Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Importance of Offering Jesus our “Five Barley Loaves and Two Fish”

Mosaic on the floor of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, at Tabgha, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 29, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 6: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2012]

To create means “to make something from nothing”—which is why only God can create!  Now, I know, we often speak of human beings “creating” things such as great works of art—paintings and sculptures and the like; but when we do that it’s important for us to remember that we’re actually using the word “create” in an analogous sense—because even the greatest artist uses materials which already exist!  What an artist or craftsman makes, he makes from something else, from something that’s already present in the world.

So only God can create, properly speaking. 

But Jesus Christ was (and is) God!  He’s the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who assumed a human nature 2,000 years ago in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

That means that he had the ability and the power to create enough food to feed all 5,000-plus people in today’s gospel story with a simple and direct command!  All he had to do was say, “Bread and fish, come into being”—and they would have!

But that’s not what he did!  What he did was to ask a rhetorical question, and then wait for someone to offer him what they had; to give him what they had to give.

And when a little boy did that—when he (with the help of the apostle Andrew) brought forth the five barley loaves and two fish and presented them to Jesus—the Lord immediately went to work and multiplied the gift! 

He multiplied it a thousand-fold!

This, my brothers and sisters, is how God very often works in our lives!  He waits for us, under the prompting of his grace, to give him what we have: our gift of time, or talent, or treasure, or service—or all of the above—and then he multiplies the effect of our offering ten-fold or a hundred-fold or even a thousand-fold or more!

I’ll give you one very timely example of what I mean.  Last week we took 50 teenagers to the Steubenville East High School Youth Conference at U.R.I.  As I said in my homily last Sunday, this is an annual gathering of about 3,000 teens from all over the northeast, in which they have the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ in a personal way (especially in the sacraments), and to deepen or renew their Catholic faith.  These conferences started at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio in the mid-1970s, and they’ve become so popular over the years that now there are 17 of them annually throughout the country.  They are popular, by the way, because they work!  They convert young people very effectively.  The music is awesome; the talks hit them right where they’re at—and they have fun and get to know Jesus Christ at the same time. 

But this is not the first year we’ve done this.  It’s the 20th!  When we started off there were just a couple of conferences a year, and all of them were out in Ohio, on the Steubenville campus.  So we had to take buses there (which often broke down along the way!) and drive for 12 hours from Thursday night into Friday morning (sometimes with groups of close to 100 teens and chaperones). And then, when we were there, we’d have to sleep in big circus tents (which sometimes leaked when it rained) and endure oppressive heat—because the conferences were all outdoors at the time (no air conditioned arenas back then!).

And then, in the mid-1990s, when they brought the conferences to LaSalette, we endured more heat and dirt and rain and mud—and terrible food.  But at least the bus ride was a lot shorter!

My point, my brothers and sisters, is that this trip has never been easy.  Just ask Christine Magowan, our D.R.E., who does a great job coordinating this event every year and who’s been involved as a chaperone since the very beginning.

And yet, it’s all been worth it—because Jesus has taken what we’ve done (and endured) as clergy and chaperones—he’s taken, in other words, the “five barley loaves and two fish” of our obedient service—and he’s multiplied the effects of it a thousand-fold!

We’ve taken hundreds of teens to these conferences in the last two decades.  More than a few have entered the priesthood and/or religious life.  Some have become teachers in Catholic schools and colleges.  Some have gotten involved in youth ministry.  Many are volunteering in their parishes and local communities.  Many are living their Catholic faith while working out in the world.  Many are good Catholic parents who are trying to raise their children in the faith.  (In fact, in this regard, we had a first this year: we took a teenage girl to the conference whose mother had come with us 20 years ago—as a teenager!)

Yes, Fr. Ray, you’re getting old!

It’s always great to encounter someone who used to come to our youth group or to the conferences with us, who is now doing something great for God and the world.

A couple of years ago at U.R.I. during the conference a very tall Franciscan nun came up to me.

She said, “Fr. Ray?” 


“Fr. Ray from St. Pius in Westerly?”

“Yes. . . . Sister, do I know you?”

She said, “Yes; I used to come with you to these conferences about 10 years ago!”

