Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Lessons from COVID-19

(Christmas 2020: This homily was given on December 25, 2020 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 2020]


What is it?  See if you can figure out what “it” is; see if you can figure out what it is that I’m talking about here. 

  •         You can’t see it with your naked eye, but you can definitely see the effects of it;
  •          You can have it and not know that you have it;
  •          It affects everyone in some way;
  •          You have to take it seriously if you want to stay healthy;
  •          You can do some things to protect yourself from it;
  •          It can be deadly;
  •          It directly affects your relationships with other people;
  •          However it is possible for you to be restored to health even if you have a serious case of it.  That’s the good news.

So, what is “it”?  Well, I’ll give you all a hint … it is NOT the coronavirus!  It is NOT COVID-19—although all these points do apply in some way to COVID-19.

The “it” I’m talking about here is “sin”!  Sin.  Think about how these 8 points apply to sin.

  •  Point number 1: You can’t see it with your naked eye, but you can definitely see the effects of it.  That’s true.  You can’t see sin per se with your eyes like you see physical objects in the world, but you can—and do!—see the effects of sin, in your own life and in the lives of others.   We all saw the effects of sin, for example, on the streets of some of our major cities this past summer with all the rioting and looting and violence against the police.
  • Number 2: You can have it and not know that you have it.  You can have sin on your soul—serious sin on your soul—and mistakenly think that you’re in perfect health spiritually.  Think of how many people today have convinced themselves that certain sins are not sins.  Sins like hatred, unforgiveness, abortion, illicit sexual activity outside of marriage—either with yourself, with someone of the opposite sex, or with someone of the same sex.  These things are not considered to be sins anymore by a growing number of people.  But they are.
  • Point number 3: It effects everyone in some way.  In other words, we’re all sinners.  What I preach to you I have to preach first to myself, because I’m a sinner too.
  • Point number 4: You have to take it seriously if you want to stay healthy.  Just as we have to take the coronavirus seriously to keep our bodies healthy, so we need to take our sin seriously if we want to stay spiritually healthy.  That’s why it’s important to examine your conscience at some point every day.
  • Number 5: You can do some things to protect yourself from it.  We can protect ourselves from the virus through things like wearing masks and practicing social distancing; and we can protect ourselves from sin through prayer and the sacraments, by cultivating healthy friendships, and by trying to avoid the near occasion of sin in our daily lives.
  •  And we need to do these things because, as we see in point number 6, it can be deadly!  What COVID-19 can do to your body, mortal sin can do to your soul—which is even worse in the grand scheme of things.  It’s worse because the mortal body you have right now will not last forever, but your soul will.
  •  But that’s not the only reason that we need to repent of our sins.  We also need to do it because, as point number 7 reminds us: It directly affects our relationships with other people!  Think of how this virus has affected our relationships!  It has not been good.  It has physically distanced us from other people—even our loved ones, even members of our own families.  Well, that’s precisely what sin does to us in the spiritual dimension of things—it alienates us from others.  It puts a barrier between spouses, friends, family members, and others.  It destroys relationships.

Happily—and thankfully—there’s one more point on my list, which is why we’re here today.  It applies to the coronavirus (praise God), but even more importantly, it applies to sin: any sin, every sin, ALL SIN!  Number 8 reads: However, it is possible for you to be restored to health even if you have a serious case of it.  That’s the good news.

Thankfully, many do recover from COVID-19, even after having a serious case of the disease.  They may have to experience some time on a ventilator and/or in ICU—but, if they get the right treatment, they do get better.

Well, the same is true of sin!  If you get the right treatment, you can be freed from it.  If you get the right treatment, even the worst of your sins can be forgiven.  But that forgiveness is only possible because of what God did for us in sending his Son into the world 2,000 years ago.  As Bishop Sheen used to say, we are all born into this world to live, but Jesus was born into this world to DIE.  He came to free us from the eternal consequences of our sins and reconcile us to God the Father.  It was impossible for us to do that for ourselves, because we’re only human—hence our actions only have relative value.  The only man who could reconcile the whole world to God was Jesus Christ, since he was both human AND DIVINE!  That’s why Christmas is so important!  The divine Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  As man Jesus could represent all of us and every human person before the Heavenly Father, and as God all his actions had infinite value.  Hence his one act of atonement, his one act of dying on the cross on Good Friday, has made God’s mercy and forgiveness available to the whole human race.

That’s what we celebrate today; that’s what we celebrate (or at least that’s what we’re supposed to celebrate) every Christmas.

And, really, it’s all there in Jesus’ name.  His name literally means, “Savior”.  His name reveals his identity; his name reveals the purpose of his coming into the world.  That’s why the angel told St. Joseph, “[Your wife Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.  It’s also why the angel said to the shepherds, “I proclaim to you news of great joy …today in the city of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.”

A savior!  The angel didn’t call him a great teacher, or a great moralist, or a great miracle worker (although Jesus was all of those things and much, much more); rather, the angel called him a “savior”, because, first and foremost, that’s what our Lord was.

Which is good news, because the fact of the matter is that we all need to be saved from our sins—constantly.  And if we don’t think we do—if we don’t think that we sin—then spiritually I would say we’re just like those people who have the coronavirus but are asymptomatic.  We have the condition, but we’re not aware of it—which, as we all know, with the virus can be a very dangerous situation for us and for those around us.

The same is true spiritually.

Let me conclude my homily today by saying that I believe the Lord is extending an invitation to us this Christmas.  He’s inviting us to learn some important SPIRITUAL lessons from the coronavirus and our experience of the past nine months—because this virus acts on our bodies a lot like sin acts on our souls.  Hopefully I’ve made that clear in the last several minutes.  Now, unfortunately, there is no vaccine against sin—that’s one big difference between it and the virus.

But God has given us an effective “treatment” for our sins.  It’s called “mercy and forgiveness”.  For serious sins that treatment comes to us primarily through the sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).  That’s why we should go to Confession regularly.  When was the last time you went?

Many people will get the COVID-19 vaccine in the next several months, praise God!  But I wonder how many of those people will go to Confession in the same time frame. I would say that it’s foolishness—it’s absolute foolishness—to get a vaccine to keep your body healthy while at the same time rejecting or ignoring God’s treatment for your soul.  Your body will last, at most, another century or so.  Your soul, on the other hand, will live forever.

Let me leave you now with this thought.  Remember:


  • The vaccine for COVID-19 is good, but God’s treatment for sin is better.
  • The vaccine for COVID-19 is important, but God’s treatment for sin is much more important.
  • The vaccine for COVID-19 is optional, but God’s treatment for sin is not optional.
  • The vaccine for COVID-19 will hopefully give you more years of life here on this earth, but God’s treatment for sin will give you eternal life in heaven.

So consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine, by all means!  But never, ever neglect to get God’s treatment for your sins whenever you need to.