Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas and the Tragedy at Babcock Village

Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey answers questions about the tragedy at Babcock Village

(Christmas 2019: This homily was given on December 25, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2019]

Whether they were conscious of it or not, last Thursday morning, at about 10:30AM, the residents of Babcock Village here in Westerly understood the meaning of Christmas.  They understood it analogously—and experientially.  You see, the moment those men and women at Babcock Village realized what was going on—that there was an active shooter in the building who was a threat to their lives—they knew what Christmas is all about.

That’s because at that moment—at that terrible, frightening moment—they knew what they needed.  They knew exactly what they needed—and what they did not need.

They knew, for example, that they didn’t need a teacher.  They didn’t need someone to come in and teach them about how a gun works and what a gun can do to people.

They didn’t need a moralist to talk to them about the immorality of using a gun improperly, and how wrong it is to kill innocent human beings.

They didn’t need a social worker to help them get financial assistance or medical benefits.

At the moment they realized there was an active shooter in their apartment building, the good people of Babcock Village knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that what they desperately needed was a SAVIOR!  They knew that their lives were being threatened by a person with killing on his mind, and they knew that they needed somebody to come and prevent this murderer from killing them.

Thankfully that savior—actually I should say thankfully those saviors (plural)—came to the residents of Babcock Village that day in the persons of our first responders, especially our state and local law enforcement personnel. 

And they did a fantastic job.  God bless them for their efforts that day (and every day) to keep the rest of us safe.

I said a few minutes ago that last Thursday morning the people of Babcock Village understood the meaning of Christmas, even if they weren’t aware at the time of the connection between what they were experiencing and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

But hopefully you do recognize the connection.

You see, whether we’re conscious of it or not, spiritually speaking every one of us—every human person—is just like the men and women in those apartments on December 19: we’re in a situation that we can’t get out of on our own.  There’s a killer on the loose—a killer who believe it or not is far more dangerous than the Babcock Village shooter; and that killer, named Satan, wants destroy us for all eternity.  St. Peter describes him as “a roaring lion who’s looking for someone to devour.” His goal is to lead us into sin—preferably serious, mortal sin—and then to keep us there.  And these days he seems to be achieving his goal with a growing number of people.  If you don’t believe me, just read the daily newspaper!  But the fact of the matter is we’re all sinners and we’ve all sinned—many times.  Pride, greed, lust, envy, anger, gluttony and sloth: we’re all guilty in one way or another of at least some of those sins.

And those sins of ours (even if they’re small ones) are infinitely offensive to Almighty God, because our God is infinitely holy; he’s totally perfect.  But you’re not infinite and neither am I; you’re not perfect and neither am I.  We are finite human beings.  That means that all our actions have a finite value—no matter how good or numerous they might be.  Consequently we could never fully atone for even one of our sins.  Only someone who’s both human and divine could do that.  Because he’s human this individual could represent all of us before the heavenly Father, and because he’s divine each and every one of his actions would have INFINITE value.  Hence his one sacrificial act of atonement could bring forgiveness to everyone—everyone who needs it and then seeks it.

This is the “why” of Christmas, my brothers and sisters.  In John, chapter 3 Jesus says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

Only Jesus could do the job because he was both God and man.  As St. John tells us in the gospel reading for Christmas Day: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God” (that’s our Lord’s divine nature).  Then later on he says, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (that’s his human nature).

When people are asked the question, “Who was Jesus Christ?” many will respond by saying, “He was a great teacher” or “He was a great moralist” or “He was a great social reformer.”  And it’s true, Jesus was all of those things and much more.  But first and foremost, Jesus Christ was (and is) A SAVIOR—OUR SAVIOR! 

Because salvation is what we need most as human beings!  We need it most, because if we’re not saved from our sins and able to go to heaven at the end of our lives, nothing in this earthly life matters.  It’s all ultimately meaningless.

Earlier I said that on the morning of December 19, the people of Babcock Village did not need a teacher, or a moralist or a social worker—they needed a savior.  And the Lord, in his mercy, met that need.

Today we celebrate the fact that God has done something similar—and much greater—for us by sending us his Son, Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary on Christmas day, and who gave his life for us on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins—something we could never, ever have done for ourselves.

That forgiveness comes to us as Catholics first through baptism, and then through the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession).  On that note, when was the last time you made a good confession, a thorough confession, an honest confession?

I’ll end my homily now with these words, which were on a Christmas card I received a number of years ago:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a SAVIOR.

Praised be Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, now and forever.  Amen.