Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Holy Family: Three Lives with the Same Center

(Holy Family 2018 (C): This homily was given on December 30, 2018, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Family 2018

I remember hearing a talk back in the mid-1990s by Dr. Peter Kreeft, who at the time was a professor of philosophy at Boston College.  In this talk he outlined what he called, “Satan’s seven-step sexual strategy.”  This was his explanation of how the devil was currently working in the world to destroy families and ultimately the whole human race.  At the time I thought Dr. Kreeft was right on target in his analysis—and 20 years later I still think his insights are valid.  So here’s the strategy:

Step 1—this is the devil’s ultimate goal: winning souls for hell.  Step 2: In order for Satan to win many souls for hell, society must be corrupted.  Step 3: To effectively destroy society, family life must be undermined--because strong families are necessary in order to have strong societies.  Step 4: In order to destroy the family, you must destroy its foundation, which is stable marriage.  Step 5: Marriage is destroyed by loosening its glue, which is sexual fidelity.  Step 6: Fidelity is destroyed by promoting and defending the sexual revolution.  Step 7: The sexual revolution is promoted and defended by the media--through which the seeds of destruction are sown into the minds of millions of people every day.

Now I wish I could stand here and tell you that Satan’s strategy has failed miserably in the two decades since Dr. Kreeft gave this talk—but I can’t do that.  That would be a lie.  Tragically, the devil has been incredibly successful.  For example, I don’t think Dr. Kreeft could even have imagined in the mid-90s that for a large segment of our society in 2018 words like marriage and gender and family no longer mean what they’ve meant for thousands of years.

Confusion is a very effective tool of the devil (Dr. Kreeft makes that clear in his seven steps) and right now confusion reigns in our culture.  What, for example, do you call a transgendered person?  Which name do you use?  What do you put on an application form in the space where you’re asked to give your “sex”?  If you’re conceived through IVF, who are your parents?  Is it the sperm donor?  Is it the surrogate?  Is it the man and woman you live with?  Is it the scientist who fertilized the egg in the petri dish?  Is it some of these people, or is it all of these people?  In one way or another, are they all your parents?

We are so confused!  However we need to be clear about it: the confusion is not from God!

Thankfully those of us who are Catholic don’t have to live in this confusion—if we center our lives on God and his revealed truth.  Which is one of the great lessons we learn from the Holy Family!  Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived lives of (to quote today’s second reading) “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  They weren’t confused about right and wrong the way people today are.  That’s because they all had God and his truth at the center of their lives.  Their common ambition was to serve the Lord and do his will.

They had problems like we all do.  They faced tense situations in their family, as every family does.  We heard about one of those situations in today’s gospel reading from Luke 2.  But the fact that God and his truth were at the center of things made a huge difference in how they dealt with these challenging situations.

Notice, for example, what happened when Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus after searching for him for three days.  Mary said to our Lord, “Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”  Jesus responded, “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Now, did you notice something missing from that exchange?  I did—anger!  There was no anger in Mary’s question; there was no anger in Jesus’ answer.  And also note: after Jesus said that he had to be in his Father’s house, the conversation ended.  There’s no record of anything else being said.  I think there’s a reason for that: Even though Mary and Joseph didn’t fully understand our Lord’s response, it was enough for them to know that he was serving the heavenly Father.

He did what he did to serve God the Father, and that was a sufficient explanation for Mary and Joseph.  It was sufficient because they had the very same desire in their hearts!  Their lives were also centered on doing God’s will.  And so a scene, which could have been very ugly, wasn't.  The harmony of the Holy Family was not disrupted, although it very easily could have been.

And here's where we see the application to our families.  The three members of the Holy Family shared a common commitment to God, and that's why they had peace and harmony in their relationships—even in difficult and stressful situations.  They had a common center to their lives, and everything else revolved around that common focus.  In today's families, unfortunately, God is not always the common focal point.  Dad's life might be centered on work, mom's might be as well.  One child's life might be centered on sports; another child's life might be centered on music; another child's life might be centered on something else.  That is definitely not the formula for peace in a household—and for avoiding the mental and moral confusion that’s now rampant in our culture.  Rather, it’s the formula for alienation and more confusion. 

