Saturday, July 31, 2010
AUGUST 1, The Sunday Homily - by Fr. James Farfaglia
The summer following the tragic events of September 11, I took the time to visit New York City and “ground-zero” during my home visit to Binghamton, NY. My visit to Manhattan gave me the opportunity to reconnect with a high-school friend whom I had not seen since 1979. He worked in an office building located three blocks from “ground-zero”. We met at his apartment on the north side of Manhattan. The 45-minute subway ride took us to the spot where the World Trade Center once proudly stood. Although my friend was one of the many who could walk away from lower Manhattan through the billowing cloud of smoke and dust, he graciously allowed me to visit something that I had to see. I needed to stand on hallowed ground and pray for the dead.
As we got off of the subway and walked towards “ground-zero”, I quickly began to perceive the horrific suffering of the innocent and the heroic. Hundreds of people lined up along the fences to look, to pray, to remember and to cry.
As I gazed upon the craters where the towers once rested, the infamous iron cross, the American flag proudly flying in the gentle breeze and the countless memorials erected along the surrounding sidewalks, I reflected upon the fundamental questions of human existence. Who am I? What is the purpose of life? What happens when this life comes to an end?
In light of these questions, is the salvation of your soul worth more than the home that you live in, the school that your children attend, the size of your portfolio or the car that you drive?
Let us recall words from this Sunday’s Old Testament reading: “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1: 2).
The World Trade Center, symbol of economic power and prosperity, was snuffed out in a short span of time. All of the fallen faced their creator without their home, their education, their investments or their car.
For the fallen, this life had ended and eternity began. But for the millions that remain, it seems that for the majority, life goes on unchanged by the apocalyptic events of September 11. The fundamental questions are never asked and no desire for transcendence occurs.
Atheism causes disbelief in God. Nevertheless, the atheist is usually passionate about an ideological cause. Secularism is different. It suffocates the soul and kills it. The secularist is only interested in the here and now. The desire for eternal life is converted into passion for money, sports, entertainment, pleasure, and fame.
As we read this Sunday’s second reading from Saint Paul, we are reminded how to find meaning in life, establish a hierarchy of values and place priorities in the things of eternity. “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3: 1-3).
As I contemplated the large empty craters that once gave support to the Twin Towers, I recalled the familiar words of Ash Wednesday. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. These words tie in perfectly to the words that we pray in this weekend’s responsorial psalm: “You turn man back to dust, saying, ‘Return, O children of men’. For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night” (Psalm 90: 3-5).
As a Catholic priest I have often seen death close at hand. For almost twenty years, I have prayed at the side of little babies, children, teen-agers, adults in their prime, and adults in the twilight of their lives as they died. Death comes at any age.
No matter how many advances science may bring to our contemporary world, no one will ever be able to keep people from dying. Dying is a part of life. It is part of our earthly existence.
When we were little children we learned the simple, yet profound truth from our catechism lessons about our existence. Why did God make me? God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him in everlasting life. Here lies the plain truth about our life on earth. We will not be here forever.
Life is like a bus ride. We move forward with our bags packed, hoping that when the bus stops and the door opens, we will be at the right location. We must remember the fundamental truth of Revelation: eternity consists of three states: heaven, purgatory and hell. To deny the existence of purgatory and hell is to deny Christianity. To tell people that everyone is going to heaven is to deprive them of the truth. It is a lie to tell people that everyone is saved. Moreover, when people accept this lie, the very lie may even endanger their eternal salvation because they will no longer be using the necessary means of salvation in order to gain eternal life.
“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator” (Colossians 3: 5-10).
One day each of us will stand before God for judgment. We will stand before God without a lawyer, without family and friends to support us. We will stand alone before Almighty God. Each day could be our last day on earth. We should each ask ourselves today, if I were to die today, how would God judge me? Is there any particular sin, attachment, or attitude that might be an obstacle to my eternal salvation? Rather than becoming sad when we consider our own death, the reality of leaving this life and facing God for judgment should lead us to continual conversion.
Let us remember the words from this Sunday’s gospel passage: "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions” (Luke 12: 15).
A very dear friend of mine has spent most of his adult life in the lay apostolic work of the Catholic Church. Now, as he has entered his mature years and enjoys the fruits of his many labors, he sets his eyes on eternity.
In order to help him prepare for eternity, a number of years ago, he commissioned a friend to make him a simple coffin made of pine. The coffin sits in his basement, waiting for the day when his mortal remains will rest. To some, this idea may seem strange, even morbid. However, a visible reminder of death is an excellent aid to meditate on the reality of death and prepare for eternal life. Our reflection on death must fill us with hope in the reward of eternal life, however, our thoughts should also remind us that we need to be well prepared and ready for that mysterious day when the Lord call us to himself.
This Sunday’s liturgy is not inviting us to live unconcerned for the things of this world. We cannot live reckless lives, waiting for pennies to fall from heaven. Christian stewardship means that we take our time, talent and financial resources, and do all that we can to make this world a better place for everyone. There is nothing wrong about enjoying God’s creation. Christians need to dress properly, enjoy their homes and properly enjoy all that God provides us. However, we are called to live detached from the things of this earth and remember that creatures are only stepping stones on our journey towards eternity.
One man who has correctly understood Christian stewardship is Tom Monaghan. Tom Monaghan’s early childhood was a true test of endurance. His father died on Christmas Eve when he was only four years old. Tom’s mother could not support his brother Jim and himself on her salary of only $27.50 a week so she decided to put the two brothers into a foster home.
After many years of hard work, in 1960, Tom and his brother Jim borrowed $900 to buy a pizzeria named Dominick’s in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Tom’s success certainly did not happen overnight. In his first 13 years in the business, he worked 100 hour work weeks, seven days a week. He only had one vacation, and that was for six days when he got married to his wife Margie.
By the late 1970’s, Domino’s was up to over 200 locations. The 1980’s proved to have phenomenal growth. In 1985, sales topped $1 billion and just three years later, sales hit over $2 billion. The number one pizza delivery company in the world closed out the decade with over 5,000 locations.
Tom Monaghan hit the headlines in December 1998 when he sold his company, the international pizza giant Domino's, and raised over a billion dollars from the sale. His motivation: to give his money away to Catholic and pro-life charities. "I feel it's God's money and I want to use it for the highest possible purpose - to help as many people as possible get to heaven."
Aside from founding Legatus, a Catholic association of businessmen, Monaghan is best known for his founding and developing Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida.
You can help Father James and his apostolic work by making a donation to Saint Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The audio podcast of this Sunday homily will be posted some time Sunday afternoon.