Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lessons from ‘Sandy’s School’

The Andrea Hotel as it used to be.
The Andrea after Hurricane Sandy.

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on November 11, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Kings 17: 10-16; Hebrews 9: 24-28; Mark 12: 41-44.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2012]


You might go to St. Pius X School or some other grade school in town; you might go to the middle school or the high school or a college or a graduate school—or your days in the classroom might be a far distant memory at this point in your life.

It doesn’t matter.  Two weeks ago we were all the same; two weeks ago, as residents of southern New England, we all attended the very same “academic institution”.

It was called, “Sandy’s School.”

None of us liked it, but that didn’t matter.  We were forced to “attend classes” anyway! 

But that, my brothers and sisters, in the long run, wasn’t a totally bad thing.  In fact, if we learn the lessons taught to us by our teacher, Sandy, and then put them into practice in our lives, they can actually bring us great blessings—both here and, even more importantly, in eternity.

By now I’m sure you realize that the “Sandy” I’m referring to, who taught us at this “school,” is none other than the hurricane that we experienced on October 29th. 

The devastation it caused—especially at our beautiful beach—was almost beyond belief.  Most of you, no doubt, have seen the pictures.  For any of you who were alive back in 1938, I’m sure it all brought back some memories—some incredibly horrible memories.  I’m trusting that the words of today’s responsorial psalm are prophetic in this regard.  There we are told, “The Lord raises up those who were bowed down.”

Our community and many others along the east coast have certainly been “bowed down” in recent days.  Let us look forward to being “raised up” in the not too distant future.

But in the meantime we need to take advantage of the opportunity we have to grow from this tragic experience—especially in the spiritual dimension of our lives.  St. Paul says in Romans 8: 28, “For those who love God, all things work together for good.”  He doesn’t say that everything that happens to us in this life is good; but he does say that for those who love God all things (including the sufferings and tragedies and ‘Hurricane Sandys’ of our lives) can work for our ultimate spiritual benefit.

They can make us better and stronger and holier, if we allow them to!

So what are some of the lessons that we can take with us from our recent time in “Sandy’s School”?

Well, lesson 1 should be obvious: We are not God! Some people in our modern world may “play God” by destroying innocent human life through abortion or other means; New Agers may think they’re divine; and some, like the scribes that Jesus refers to in today’s gospel, may want others to treat them like they’re divine—but there’s only one Lord!  And he reigns forever, as we’re also told in today’s responsorial psalm.

The second lesson follows from the first: Because we are not God, many things in this life are beyond our control—so our trust ultimately needs to be in the Lord, who can help us face and deal with the uncontrollable “Sandys” of this life (as he helped the widow of Zarephath in today’s first reading).

Lesson number 3: Nothing in this life lasts forever, and we shouldn’t expect it to.  As some of our teenagers put it at youth group the other night, “Worldly things are not eternal.”  Well said.

Which is why lesson 4 is so important: People are more valuable than things.  The Book of Revelation says that when we die our good deeds accompany us into the Kingdom of God; it doesn’t say anything about our “stuff” coming with us!  That’s because all our stuff stays here!  We won’t get any prizes in heaven for our possessions here on earth, regardless of how wonderful they were.  We will be rewarded, however, for our love of neighbor.

So I guess you could say that lesson 4 has a second part: People are more valuable than things—so don’t get too attached to your stuff here on earth, because, sooner or later, you’ll have to let go of it.  If a catastrophe like Sandy doesn’t cause that to happen, death certainly will.

Lesson number 5 is one that we should all have learned as soon as the lights went out on the Monday of the storm: We need other people!  Almost all of us needed Jack Carey and the people from National Grid to get us out of the darkness and back into the light, so to speak.  Many of us needed assistance in other ways after the storm—and some of us still do!  Tragedies like this make it clear that we are not—and are not meant to be—Lone Rangers in this life.  We need our brothers and sisters.  That’s why today’s gospel is so timely.  Here we have a widow who gave what she could to help others.  She gave in spite of her own poverty; she gave from her heart, out of love for God and neighbor.  And her gift was pleasing to the Lord.

This woman was clearly “right” with God; which brings me to yet another lesson that we learn from Sandy—and especially from what Sandy did to so many beautiful buildings down at the beach.  The lesson is: Get right with God NOW!  Don’t put it off!  In today’s second reading it says that we die once (which means there’s no reincarnation!) and after death we are judged.  But that moment—that decisive moment—when we exit this life and meet the Lord face to face can come quickly and unexpectedly—as quickly and as unexpectedly as the end came for those homes and businesses on Atlantic Avenue the other day.

So the bottom line is: If you’ve been thinking of going to confession and have been putting it off—stop putting it off!

Think of the Andrea Hotel!  Or Paddy’s.  Or the Pleasant View Inn.  Or one of the other places at our beach that was ruined.

That brings me to the last lesson I’ll share with you today, which in some sense ties together all the others: It’s crucial—it’s absolutely crucial—that we center our lives on the unchangeable, not the changeable!  The Bible warns us often and in various ways that it’s a mistake to put your ultimate hope on anything or anyone in this world—because this world is constantly changing!  The Letter to the Hebrews says, “We do not have here [on earth] a lasting city.” (Hebrews 13: 14)  In 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, St. Paul says, “The world as we know it is passing away.”  And St. Peter, in his first letter, quoting the prophet Isaiah, says, “The grass withers, the flower wilts, [we could add, ‘the beach erodes’] but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1: 24)

In today’s second reading we hear about Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice, which has won for us the grace of eternal salvation.  That grace is always available to us; all we need to do is reach out for it through faith and repentance.  It’s always available to us because Jesus Christ doesn’t change like the New England weather changes!  He doesn’t change like everything here on earth changes.  He’s the same yesterday, today and forever.

That’s why our relationship with him needs to be the most important relationship we have in this life.

So there you have it, a few of the lessons that we can—and should—learn from our common experience in "Sandy’s School".  In closing, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had teachers in our lives that we have liked a lot more than Sandy (I sure have!), but popularity is not the ultimate measure of a teacher’s effectiveness.  The effectiveness of a teacher is ultimately measured by how well that teacher conveys the truth to his or her students.  Well, based on that criterion, I think we would have to say that Sandy was a very effective teacher for all of us, because she taught us some of life’s most important truths in a very powerful—and a very memorable—way!