So today we all need to ask ourselves: what (or who) really is at the center of my life?  And if we discover that what’s at the center right now is not God and his truth, then we need to make a change--for our own sake, certainly, but also for the sake of our family.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

There Was No Room in the Inn

(Christmas 2018: This homily was given on December 25, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2018]

Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote the following: “When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be, ‘There was no room in the inn.’”

There was no room in the inn.

We don’t know who the innkeeper was on that first Christmas Eve in Bethlehem some 2,000+ years ago.  The Bible doesn’t tell us.  He will remain forever nameless.

But Bishop Sheen was right in what he implied about this man.  The innkeeper of Bethlehem really is one of the most tragic figures in human history—not because he did anything openly malicious or hateful or devious, but simply because he missed out on a tremendous opportunity.  He turned away the Son of God, and so he missed out on the chance to have his life changed forever.  He missed out on the opportunity to discover who God really is, and the power of God’s love.  He missed out on the opportunity to discover the meaning and purpose of life.  He missed out on the opportunity to experience a joy and peace that no amount of money can buy. 

He missed out on all that—and a lot more!—because in effect he said to Jesus, “I’m sorry, but there’s no room for you tonight in my inn.”

Now I’m sure this innkeeper had his reasons for responding to Jesus, Mary and Joseph as he did.  Maybe he was just too busy.  The Bible makes it clear that business was quite good that December night in Bethlehem.  Lots and lots of people were pouring into the town for the census Caesar Augustus had ordered.  Maybe he just figured he didn’t have time to be bothered with this pregnant woman and her husband.  After all, he probably already had a pretty hectic schedule: beds to make, food to prepare, linens to wash, people to get settled in their rooms.  In his mind it might have required too much effort to take care of these ragged looking strangers from Nazareth who were standing in his doorway.

Or perhaps he was overly concerned with what he was going to get out of it financially—and even more importantly what he might not get out of it financially.  Joseph and Mary, after all, were definitely not the King and Queen of Sheba!  They were poor people—the Scriptures make that fact crystal clear.  I’m sure the innkeeper realized that the first moment he laid eyes on them.  So he knew they definitely were not going to be big tippers!  And he might even have wondered about their honesty—about whether or not they would pay their bill once their stay was over.

Or maybe it was just a case of fear—deep fear.  Remember, in front of his eyes this innkeeper saw a woman about to give birth to a child.  Babies, as you parents know all too well, tend to be noisy—especially when they’re hungry.  And newborn infants tend to be hungry a lot!

Perhaps this innkeeper was afraid that this baby would disturb his other guests, which of course would have been bad for his business—especially his future business.

Now you might say, “Well, this all very nice, Fr. Ray, but what does all of this have to do with me and my life in 2018?”

The answer is, “Quite a lot!”  You see, whether we’re aware of it or not, each and every one of us is, in a certain sense, an “innkeeper.”  And in our lives we constantly face the same decision that the innkeeper of Bethlehem faced on that first Christmas Eve.  Inside of us we have a kind of “inn,” and that inn is called a soul.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, desires very much to come into our “inns” and to do for us what he wanted to do for the innkeeper of Bethlehem: he wants to change our lives; he wants to help us know and experience God and his love as we never have before; he wants to help us discover the meaning and purpose of life; he wants to give us a joy and a peace that is beyond all human understanding. 

But the thing is, we have to let him in!  And that’s where we can so often fail—because we’re sinners.  So very often we can say (especially by our actions), “Sorry, Jesus, but there’s no room for you today in my inn.”  Those of you who are Catholic, for example, say this to the Lord every Sunday and holy day that you fail to attend Mass!  And isn’t it interesting, the excuses people tend to use for missing Mass are the very same ones that the innkeeper of Bethlehem might have used on the first Christmas Eve: “I don’t have time”; “I’m too busy”; “I have a hectic schedule”; “I have too many other things to do”.

But even those of us who are faithful to Mass are guilty of turning Jesus away from our “inns”.  That happens whenever we give in to fear and sin.  Earlier I said that the innkeeper of Bethlehem might have turned Jesus away because he was afraid.  He was afraid that our Lord would drive all his other guests out.  Well, that same kind of fear can very easily come into our hearts, even if we already have some level of commitment to the Lord.  You see, there are certain guests (besides Jesus) that are always trying to take up residence within us: guests like hatred, lust, anger, greed, selfishness, bitterness and pride.  When Jesus begins to come in, those other guests have to begin to pack their bags and get out.