Then I recognized her.  Her name is now Sr. Pia, and she’s living in a Franciscan convent in Pennsylvania; but I knew her many years ago as Trish Meehan.  She wasn’t from Westerly; she was from South Kingstown, but she and her friend Jackie Bertrand used to come to our youth group almost every Thursday night.

And, of course, they came with us to the Steubenville conferences in the summer.

Sr. Pia is a nun; Jackie is a young mom who now leads the Steubenville East group from St. Francis in Wakefield every year.

Jesus continues to multiply the good effects of our simple offering of “five barley loaves and two fish” in people like Sr. Pia and Jackie Bertrand.

And I’m sure that will be true of this year’s group.  In fact, it’s already begun to happen.  On that note, some of our young people wrote to me the other day about their experiences at the conference.  I’ll close my homily today by sharing with you a few of the things they said . . .

One person wrote: “This was my first year here at Steubenville and it was so much more than what I expected.  I had an amazing time and don’t want to go home. . . . During Saturday night adoration something hit me and I couldn’t stop crying.  It was just so powerful and emotional.  I honestly can say that I was so moved by the whole thing and I wouldn’t take any of it back.”

Another wrote: “My experience at Steubenville was life-changing.  I experienced a connection with God and an understanding of my faith I had never felt before.  I look forward to extending everything I learned this weekend into my life.  I love feeling like I am so free yet so loved by God.”

One young man wrote: “I’ve never doubted Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist, but not until Saturday night adoration did I come to the full realization that Jesus, the Son of the one, living and true God, was fully and physically present.  For one of the first times, I truly saw and felt that I was kneeling in front of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, my Lord, Savior, and Redeemer.”

One girl who signed her reflection “a renewed Catholic,” wrote: “As soon as God sent me the sign I was waiting for, there were fireworks—literally!”  (That’s true, incidentally.  There were fireworks somewhere in the Kingston area last Saturday night!  How nice of God to schedule things that way!)

Another girl said, “Reconciliation was by far my favorite part [of the weekend], just to get everything off my chest.”  (And I’m sure she wasn’t alone in her perspective, since thousands go to confession at this retreat.  We priests have trouble keeping up.  And most of the priests will tell you that the confessions they hear at Steubenville East are some of the most thorough confessions they hear all year.)

And finally, this comment, which in some sense summarizes all the others: “Overall, the retreat is a memorable, life-changing experience that will remain in my heart forever.”

Over the last 20 years, my brothers and sisters, hundreds of young people from our community have had experiences like this at the youth conference.

Not bad for our small, humble offering to Jesus Christ of “five barley loaves and a couple of fish.”

What is God calling you to offer him in terms of time, talent, treasure, and service?  In other words, what are the “five barley loaves and two fish” that he wants you to give to him in your life, so that he can multiply them like he did in today’s gospel?

Reflect on that question during this coming week—and, when God gives you an answer, resolve to act on it!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Steubenville East 2012

We had another awesome experience at Steubenville East this year!

We took a group of 50 teenagers to the conference, most of whom were from St. Pius, Immaculate, St. Michael's and St. Clare's.

What a fantastic group of young people! Most, if not all, entered into the weekend with open minds and hearts--and Jesus blessed them in many different ways for their openness! (On that note, make sure you check out next Sunday's homily, in which I will quote what some of the teens had to say about their experience on the retreat.)

The theme for the weekend was "the 8th day"--which is an expression that symbolizes the new life we have received as baptized believers in Jesus Christ. As the Catechism puts it, "the 8th day begins the new creation." 

The Biblical theme-verse for the weekend was Isaiah 43:1 which reads, "But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.'"

Below you will find some pictures from the conference. One thing that strikes me about these shots is how many of them are of "groups" of teens. These young people truly lived as the unified body of Christ on this retreat. They demonstrated, for the most part, a true Christian charity toward one another. One young man, for example, who has attended the conferences for a number of years, told me afterward that his focus this past weekend had been on "the younger ones--those who were there for the first time."

He wanted to help them to get all that they could out of their Steubenville East experience.

