OUR CHOICES ARE A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH

Hi everyone.  Here's my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 15, 2015.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031515-fourth-sunday-lent.cfm.  As always, my thanks for reading my blog, sharing it on twitter, facebook, reddit, etc. and all your comments and feedback.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

How does something like this happen?


Last summer, a young man by the name of Conrad Roy who was a Senior in High School, quite sadly killed himself by carbon-monoxide, poisoning of himself in his truck. On the surface, he seemed to have every High School student's dream: family and friends described him as popular and funny; an athlete; having clear goals (he just had gotten his sea captains license and had expressed hopes of one day taking over his family's marine and salvage business). He had been accepted to his first choice school of Fitchburg State University.

At the same time though, he was having difficulties. His father shared that he had severe anxiety issues... so much so that he had often struggled getting to class and ultimately had cancelled his plans of going to Fitchburg. He was in an up-and-down roller coaster of emotions last summer, staying home, not wanting to be out with his friends or family, taking anti-depressants... but at the same time he seemed to persevere, forcing himself to go to work.

After his death, his family and friends were devastated. They were grasping for answers, trying to understand why - retracing in their hearts and minds "what more could they have done?" - all things that, sadly, many, many families have had to suffer through with when dealing with the suicidal death of a loved one.

About a week and a half after Conrad's death, his girlfriend Michelle wrote his mother. It seems Michelle and Conrad had been friends, confidants for some time - sharing each others struggles. Michelle talking about how she suffered with eating disorders, and Conrad his bouts with depression and anxiety. In the immediate after-math of Conrad's death, friends and family obviously tried to grieve together as they remained in shock and hurt, as they tried to piece together what happened. In Michelle’s letter to his mother she said, "You did not fail him, even a little bit, you tried your hardest, I tried my hardest, everyone tried their hardest to save him. But he had his mind set on taking his life, there was nothing anyone could do to save him no matter how hard they tried."

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be true.

Police and prosecutors have recently charged Michelle with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging Conrad to kill himself through text messages that were taking place between the two the night of Conrad’s death. Allegedly during a lengthy text-exchange between the two of them on the night Conrad took his life, at one point he was starting to feel unsure about what he was doing and climbed out of his truck; the response he received from his girlfriend was,{I shudder as I’m typing this} "Get back in." Police say that at the same time she was texting mutual friends of their’s in an attempt to mislead them into believing that Conrad was missing. Why? They say, she was planning to continue to encourage Conrad to take his own life - and so that she would eventually get sympathy from their friends. They claim this is demonstrated by the fact that she was already saying to these friends that she blamed herself that Conrad might hurt himself or that it was her fault that Conrad might be dead, at the exact same time he was still alive and she was texting with him encouraging him to kill himself.

How does something like this happen?

One possible answer came to mind as I read tonight's Gospel passage the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light because their works were evil. That seems so harsh when we hear it; "people preferred darkness"... We don't tend to want to think that's even remotely true, do we? Since reading that story back in February, I was hoping, really hoping that they would reveal this girlfriend had some mental disease that made her so callous. Yet the only defense so far being offered by her lawyers and parents was that she is innocent, the charges are unfair, and they believe they will be dismissed...

It seems that ever since the day those two nudists ate from the one single tree they were told to stay away from in the paradise of Eden that God created for them, humanity has struggled with using all the gifts God has blessed us with correctly. Most especially the gift of freedom - which was never intended to give us license to do whatever we want but the ability to make the choice to do we ought to do (St. Pope John Paul II).

Jesus would know this truth particularly well. Earlier in the Gospel we just heard, Jesus offers one of the most quoted, well-known phrases from the entire New Testament. This is the quote that is being referred to when you see the signs with "John 3:16" in the stadiums of almost every sporting event. It's so publicized because it is pointing to this fundamental, central truth of Christianity - Jesus saying "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

Yet, the response the world would offer to this loving gift? Crucifying him on a cross... because people preferred darkness to light.

We can get discouraged by recognizing the depths of darkness from calvary to the present day where a so-called friend encouraging a troubled soul to embrace even more darkness at his most vulnerable moment. But the point isn't for us to look around and shake our heads in disgust at that and equally horrific stories...

