Monday, November 22, 2010

Feast of Christ the King - homily

Last year, I was called to visit a man at GW hospital who was dying of cancer. He was actually in good spirits when I talked with him, ripping some jokes and one-liners. Then, he asked for confession. He started off by telling me it had been fifty years. Fifty years. He was very worried that God would not forgive him because it had been so long and he had so many sins. I told him the story that we just heard in the Gospel – the thief next to Jesus on the Cross. He acknowledged Jesus as King and was essentially asking for mercy. Jesus responded with, “today you will be with me in paradise”. I told the man that Jesus says the same thing to him. He began to cry…tears of joy. He said, “I know God will forgive me”. He died two days peace and joy.

“Today you will be with me in paradise”. What an awesome promise! How sweet must that have been for the criminal to hear in the last hour of his life. He proclaimed Jesus as king when he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus rewards him with a promise that he gives to no one else in the Gospel…not even his mother or any of the Apostles. Will He give us the same promise when we die? I know you all are young and you’re thinking this is a long ways off, but you never know. None of us knows when we will die. We always have to be ready. Christ certainly wills to give each of us the promise when it happens. Scripture says that “God wills all men to be saved”. He wants to give us the promise of eternal life. It’s up to us and how live in this life. We can either choose Heaven or Hell with the way we live. As one preacher put it, it’s either “non-smoking or smoking for all eternity”.

What does it mean to choose Heaven? It means to live as the criminal died: proclaiming Jesus as King. It means living in close friendship with Christ…living a life of grace. Sanctifying Grace is what we need to get to Heaven. We first receive this grace when we are baptized. This grace is given to us at Baptism, sealed at Confirmation, and nourished by the Eucharist. Jesus even says in John 6, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. We received more grace to live out our vocations through the sacraments of Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders. When we get sick or approach death, we are strengthened by the grace of Anointing of the Sick. This is the life of grace that gets us to Heaven. If we die in a state of grace, we will go to Heaven.

Chances are, though, we won’t go straight to Heaven Martyrs are the only ones who go straight to Heaven when they die; they are perfectly purified by their baptism by blood. The rest of us – even yours saintly grandmothers, the Pope, Mother Teres, etc. – need to be perfected before they enter the Kingdom of Heaven for all eternity. In Heaven, everything is perfect. Scripture says that we need to be free of any “stain or wrinkle”; we need to be perfect. Purgatory is what perfects us to get to Heaven. It will be painful to go through Purgatory but it will be good, ultimately. Painful because we will see how our sins hurt people. Let’s say someone struggled with drunkenness in this life. They might have been forgiven for it at the time of their death, but still weren’t perfect with regard to temperance. Purgatory helps them to see how much their drinking hurt their parents, friends, etc. Basically, people see their lives as God sees them. It will be painful, but good because everyone in Purgatory goes to Heaven. Souls in Purgatory are filled with joy because they know they are going to the Big Dance forever. I will be psyched to make it to Purgatory even though I am expecting a long stay!

Not everyone goes to Purgatory, though. Some people choose Hell. We know because Jesus tells us. They choose Hell. This is a big point to make: Hell is chosen. God wills all men to be saved. Pope John Paul II put it very well. “Hell is not a punishment imposed by God; it is the consequence of an unrepentant sinner’s choice against God”. The person chooses to reject God in a major way and knows full well that he is doing it. It’s called mortal sin. Mortal sin is a serious sin – such as skipping Mass on Sunday, getting drunk, committing sexual sins outside of marriage – that the person knows is seriously wrong and freely chooses to do it. It has to be chosen to be a sin, so if someone is home sick on a Sunday, that it not a mortal sin.

Now, if someone commits a mortal sin, they leave the state of grace and break their relationship with God. God is so merciful to someone who does this to Him. He doesn’t say “screw you” and leave us to go to Hell. He gives us another sacrament that forgives our awful mortal sins. He has given us Confession primarily to forgive mortal sins…primarily to keep us out of Hell. I offer you all confession so much mainly for the salvation of your souls. I am not saying that you are in mortal sin…but, just in case you are, the offer is always there for confession. My m.o. with you is to save your souls, first and foremost. Many Catholics go to Confession before they travel, especially when they fly. Come see me tonight, Monday, or Tuesday before you leave and we’ll take care of business in just a few minutes.

Finally, the criminal on the cross proclaims Christ as King and receives the promise of paradise. Christ has the authority to promise this. He has given this authority to his priests. When the man in the hospital went to confession, he basically heard the same promise from me. May each of us hear this promise soon in confession. May each of us hear this awesome promise when we die: “today you will be with me in paradise”.

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