I think he succeeded.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Remember to get your ticket early for Steubenville East 2013!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is It Re-creation, Or Is It Just Recreation?

(Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 22, 2012, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 6: 30-34.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixteenth Sunday 2012]

Is it re-creation, or is it just recreation?

That, I think, is a good summertime question to reflect on in mid-July.  Summer, after all, is a time for recreating: a time when many of us go on vacation, and relax and socialize a lot more than we do at most other times of the year.

Now the difference between the words re-creation and recreation is very small: just one little hyphen between the “e” and the “c” of re-creation.

But the two concepts are definitely not the same!

Many people recreate (and not just during the summer months); but far fewer people actually re-create when they recreate! 

Hopefully you can follow that.

I looked up the word “recreation” the other day, and the first definition I came across read as follows: “Activity done for enjoyment when one is not working”—and I suppose we should add, “or when one is not going to school,” for the benefit of the young people here present.

“Re-creation” on the other hand, is defined very differently.  The first definition of re-creation that I came across consisted of three simple words—three simple words that speak volumes: “to create anew.”

To re-create means to create anew.

So what’s the difference between recreation and re-creation?

Well, I suppose you could say that it’s the difference between doing something that’s enjoyable and rewarding and doing something that’s enjoyable and rewarding—and that also renews you spiritually and brings you closer to God.

There’s a spiritual dimension to re-creation that’s not present in mere recreation.

Thus it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, was into both: he was a man of both recreation and re-creation.  In this regard, the Bible tells us that he often “got away from it all” (so to speak)—or at least he tried to!  Sometimes he went alone.  For example, in Luke 5: 16 it says that he “often retired to deserted places and prayed.”

At other times, he took his disciples along with him.  We see that in today’s gospel story.  The apostles had just spent some time preaching, and teaching, and anointing the sick, and driving out demons in Jesus’ name—and they were understandably tired.  They needed a mini-vacation to get recharged and reenergized both physically and spiritually.  And Jesus realized that.  So he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.”

Now in this particular instance it didn’t go very well: their mini-vacation ended up being over almost before it began.

Sometimes that happens. 

But I’m sure that that the little time they did have together was put to good use.  In all likelihood, it wasn’t all small talk and social time.  Since Jesus was in charge, I’m sure they prayed together, and I’m sure they spent some time sharing stories about their recent experiences of ministering to people.

They used the little free time they had for both recreation AND re-creation!

I mention this today, because, as I indicated a few moments ago, many people recreate during the summer months every year, but many of those very same people fail to re-create when they recreate.

And that includes a large number of Catholics!  I’m always amazed, for example, at how many Catholics don’t go to Sunday Mass when they’re away on summer vacation.

I find this out when I hear their confessions afterward!

And I’m talking here about Catholics who are in church every other Sunday—and even on holy days!

When I was a lay person (26-plus years ago), and I went away, that was the first thing I checked when I arrived at the hotel.  I said to the person at the front desk, “Where’s the nearest Catholic church?”

And that was before personal computers and smart phones!  Now all I’d have to do is go online and do a quick web search (which, of course, I don’t—because now I can say my own Mass in my hotel room.  It’s one of the perks of being a priest!  Have Mass, will travel!).

My point here is that if we’re into re-creation and not just recreation, we should make Mass our first priority whenever we’re away on vacation!

And we should say grace at our family meals (as we always should!)—with perhaps an extra prayer or two beforehand.  You know one of the benefits some people experience on summer vacation is that they get to do something with the other members of their family that they don’t often do with them at other times of the year: EAT!  As we all know, because of all the activities that people are involved in these days—especially young people—many families rarely sit down to have a meal together!

But they do eat with one another on vacation—because no one has anywhere to go!

Well, let me suggest something to you for your family vacation meals (which is something you can also do during the rest of the year, on those rare occasions when you’re all together!).  And dads, if possible you should orchestrate this as the spiritual heads of your families:

Before you start eating, ask each person at the table to say one intention that they want to pray for.  Just one.  It could be for themselves, or for a friend, or for a situation at work or school—whatever.  (Dads and moms, you should also come up with an intention each.)  Then say one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be for those needs, followed by Grace.