Now that’s a good thing, but it’s a good thing that can actually fill us with fear, because the truth is that deep down inside we might like some of those other guests!  There are moments when we may enjoy being selfish or greedy or lustful or prideful.  And so we might be afraid that if we let Jesus in, we’ll have to give up too much, or we’ll lose some of our friends, or we won’t have fun anymore.

In short, we might be afraid that Jesus will come into our “inn” and change us too much!

The Lord says to each and every one of us on this Christmas Day, “Do not be afraid.  I love you.  I know what’s best for you.  Let me do for you what I could not do for the innkeeper of Bethlehem.  Let me give you a new peace, a new joy, a new direction in your life.  I came to this earth so that you might have the fullness of life.  Open up your heart to me today and begin to receive it.”

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Three Important Lessons from the Visitation

(Fourth Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 23, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 80:2-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2018]

Today I will share with you three lessons—three simple but very important lessons—that we learn from the story of the Visitation of Mary to her elderly cousin Elizabeth, which we just heard in this gospel text from Luke 1.

So here they are:

Lesson #1: Real love is self-sacrificial.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation, one of the things he said to her was, “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

And how did Mary respond to this unexpected good news about Elizabeth?  What did she do when she found this out?  Why, she did the most loving thing she could think of doing: she went to see her cousin and she stayed with her for three months (in other words, until the time when John the Baptist was born).  Remember, Elizabeth was an old woman, well past the normal child-bearing years.  Pregnancy isn’t easy even when you’re young (or so I’m told.  You ladies can correct me after Mass if I’m wrong!).  Mary knew that!  She also knew that, in all likelihood, her cousin would need some special assistance because of her advanced age—especially during the last trimester of her pregnancy.  That’s why the Bible says that she went “in haste” to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. 

Our Blessed Mother didn’t think of herself first; she wasn’t concerned with her own delicate condition (she was pregnant too!); she wasn’t obsessed with her own personal needs.  Her focus was on the health and well-being of someone else, and she was willing to make any and every sacrifice necessary to help that person in her need.

And for Mary, the sacrificing began with the trip itself!  The distance from Nazareth (where she lived) to Ain Karim (where Elizabeth lived) is around 80 miles.  That’s a little over an hour by car (depending how “heavy” your foot is).  But Mary didn’t have the luxury of travelling in a 2018 air conditioned vehicle.  Her mode of transportation was her own feet, or perhaps some beast of burden (which I suspect isn’t the most comfortable way to travel if you’re pregnant!).

Real love is self-sacrificial—just like Mary’s love for Elizabeth was.

That’s lesson 1 from the Visitation story. 

Which brings us to lesson 2: It’s a baby!  After Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s home and greeted her cousin, Elizabeth said to Mary, “At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

Notice that she referred to the entity in her womb as an “infant”—not a “cluster of cells,” or the “product of conception,” or a “fetus,” or a “potential human life,” or a “choice”.  Elizabeth knew that she had a living, distinct human person inside of her: a baby, a child—which automatically makes her smarter than all the people at Planned Parenthood put together, because those folks don’t seem to understand this basic truth that human life begins at the moment of conception.

Or maybe they just don’t care to understand it—that’s probably more accurate.

Elizabeth also knew something else that’s very important in this regard (something that even pro-life people can sometimes forget): She knew that a woman becomes a mother not on the day her child is born; rather, she becomes a mother on the day her child is conceived!  Elizabeth said to Mary at one point, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

She called Mary a mother!  And she was right—even though Mary was only in the first days or weeks of her pregnancy.  Mary had become a mother at the moment she said to the angel Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to your word” and conceived Jesus within her body.

This is why I always invite those who are pregnant with their first child to come forward on Mother’s Day at Mass for the gift we give to the moms of the parish.  The world says you’re not a mother until the day your first child is born, but that’s not true!  The truth is that you begin to be a mother nine months before your first child is born.

This brings us to the third and final lesson that I’ll focus on today in this story of the Visitation: We are all called to bring Jesus to others (like Mary did)—and at the same time we’re all called to recognize the presence of Jesus in others (like Elizabeth did).

