Homily for Ordinary Time 25
September 20, 2020
Life is Christ
If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would your reaction be? Would you be at peace, knowing that you would join Jesus – or would you beg the Lord for a few more days, or a few more years?
Blessed Chiara Badano faced a similar choice. Growing up in Italy in the 1980s, she was a normal, fun, popular teenager – she played guitar and tennis, had crushes on boys, and loved to hang out with friends. She also had a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus through her local youth group, and grew active in her Catholic Faith. At the age of sixteen, she was playing tennis when a sharp pain in her shoulder forced her to drop her racket. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with bone cancer – a particularly painful trial, but she accepted it with great faith, saying, “This is for you, Jesus – if You want it, then I want it too.”
She underwent chemo, and every time a clump of her hair would fall out, she would hold it up and say, “For You, Jesus.” The chemo made her tremendously weak, but she would use a walker to get around. She befriended one particular fellow patient who suffered from depression, and would go on walks with her through the hospital garden, which were agonizingly exhausting for Chiara. When her family urged her to rest more, she said, “I will rest in Heaven.” She even refused morphine because she wanted to consciously offer her sufferings to God. At one point she said to her parents, “There's only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in His sufferings on the cross.”
After a two-year battle with cancer, it became clear that she wasn’t improving. She was more than resigned to death – she longed for it. When the doctors told her that she had no hope, she responded, “If I had to choose between [being healed] and going to heaven, I wouldn't hesitate. I would choose heaven.”
News of this remarkable dying girl began to spread, so much so that Cardinal Saldarini, the Archbishop of Turin, Italy, visited her and remarked, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?” Chiara responded, “I simply try to love Jesus as much as I can.”
As she was dying she gave two instructions to her mother: first, to bury her in a wedding dress, because her death would be her wedding with Jesus; and secondly, not to mourn, because union with Jesus would be a time of great rejoicing.
How many of us would have faith like that? For Chiara, as for St. Paul, life was Christ and death is gain. What powerful words St. Paul uses: “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Yet most of us do not desire Heaven as much as we desire a long life here on earth! We’d often rather enjoy the passing pleasures of this world to the endless joys of the life to come!
How can we change so that “life is Christ and death is gain”? Two practical thoughts.
First, we must pray! If we do not enjoy spending fifteen minutes with God every day, we will not want to spend eternity with Him in Heaven! Prayer is how we become accustomed to breathing the air of Heaven. He has shown us manifold signs of His love: the beauty of nature, the love of family and friends, His mercy on the Cross…prayer is our response of love to such a generous God. We cannot say “life is Christ” if He is just an afterthought in our day. Rather, our time with Him must be our bedrock, our foundation. It’s more than just “reciting prayers” – it is spending time in silence, with His Word (the Bible), speaking to Him from our hearts and listening to Him.
Then, ask God daily what He wants you to do. When I was at Trinity High School, I used to ask the kids, “What college do you want to go to? What career do you want to have?” But I realized that was the wrong question – I should have been asking, “Where do you think God wants you to go to college? What career is God calling you to?” Our lives are not ours to do whatever we want with them. As we heard last week in the readings, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. Both in life and death we belong to God.” So ask the Lord daily, “How do you want me to use this day? How can I glorify You today?”
This past week I had lunch with an old friend who was recently baptized. He had been raised without faith, but due to God’s grace and the example of his wife, he embraced the Catholic Church and was baptized right after the quarantine. He was telling me that his wife, a devout Catholic, wanted to purchase a second home on a beach somewhere. But this man, despite being a newly-minted Catholic, said to me, “I just don’t think that’s what glorifies God! It just seems so self-indulgent. Can’t we do something better with our money, for God?”
If life is about Christ and not about us, then we cannot live it self-indulgently! Self-indulgence is the American vice, because in many ways we see it as the culmination of the American dream. We work hard, earn money, and then we think we earned our right to relax and enjoy the good things in life. If that’s the case, then life’s not about Christ, it’s about you – your wants, your pleasures, your time, your money. My friends, to say that “life is Christ” means that our time, our money, our talents, our health all belong to Him – we are not free to do what we want with them. St. Paul says, “Christ will be magnified in my body” – every last breath, every last minute, every last dollar of Paul’s belonged to Christ. What does the Lord want you to do?
Then we will be detached from the things of this world, and attached to Him alone. Back to my original question, the reason we don’t want to die is because we love this world more than we love the Lord. But our lives cannot be about the things of this world. Life is Christ, and death is gain.