Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas: It’s All About Priorities!

Hunter, Kandi--and Zoe!

(Christmas 2014: This homily was given on December 25, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 1: 18-25.)

[Fro the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2014]

Hunter Mahan is a professional golfer—and a pretty good one at that.  I’m sure most of the golf fans here have heard of him.  He’s won several times on the PGA Tour since he joined it back in 2004, when he was in his early twenties.

On Saturday, July 27, 2013 he was in great position to win yet another tournament—this one the 2013 Canadian Open in Oakville, Ontario.  The prize money he was competing for that weekend was over one million dollars.

Not bad for four rounds of golf, eh?

And he was ahead by two shots going into Saturday’s third round.  Definitely not a bad position to be in. 
His tee time that day was 2:50—a little later than usual because of a rain delay, so he decided to spend the extra time warming up on the practice range.  But his practice session was suddenly interrupted when his agent, Chris Armstrong, ran up to him holding out a cellphone.  Hunter took the phone and spoke to the person on the other end for a few moments.  Then he handed the phone back to Armstrong, and without any hesitation whatsoever he took his equipment, packed up his belongings, dropped out of the tournament—and headed off in a car for the airport to get on the first available flight to Dallas.

Which, of course, leads to the obvious question, Why?  Why would a PGA professional who was leading a golf tournament that had a huge cash prize just pack up and leave?

Well, it’s because the person calling Hunter Mahan that afternoon was his wife Kandi—his pregnant wife Kandi, who had gone into labor with their first child 3 weeks early!  This was July 27; her due date was August 16.  She actually called her husband from a car while en route to the hospital.

Now I’m happy to say that he made it home in time!  Hunter Mahan made it there in plenty of time to see his daughter, Zoe Olivia, born at 3:26 the following morning. 

But his decision to leave the Canadian Open when he was in the lead by two shots caused quite a bit of conversation in the sports’ world for a number of weeks afterward.  It was hard for some people in our extremely materialistic society to understand why Hunter Mahan made the decision he made.
Maybe it’s even hard for some of us to understand.

He, incidentally, has never regretted leaving the tournament.  Not for a single second.  For him, it was all about PRIORITIES!  As much as he wanted to be the 2013 Canadian Open champion and win a million-plus dollars, his wife and child meant much more to him.  Being there for them was a much higher priority than a worldly honor and a big paycheck.  As he said in an interview a few weeks later, “When I am done playing golf, I’d rather be noted for being a good husband and good father than anything else.”

I tell you this story on Christmas Day for a reason—a very important reason.  It’s because this beautiful feast of Christmas also happens to be about PRIORITIES!

Perhaps we’ve never thought about it that way before, but it’s true nonetheless.

And first and foremost, IT’S ABOUT GOD’S PRIORITY OF US!  The fact of the matter is, for the Creator of the entire cosmos—for the all-knowing and all-powerful Lord of the universe—WE ARE A PRIORITY!   And we’re not just any old priority, we’re A TOP PRIORITY!

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

You could modify that text to say, “For God considered each and every one of us to be such A PRIORITY—such an important and precious priority—that he sent his Son Jesus Christ into this world to die for our sins, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,” and it would mean the very same thing.

All of us need to hear that—especially those in this church right now who are close to despair.

Nothing is more precious to a good father than his child.  Just ask any good father you know and he’ll tell you.  And yet the best father of all—the heavenly Father—sacrificed his only begotten Son for our eternal salvation.  And he would have done that if we were the only person in human history who needed redemption.

For him, each of us is—and always will be—a most precious priority.

Of course, the real question is: Is HE a priority for us?  He should be—he deserves to be—OUR MOST IMPORTANT PRIORITY in this life.

But is he?

Is the Lord enough of a priority for me to make time for him every Sunday and holy day by attending Mass?  Or are other things—like sports—more of a priority?
Is the Lord enough of a priority for me to make the effort to talk to him (and to listen to him) every day in prayer?

Is the Lord enough of a priority for me to examine my life honestly every day in light of the gospel, and to seek his forgiveness regularly in the sacrament of Confession?

Is the Lord enough of a priority for me to make the daily effort to help my brothers and sisters in need, as Pope Francis has been telling me I should?

Is the Lord enough of a priority for me to change my life where it needs to be changed, so that I can be a more faithful disciple of his divine Son?

Those are important questions for us to reflect on today (and I include myself in that group).

It took me a while to figure out how to end my Christmas homily this year.  For a long time nothing came to me.  So I continued to pray about it and think about it over a period of several days, and finally, last week when I was on retreat on Ender’s Island, it came to me.  (I trust it was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit.)

All of a sudden I realized: It’s there in the name!  The thought I should end my homily with this year is there in the name—her name.

I told you a few moments ago that Hunter and Kandi Mahan named their beautiful new daughter Zoe Olivia.  Remember?  Well, the name Zoe comes from a Greek word that means “life”—and not just ordinary, natural life (the Greek word for natural life is “bios”) but rather supernatural life!  In fact, that’s the word which is used in the New Testament to signify eternal life: the risen life of Christ, the life of heaven, the life Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us!  A form of it is found in the verse I read to you a few minutes ago—John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

So the bottom line is this: Hunter Mahan had the right priority when he left that golf tournament last year—and he was rewarded.  He was rewarded with a beautiful little girl whose name points us toward the life of heaven.

He was rewarded with Zoe!

Which is exactly what happens to those who make God and their relationship with God THEIR VERY FIRST PRIORITY on this earth!  When all is said and done, and they leave this mortal existence behind, they, too, end up being rewarded with “Zoe”.

And that reward—that Zoe—lasts forever!