Mary brought Jesus—literally and physically—to Zechariah and Elizabeth when she came to their home.  As Catholic Christians we’re also supposed to bring Jesus to people.  We’re supposed to bring him, spiritually speaking, to the people we have contact with in our daily lives.  We “bring” the Lord to others, of course, by our faith and by our charity; by our words and by our actions; by knowing the Gospel and by living it as fully as we can each and every day.

Which is hard—very hard!  And if we think it isn’t hard, then obviously we don’t know the Gospel message as well as we should.

Nor is it always easy to recognize the presence of Jesus in others, like Elizabeth did.  She greeted Mary with the words we now say in the Hail Mary:  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Then immediately she spoke the words I quoted earlier: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Notice that she called the child in Mary’s womb her “Lord”.  That was an extraordinary affirmation, an affirmation that had to have come from a source beyond herself.  And it did; it came from the Holy Spirit, who was mentioned at the beginning of the story.  By the power of the Spirit (not by her own power, but by the Spirit’s anointing), Elizabeth was able to perceive the presence of God within her cousin Mary.

This, I would say, is one of the most important reasons why we should pray to the Holy Spirit often!  Let’s be honest about it, it’s very difficult to be conscious of the presence of God in certain people that we have to deal with: the people who dislike us, who hurt us, who slander us, who use us, who betray us, who steal from us.

Whenever we encounter people like this in our daily lives, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is probably not the first person we think of!

We need the Holy Spirit to help us see that, in spite of the bad things they’ve done to us, these men and women are still created in the image and likeness of God and loved by Jesus Christ—who died for them just like he died for us and for the rest of humanity.

We need the Spirit to help us to be aware of these things, because they’re very, very easy to forget.

So there you have it: three simple but very important lessons from the Visitation:

Real love is self-sacrificial; what’s in the womb after conception is a human life; and we’re called as Christians to bring Jesus to others (like Mary did) and to recognize the presence of Jesus in others (like Elizabeth did).

I think the most appropriate way to end this homily is by asking you now to pray with me one Hail Mary.  In doing this we will be asking our Lady to pray for us, that we will all take these lessons to heart and allow them to have an impact and an influence on our lives. 

And so we say together:

Hail Mary …

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sin: Name it, claim it, and get rid of the blame for it!

(Second Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 9, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2018]

A church group was in the habit of using a large hotel in a nearby city to hold its annual conferences.  Now in the lobby of this particular hotel there was a large sign.  On the sign was the hotel’s motto.  It read: “There are no problems, there are only opportunities.”

Well it happened that this year, a few moments after the group had checked in, one of its male members came running up to the front desk.  He said to the desk clerk, “Excuse me, but I have a problem—a big problem!”

The clerk responded, “Why sir, you know our motto: There are no problems, there are only opportunities.”

The man said, “Call it whatever you want, but when I just walked into the room you gave me, I found a pretty young woman sleeping in my bed!”

My brothers and sisters, problems are still problems, even if you don’t call them problems.  And you know what?  As hard as this might be for some people to believe, sins are still sins even if you don’t call them sins.

And many in our modern world don’t.  Just think of the euphemisms that are used today to describe behaviors that are clearly sinful.  I’ll give you a few very common examples …

  • ·         Hatred is called “justified anger”—especially if you’re dealing with a political opponent.
  • ·         Cursing and swearing are called “expressing your feelings.”
  • ·         Gossip and slander are called “sharing.”
  • ·     Missing a Sunday or holy day Mass without a good reason is called “taking time for myself and my family.”
  • ·    Living together before marriage—and even adultery—are talked about in terms of “entering meaningful relationships.”
  • ·         Homosexual activity and transgenderism are called “alternative lifestyles”.
  • ·         Euthanasia is called “dying with dignity.”
  • ·      Greed is called “making a living”—especially if you’re deeply involved in professional sports on some level.  I love golf, for example, but $9 million for 18 holes?  There’s something deeply troubling about that; there’s something morally-deficient about that—even if the opponents in the match happen to be Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

There are even euphemisms that are used for sin in general.  I found some of them online the other day:

  • ·         Mistake
  • ·         Flaw
  • ·         Error
  • ·         Indiscretion
  • ·         Oversight
  • ·         Misstep
  • ·         Foible
  • ·         Blunder
  • ·         Shortcoming

And on and on the list goes.  Now please do not misunderstand me here.  I am NOT saying that every mistake, every flaw, every error, every indiscretion, etc. is a sin.  I’m simply saying that sometimes those words are misused in order to deny or excuse certain sins.