That whole experience will take, at most, 5 minutes, but it will be extremely beneficial.  First of all, it will give your family the opportunity to focus on God, and to engage in some spiritual re-creation in the middle of all your vacation recreation.

Secondly, it will provide you dads—and moms—with some subject matter for your dinner conversation that night with your children.  (“John, you mentioned that your friend’s dad just got diagnosed with cancer.  How’s he doing?  Does the family need any help?”)

And thirdly, engaging in this activity will help you to know at least some of what’s going on in your children’s lives!  Their intentions will reveal some important details of their day-to-day experience that will help you to help them more effectively.

Let me close my homily today by expressing my own personal prayer intention for this Mass as the spiritual father of St. Pius X Parish:

I would like to pray for the 50 teenagers from our community who are attending the Steubenville East High School Youth Conference at U.R.I. this weekend.  This is an annual gathering of about 3,000 teens from all over the northeast.  And what’s nice about our group this year is that it’s made up of young people from all the parishes in the area: we have teenagers from Immaculate, St. Clare’s and St. Mike’s, in addition to those from St. Pius.

These conferences are extremely popular because they work! Because they convert young people very effectively!  The music is awesome; the talks hit them right where they’re at—and they have fun at the same time.  It’s an experience of recreation, and for many—perhaps most—it’s also a lasting experience of re-creation. 

They come back transformed: with a new perspective on God and faith and the Church and the sacraments—and on life in general.

I pray that all of our young people—all 50 of them—will be changed in this way.

And I pray that the change will last!   

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In The Midst Of All That You Don’t Understand, Focus Your Attention On What You DO Understand: What You Know, By Faith, To Be True.

My grandfather, Nick Suriani, smiling (as he so often did) at Christmas, and in his big, green recliner

(Fifteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 15, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ephesians 1: 3-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifteenth Sunday 2012]

I call it, “the shrug”.

It happened more than 25 years ago, although in some respects it seems like yesterday.  I was visiting my grandfather—my father’s father—at his home in Barrington (which happened to be located directly in back of Holy Angels Church, my home parish when I was growing up).  Gramps was reclining in his big, green recliner in the center of the living room—sort of like the king in the middle of his kingdom; I was sitting on the couch to his left.  He was in his early-90s at the time, but, by the grace of God, he was still in relatively good health.  Even at that point, he had thick, strong forearms that were the result of many years of hard labor as a bricklayer. 

He lived until he was 98, and my grandmother lived almost as long.  God blessed them both with many years.

Unfortunately, however, three of their four children (including my dad) died before the age of 55—all of cancer.  And it was that sad series of events that we began to talk about that day when I was visiting.  And I’ll never forget it—at one point in the conversation my grandfather stopped talking.  He turned his head, looked right into my eyes, lifted his big arms, and with a sad look on his face did this. . . . (Shrug)

The shrug.

And then he sighed.

It was one of those simple, profound actions that spoke volumes.  It was as if he had verbally said to me, “Raym (Italians usually cut off the ends of words, and that’s the way it was with my grandfather.  He never called me Raymond—or even Raimondo—it was always ‘Raym’.)  Raym, I don’t understand it.  Here we are—your grandmother and I—over 90-years-old.  God has allowed us to live so long, and that’s great.  But at the same time he allowed three of our four children to die at such young ages.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  I can’t figure it out.”

I responded to his gesture by simply saying, “Yeah, gramps, I know.  I don’t fully understand it either.”

At that point, as I recall, I went over and gave him a hug.

And yet, my brothers and sisters, my grandfather was not an angry or bitter person.  Neither was my grandmother.  In fact, if you asked me what I remember most about my grandfather, I would tell you it was his smile—and his pleasant disposition.

And neither blamed God for the tragic events of the past.  They didn’t understand why God allowed certain things to happen as they did, but they never blamed him.  Both were people of deep faith.

Just ask Fr. Giudice.  As I said a few moments ago, my grandparents’ house was located directly in back of Holy Angels Church, and my grandfather would often walk over during the day and make visits to the Blessed Sacrament.  Well one afternoon Fr. Giudice happened to meet my grandfather as he was making one of his many visits, and he asked him, “Nick, what do you do when you come here to church during the day?”

