting to change the oil and perform the normal maintenance specified in the owners manual.

I also said you could ruin a house or a close friendship in either of those two ways: by actions or by neglect.

I said all those things for a reason: to make an important parallel with our spiritual lives!

Think about it: How does a person ruin his or her salvation?

Well the obvious answer is: by doing something really bad! We lose salvation—we lose sanctifying grace after Baptism—by committing a mortal sin and never repenting of it.

But that’s only half the story! We can also ruin our salvation through neglect. And I base that assertion on the words of Jesus in this gospel. Jesus starts off here by comparing people who are not ready for his second coming with the people at the time of Noah who were unprepared for the Great Flood. Now I would have expected Jesus to say that these unprepared people back in Noah’s day were lying, cheating, stealing, killing one another and committing adultery—and this is why they weren’t ready.

But notice something: THAT’S NOT WHAT HE SAYS! Listen again to his words: “In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.

Now I ask you, what was so bad about eating—and drinking (we all need water, don’t we?)? What was so bad about marrying and giving someone away in marriage?

The answer is: Nothing! Those things were—and are—all GOOD! That was not the problem! The problem was NEGLECT! What Jesus was saying is that these unprepared men and women were guilty of NEGLECT! They lost their lives simply because they were going about their daily business while at the same time neglecting to take care of their souls!

So how do you ruin your salvation?

By committing a mortal sin, yes; but also by neglecting your spiritual life! Because when you neglect your spiritual life, you can easily fall into mortal sin.

Think now of all the things that most people do NOT neglect during the season of Advent:

· They do not neglect shopping (although they might wait until the last minute!);

· They do not neglect cooking and baking (they’ve just got to make those special Christmas cookies for everybody in the family!);

· They do not neglect socializing;

· They do not neglect decorating (even if they don’t like to do it);

· And they certainly don’t neglect eating—and eating—and eating!

But a lot of people neglect their souls, don’t they? They neglect spending extra time in prayer. They neglect coming to Mass on the Holy Day that falls during these 4 weeks: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8; they may even neglect attending a Sunday Mass if they’ve got a lot of shopping or baking to do. They also neglect the extra opportunities they have to make a good examination of conscience and go to Confession.

They make extra time for everything and for everybody during this holy season of the year—except Jesus (who just happens to be the reason for the season!)!

Today, as many of you know, is “New Year’s Day” in the Church: it’s the first day of the Church’s new liturgical year. That means it’s a good day for all of us to make a joint resolution. Let’s resolve at this Mass NOT to neglect our spiritual lives during the next 4 weeks of Advent.

And by the grace of God may that resolution then carry over to the other 48 weeks of the year.