This, of course, would not have been acceptable to John the Baptist, whom we heard about in today’s gospel reading from Luke 3.  John came to prepare God’s people for their Messiah, by making clear to them that they needed a Messiah—a Messiah who would bring them forgiveness for their sins.

And so he baptized people in the Jordan River—as they confessed their sins.  (St. Mark tell us that last detail in his gospel.)  They didn’t just get dunked in the water; they also expressed verbally what they needed to be forgiven for. 

Now, can you imagine how John would have responded if the people who came to him for baptism had used our modern-day euphemisms for their sins?

“John, please baptize me—I made a mistake!”

“John, baptize me—I committed an indiscretion the other day.”

“John, baptize me—I have a flaw.”

John would have freaked out!  He would have gone ballistic!  He would have said, “You made what?  A mistake?  Was that when you were balancing your checkbook? You committed what?  An indiscretion?  What does that mean?  You have what?  A flaw?  Well join the club!  Welcome to the human race, tainted as it is by original sin!  We all have flaws!”

Thankfully, that’s not the kind of thing John heard when he was baptizing.  What he heard were things like, “I lied”; “I stole”; “I cheated”; “I killed an innocent man”; “I committed adultery”; “I had hatred in my heart for another person.”

Just sins; no euphemisms!

John the Baptist’s philosophy on all this can be summed up, I think, with these words: Name it, claim it, and get rid of the blame for it.

That’s why John, if he were alive today, would absolutely love the sacrament of Reconciliation!  Because in order to make a good confession, you first of all have to NAME the sin.  You can’t just say, “I’ve done some really bad things, Father.”  If they’re serious sins, that’s not sufficient.  You have to identify the sins by name—like the people at the Jordan River did—and you have to mention how often you committed the sins. 

Then you have to CLAIM the sin—meaning that you have to take personal responsibility for it: “Yes, I did it.  I knew it was wrong, I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I made the choice to do it anyway.  No excuses; no attempts to rationalize or justify my actions.  I was wrong; I admit it—and now I seek God’s mercy.”

That’s the attitude we should have whenever we confess a sin—any sin (mortal, venial, whatever it is)—because that’s an attitude which pleases God immensely and opens us up to his total and complete forgiveness, which we receive when the priest absolves us in the sacrament.

And thus we get rid of the BLAME—the guilt—for the sin (or sins) that we confessed.

One of the most depressing and tragic thoughts I’ve had as a priest is the thought that there have probably been people who have come to confession to me over the years who have purposely not “named” certain sins that they knew deep down inside they needed to acknowledge.  Maybe they were afraid; maybe they were embarrassed; maybe it was for some other reason.  But it’s always tragic when a person takes the blame for a sin out of the confessional with them because they weren’t willing to “name it” and “claim it.”

We’re supposed to get rid of our blame in the confessional, not take it with us when we leave!

Name it, claim it, and get rid of the blame for it.  That was John the Baptist’s approach to sin.

May it be ours as well.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

When ‘A World’ Ends

(First Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 2, 2018, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Advent 2018]

Today’s gospel reading probably sounded familiar.  That’s because it’s very similar to the gospel text from Mark that we heard two short weeks ago.  This is St. Luke’s version of the very same event from the life of our Lord. 

Jesus, in this section from Luke 21, is obviously speaking about the end of the world; however in the verses just prior to this he predicts the destruction of the city of Jerusalem—something which would take place in 70 A.D.—just about 40 years after his death and resurrection.  And he makes a direct connection between these two events, saying, in effect, “If you want to know what it will be like at the end of time, pay very close attention in 40 years when the Romans decimate this city and tear down this beautiful temple.  That’s what it will be like.” 

So here our Lord makes an important comparison: he compares the end of the world to the end of a world.  You see, a world was about to end for the people of Jerusalem: a world in which they were able to worship God freely in his sacred dwelling place.  That world would come to an end—a very abrupt end—when Titus and the Roman army set fire to the temple and tore it down. 

