(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on September 25, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 16: 19-31.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here:Twenty-sixth Sunday 2016]
My homily today is about the sin of “neglect.”
I decided to preach on this topic after I saw the movie, “Sully” earlier this week.
“Sully” is about what some have called the “Miracle on the Hudson,” which took place back on January 15, 2009. As most of you will probably remember, that was the day that U.S. Airways’ Captain Chesley Sullenberger (“Sully” for short) made an emergency landing of a jet airplane in the Hudson River in New York City. He made the decision to land in the Hudson because the plane had hit a flock of birds shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport, and had both of its engines knocked out in the process.
Sullenberger had to literally “glide” the plane into the river.
Amazingly—some would say “miraculously”—all 155 people on board survived the landing and were rescued shortly thereafter.
Most of the movie deals with the investigation that occurred later on by National Transportation Safety Board, which tried to determine whether there was some kind of pilot error in how Sullenberger handled the situation; that is to say, was there something Captain Sullenberger NEGLECTED to do that he should have done—like turn the plane around and try to land back at LaGuardia?
As the film portrays it, some people on the Safety Board were prepared to blame Sully and accuse him of failing to act as he should have in the crisis, but in the end it turned out that the members of the Board were the ones guilty of neglect.
And what exactly did they neglect?
You’ll have to see the movie to find out!
No spoiler here.
Neglect, it’s important to note, is not always a sin. For example, in this movie the members of the Safety Board were ready to make a judgment on Captain Sullenberger’s performance based on the information they had at their disposal. They didn’t realize that they were neglecting to factor something into their analysis—until someone made that clear to them.
But there are other times when neglect is a sin—as we see in this famous gospel story of the rich man and Lazarus. Notice why the rich man suffers after death. It’s not because he killed Lazarus; it’s not because he hated Lazarus and physically attacked him in some way.
All he did was ignore the guy! All he did was to NEGLECT the poor, sick man on his front doorstep—someone whom he could easily have helped. That was his sin.
And from the way the story is written it appears he neglected Lazarus in this way not just once, but every day!
The challenge of being a Christian—the challenge of living as an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ—is, from one standpoint at least, the challenge to eliminate sinful neglect from our lives.
And this involves more than simply reaching out to help the poor, the sick and the needy—although it certainly includes those things.
The fact is, sinful neglect can take many different forms. I’ll give a few examples:
1. Neglecting the condition of our soul. That’s definitely a form of sinful neglect. How many people think about the condition of their soul each and every day? From the relatively small number of people who go to confession on a regular basis, I would say that very few do! And yet the condition of our soul—in other words, whether or not our soul is in the state of grace—is what will determine where we spend eternity: in heaven or in hell.
Neglecting to reflect on it (at least occasionally) is a big mistake.
2. Neglecting our relationship with Jesus. That’s yet another form of sinful neglect. In many of the homilies he’s given since he became pastor, Fr. Najim has talked about the importance of having—and the importance of nourishing—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That, of course, is supposed to be the most important relationship we have in this life. But, since we don’t see Jesus in the same way that we see our relatives and friends, it’s very easy to put someone else in the number 1 position—or to neglect Jesus entirely.
3. Neglecting to teach children how to put the Lord first in their lives and how to set their priorities properly. This is a form of sinful neglect that we have to face every year in our religious education program. Every CCD director will tell you how frustrating it is to deal with certain parents, who attach a greater importance to their children’s involvement in sports and dance and other extra-curricular activities than they do to their children’s religious education and formation in the Faith. Without realizing it, perhaps, those parents are teaching their children that it’s okay to neglect your spiritual life when something “more important” comes along.
4. Neglecting our human relationships (especially in our families); in other words, putting things before people. Being a better mother or father or wife or husband or son or daughter or brother or sister or friend takes a back seat to buying some unnecessary luxury or to getting ahead professionally. People made in the image and likeness of God are neglected in favor of “stuff”—stuff that we will eventually leave behind when our earthly life is over.
In closing, I would ask you to take that word “neglect” home with you today and to pray about it. Say to the Lord, “Lord, help me to recognize any sinful neglect that’s present in my life right now, and give me the strength and determination I need to deal with it.”
Because, as the rich man in today’s gospel story would surely attest, it’s far better to deal with your sinful neglect in this life than to deal with it in the next.