Rather the point of this season of Lent is about being real, being clear about the enemy we're facing. Satan, the Devil, the evil one - whatever you want to call it - is relentlessly at work to maintain this darkness. To discourage, to disillusion, to depress, to distract us. To make us indifferent, neglectful to one another and to the Lord. It doesn’t have to be something so horrific as encouraging someone to kill themselves - it can be us killing one another with gossip about one another... It doesn’t have to be the outright rejection of Jesus Christ as the true light of the world it can be our inability or unwillingness to share His light, to testify to His light - to try to live as people of His light.

How do we combat this? How do we not fall into the trap of being people who go along with the world that prefers darkness - How do we keep front in center in our hearts and minds how lavishly God loves the world that he sent His only son? We have to look inside our own hearts. To see where we are and how we’re doing.

St. Ignatius of Loyola who founded the religious community called "The Jesuits" gives one example that is popular throughout the world of how we can do just that on a daily basis. He wrote what is called "The Spiritual Exercises." And one of the central things he ordered his religious brothers to do on a daily basis is something called "The Examen". It's something that can be as simple as 10 minutes a day. You start by simply asking God for His Light (basically remembering you're in God's presence and asking for his inspiration and guidance as you pray). Then you express gratitude for any and all of the blessings and gifts in your life that come to mind (and it could be most random thing - "I'm grateful to be able to go to a University and study," "I'm thankful my friends and I had such a hysterical time at lunch today") Then you review your day - you just try to retrace your steps and look to see where and when God was present to you.

As you do this you rejoice at His consolations, recognizing the moments He was present, reaching out to you; and you begin to look at the desolations, the failures, the sins and mistakes acknowledging the need and asking for God's forgiveness (and perhaps committing to going to confession, especially if it's been awhile or if there's been some serious sins); and then you look forward - you ask God to assist you in the days to come to move forward in the day with a new vision, a new sensitivity to being attentive to meeting God and being open to the Holy Spirits as He calls to us to be Christ and meet Christ in one another.

This isn't a quick fix to the plague that is sinfulness. But in order for us to deal with the darkness trying to obscure the light of the world, that battle must first be won in our own hearts. Transformation of one's heart is seldom quick or easy. And, even for me as I was preparing this sermon, it's easy to get discouraged. I mean, looking around at things like this kid's untimely death, at his girlfriend's cruelty - and then looking further afield, at the horrors we see each day in the news, both here and abroad - sure, it's easy to want to throw in the towel, even for me. It’s easy to choose to go along with the rest of the world that prefers the darkness. At least we’ll be in good company - well not necessarily "good?" right?

What stops us? What stops me?

"For God so loved the world..."

In the end, it's our relationship with Christ. God gave us His Son, and He has given us a charge - a responsibility - in the time and place His wisdom has seen fit to place us in. We could give up, we could throw in the towel and, really, we might imagine the world going on just fine without what we dismiss as our meager contributions.

But Christ died for us - He came down to earth, He suffered and lived and died for us. And, as a result, He now has a relationship with us; we now have a relationship with Him. And, giving in to darkness, to despair, giving up and saying, I'm done with all this, I'm outta here – and spreading and sharing that attitude – if we give in to sin, if we listen to the lies of the Father of Lies himself — all of that has the potential to alter our relationship with Christ, that loving relationship He fought so hard to forge across time and space with us.

And that matters.

Because here’s the thing: Christ will always love us, no matter what - but our changing our relationship with Him, our distancing ourselves from Him through choosing evil instead of Him and His love - that matters. Christ loves us now - but He loved us before, before the world was made. He loved us into existence and He sustains us, daily, by His love. His love is always there - has always been there - and all He asks us to do is to accept that, to choose that, to respond to that. Choosing evil instead - that is, choosing to ignore God, to ignore His love and His desire for us - that is, in fact, our saying we prefer darkness to light.

One many never know, for sure, whether Conrad would still be alive today had his girlfriend acted differently - had she chosen to be a source of light rather than darkness. But one can be sure that the hurt, the pain, the disbelief that his family and friends were already struggling with had been escalated even worse then they ever imagined by her actions.

Our choices, our decisions – they matter. Both in the here and now and in eternity. As we continue in our Lenten journey which is ultimately a journey towards Christ, let us not only look to the times and places in our lives where we've let sin in, deliberately, but let us also be honest with ourselves about all the times our forgetfulness, our thoughtlessness, our laziness, even, has aligned us with those who preferred darkness. God so loved the world he sent Jesus his Son so that everyone - you, me, might not perish but have life, life in abundance. May we be people who not simply believe that - but live that and share that message by what we say and do - each moment of our lives.

1 comment:

Kurt Epps-The PubScout said...

Excellent work, Fathet!