My grandfather said, “I sit here and look at God, and God looks back at me.”

Many of the great spiritual masters would say that that’s a perfect description of contemplative prayer!

So obviously my grandfather found peace and strength by turning to the Lord and praying to him.  But I think there was something else at work here as well.

There were many things about his own life—and about life in general—that my grandfather did not understand.  That was clear from his “shrug”—and his sigh.

But there were also many other things that he DID understand!—things that he knew, by faith, to be true: for example, that God loved him, and that God was with him (even when he wasn’t “looking at the Lord” in church).  He also knew that Jesus died for him—and for his three deceased children—so that he and they could live forever someday in his kingdom.

And it was truths like these that my grandfather must have called to mind frequently (both when he was in church and when he wasn’t)—which gave him that great smile that he had on his face so often. 

I mention this today because I believe this is exactly what St. Paul did in his own life, which was also filled with trials and difficulties that he didn’t fully understand—like the “thorn in the flesh” he mentions in 2 Corinthians 12 (that God refused to take away).

In today’s second reading we have a passage from Ephesians 1 in which Paul lists some of the truths that he understood; things that he knew, by faith, to be true.  He lists them in the form of a hymn—perhaps a hymn that he and the early Christians sang when they gathered together for Mass. 

Listen to some of these verses again (this is from a translation that I think is a little better than the one we use in our Lectionary):

Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens!  God chose us in him before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love; he likewise predestined us through Christ Jesus to be his adopted sons—such was his will and pleasure—that all might praise the glorious favor he has bestowed on us in his beloved.  It is in Christ and through his blood that we have been redeemed and our sins forgiven, so immeasurably generous is God’s favor to us.  God has given us the wisdom to understand fully the mystery, the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ, to be carried out in the fullness of time: namely to bring all things in the heavens and on earth into one under Christ’s headship.

There were many things that St. Paul didn’t understand, but he did understand what was most important in life: the mystery of salvation in Christ Jesus.  This hymn, which I’m sure he knew by heart and recited often—even outside of Mass—talks about so many things: that this life has a purpose; that we are God’s adopted children through the sacrifice of Jesus; that we’re called to be holy; that God has a plan for us and for the world; that we have an eternal destiny that’s rooted in what Jesus Christ has done for us.

As was the case for St. Paul, we all have situations and circumstances in our lives that are difficult to make sense of; things that we do not fully understand—and never will (on this side of the grave, at least).

So the message of my homily today is very simple: In the midst of all that you do not understand, focus your attention on what you do understand: what you know, by faith, to be true.

Like St. Paul did.

Like my grandfather did.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

What to Say—and What Not to Say—In the Aftermath of a Tragic Death

(Thirteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 1, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Wisdom 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24; Mark 5: 21-43.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirteenth Sunday 2012]

What do you say to the family of a 45-year-old man who died in a tragic car accident a few days earlier and left behind a young son?

I faced that difficult situation just a couple of weeks ago, after Jon Alberghini from our parish died in a head-on collision on Old Hopkinton Road.

Hopefully you’ll never have to address an issue like this publicly in a memorial service or at a funeral Mass, as I had to the other day during Jon’s funeral Liturgy.  But in all likelihood you will have to deal with it in private—for example, in one-on-one conversations with relatives and friends of people who died suddenly and unexpectedly—people like Jon, or like the daughter of Jairus in today’s gospel story.

So, what exactly do you say?  What should you say?

Well, sometimes it can be good and appropriate for us to say nothing—or very little.  Sometimes our presence with a grieving person says all that needs to be said.  Actions do, very often, speak louder than words.  Much louder.  When I was a young priest (many moons ago!), I remember an old pastor saying to me, “When tragedies strike, people will not always remember what you said to them, but they will remember that you were there.”

And I can verify that by my own experience.  On the night my father died back in 1971, my friend, Frank, came over to spend the night at my house.  I have no recollection of anything he said to me that evening.

But I do remember that he was there!  He was a friend who was there when I needed him the most.