The thought occurred to me earlier this week: We have this same type of experience in our lives all the time, whether we’re conscious of it or not.  Just as the people of Jerusalem experienced the end of a world when their temple was destroyed, so too for us “worlds” come to an end constantly.  Sometimes the end of a world will take the form of a tragedy that comes our way; at other times it will take the form of a great blessing.  For example, those of you who will graduate from high school or college next spring will experience the end of a world on the day you get your diploma—the end of your world in that particular school.  The day someone gets married is the day they experience the end of a world—the end of a life lived as a single person.  (Some, of course, might look back on their wedding day and say it was the end of the world--but that’s another story!)  When you have a child, it’s the end of a world.  Every once in a while I’ll hear a parent say, “You know, once you have a child, everything is different.  Your world immediately changes.” 

Or how about when a person is diagnosed with a serious illness?  That is certainly the end of a world: the end of a world of good health.  I remember my mom saying, “Once you’re diagnosed with cancer, your life changes; your perspective on everything is different!”

I can say the same thing about Parkinson’s Disease.  Many of you can say it about serious ailments that you’re currently dealing with.

And what about the death of a loved one?  Whenever someone we love dies, in a very real sense a world comes to an end—a world that included that particular person.
I think it should be clear by now: the end of a world signifies any major change that we experience on this earth; and since we all experience changes constantly, worlds end for us constantly.

So what’s the best way to deal with the end of a world?  What’s the best way, in other words, to prepare for the major changes of life?  Well, believe it or not, the answer is found in today’s gospel text about the end of the world.  Jesus implies here that at the end of time there will be two groups of people: those who will be filled with fear, and those who will hold their heads high—that is to say, those who will be filled with faith.  (I don’t have to tell you which group I’d like to be in.)  Then our Lord adds, “Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares.  The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap.”  So here we see what separates the fearful from the rest.  On Judgment Day, the fearful people will be those who have lived lives of self-indulgence and sin and haven’t repented.  The Day of the Lord will close in on them like a trap.  But those who have taken their faith seriously will be able to hold their heads high.  And so Jesus says, “Be on guard.”  This, by the way, is why the Church encourages us to examine our consciences daily and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation often.  Hopefully we’ll all make the effort to get to confession sometime during the season of Advent.

Basically our Lord is telling us here that the best way to be ready for the end of the world is to live in faith--to make our Catholic Christian faith our number one priority!  But that’s also what we need to do to prepare ourselves for the major changes of life—for the ends of those individual “worlds” that each of us lives in.

I was reminded of this the other day, when I ran into a doctor friend of mine at Luxe Fitness Center up on Granite Street.  He had just finished exercising on the treadmill and was getting ready to leave.  Several years ago, this man was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he’s been going through some heavy-duty treatments ever since.  Simply put, he’s been traveling a long, rough road battling this disease.

But his faith, praise God, is stronger than ever!  That became clear to me in our conversation that afternoon.  He said to me at one point, “You know, Fr. Ray, when I was first diagnosed with cancer I was angry.  The Lord took away everything through this disease—everything I enjoyed doing.  For a while he took away my voice, so I couldn’t teach the gospel like I used to.  He took away my work which I loved; I had to retire.  I couldn’t run marathons anymore like I once did; in fact, I ended up not being able to run at all.”

That was the doctor’s way of saying, “A world ended for me several years ago, on the day that I heard those devastating words, ‘You have cancer.’  It was a world—a world of good health and earthly fulfillment—that I was blessed to have lived in for a significant portion of my life.  That world was gone—forever.”

But, thankfully and amazingly, this doctor never gave up on God.  He never stopped trusting in Jesus.  Instead he faced his anger, dealt with it and moved past it—and in the process he’s come to an even deeper level of faith.  His love for the Lord has grown stronger.  And he thanks God for giving him back his voice (as he said the other day, “It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough!”), and he’s grateful that he’s still able to get some exercise by walking the treadmill there at the gym.

His final words to me as he left that day were, “Fr. Ray, God is good”—which he said with a big smile on his face.

That, I think, is a very good example of how a believer deals with the end of a world—any world.  He deals with it in faith and with God—which is precisely how believers will deal with the end of the world, whenever it comes.