Now when we do open our mouths to speak to a grieving person, one thing we should always avoid saying is, “I understand exactly what you’re going through”—because we don’t!

Dealing with the death of a relative or friend is a very “individual” thing; no two people handle it in exactly the same way.

Your experience of dealing with death may be similar to mine, but it will never be the same in every way. 

At times I may be moved to say to a grieving person—for example, to a young man who’s lost his father at a young age (as I did)—“I think I can understand a little of what you’re experiencing right now.”

But that’s as far as I’ll go with it.  To say anything more would be presumptuous—and wrong!

Although it can be helpful to try to imagine what the other person is experiencing: to put yourself in their place, so to speak—not so that you can offer them some pompous or sanctimonious words of advice, but rather so that you’ll have a deeper compassion for them in their suffering.

My mother taught me that one, many years ago.

But compassion alone is not sufficient.  If we really want to help others in their pain of loss, we need to have the right ideas in our heads about death!  That’s crucial!  In other words, we need to know the truth that the Church teaches concerning our eternal destiny.  We need to know this truth about death and what comes afterward, so that we can help grieving souls embrace it, because it’s only by embracing this truth that they’ll find hope—real hope—in the midst of their pain. 

Which is where today’s first reading comes into the picture.  When someone dies suddenly and tragically—like Jon Alberghini—I will often suggest to the family that they choose this particular text from the Book of Wisdom to be the first reading of the funeral Mass.  I’ll do that because there can be a tendency to blame God in these situations, as if God were the author of death.  And obviously, if people blame God for the death of a loved one, they’ll turn away from him in their grief—which is exactly the opposite of what they should do and what they need to do if they want hope.

Listen to this passage again:

God did not make death,

nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.

For he fashioned all things that they might have being;

and the creatures of the world are wholesome,

and there is not a destructive drug among them,

nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,

for justice is undying.

For God formed man to be imperishable;

the image of his own nature he made him.

But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world.

I love this passage because it makes clear, first of all, that God is not the dealer of death; rather, as we say in the Nicene Creed every Sunday, he’s “the Lord and giver of life”!  God gives life, not death.  Death came into the world “by the envy of the devil,” as the text says.  So he’s the one we should blame, not the Lord!

And “envy” is the perfect way to describe his attitude.  Envy, remember, is worse than jealousy.  The jealous person experiences resentment at the success or achievement of another individual.  But the envious person goes one step further by trying to hurt or destroy the other person in their success or achievement.

Once Satan fell and lost his place in heaven, his attitude became, “Yes, I know I’m going to hell for all eternity, but I’m not going alone!  I’m going to take as many angels and human beings with me as I can.  I’m going to destroy as many of them as possible.”

That’s envy—at its absolute worst!  And it was out of this diabolical envy that Satan tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.

And we all know the rest of that story.  The temptation led to sin—the original sin—and this sin is what opened the door to sickness and death.

But God did not abandon us!  Because he loves us, and because—as this passage says—he formed us “to be imperishable,” he sent his Son into the world to restore what Satan had taken away. 

And, in the process, God gave us something even greater, namely, eternal life!  As it says in the Catechism, “The victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which sin had taken from us: ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ (Romans 5: 20).”  (CCC 420)

So yes, we still physically die; but if we’re united to Jesus by faith, and die in the state of grace, we receive something much greater afterward.  As St. Paul put it, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

That’s the Good News of Christianity!

If we can help those who have experienced a tragic death to understand and embrace these core ideas of our faith, they will have hope.  Their pain will not go away—nor should it, since their pain is a sign of their love for the deceased person (remember, even Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died); but they will have strength and hope in the midst of their pain and sadness.  They won’t blame the Lord for the tragic death of their relative or friend; rather, they will look to God in the confident hope that he has given their relative or friend the greatest possible gift: a perfect life that will never end.

Hopefully this homily has given you at least a few insights on what to say (and what not to say) when someone dies tragically.  Which brings me to my final word of advice: Remember to pray!  Prayer needs to be the foundation of whatever we do as Catholics.  So always remember to pray before you speak to any suffering person.  Ask the Lord to guide you in your speech (or in your silence), so that you will be his instrument of comfort, of hope and of peace.