19th Sunday - homily
There were two men who were in their nineties and life-long friends, and big baseball fans. One of the men became very ill, and was about to die. His friend said to him, “if you go to Heaven, can you do me the favor of letting me know if there’s baseball in Heaven. I’ve always wanted to know if there’s baseball in Heaven.” “Sure,” he said, “I can do that for you. The man died and ultimately went to Heaven. Shortly after that, his friend heard his voice in a dream. He said, “I have good news and bad news for you.” “Ok, what’s the good news?” “The good news is there’s baseball in Heaven”. “What’s the bad news?” “You’re pitching on Wednesday”.
We all want to know what Heaven will be like. We want to know who goes there and what it takes to make it. Jesus gives us some idea in today’s Gospel by talking about being a faithful servant. If we do the master’s will and are prepared for when he returns, we will be rewarded. But, if we reject the master’s will and do our own will, we will be severely punished. We understand our Lord to be referring to Heaven and Hell. So, we want to know how to get to Heaven and how to avoid going to Hell.
Jesus talks about Heaven about 170 times in the Gospels. What’s Heaven like? We really can’t fathom how awesome and amazing it is! St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (2:9), “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind can visualize what God has prepared for those who love him”. The Catechism tells us that Heaven is the perfect life; it is complete and ultimate happiness with the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Mother, and all the saints and angels. I’ve said before that I picture Heaven being the greatest party that we’ve ever been to – with all of our friends and loved ones – that lasts forever. Who goes there? Anyone who lives and dies in a state of Grace which is a share in the divine life. We primarily receive Grace through the sacraments – Baptism, Eucharist, etc.
Jesus refers to Hell about 120 times in the Gospels. He speaks about it so much because he doesn’t want us to go there. What is Hell like? It is eternal punishment, eternal damnation, eternal separation from God and all that is good. It is being alone forever. Yes, there is pain that comes from fire to our body and soul which are like torments. But, they will be nothing as compared to the pain of being separated from Christ forever. Who goes there? Anyone who dies in a state of mortal sin.
What is a mortal sin? It is a grave offense (it’s seriously wrong) that is done with full knowledge (I know it’s wrong) and full consent (I freely choose to do it). Jesus teaches us this in the Gospel by saying that anyone who knows the master’s will and chooses to reject it is to receive severe punishment. Many people will say, ‘come on, you can go to Hell for committing only one mortal sin?’ Well, let’s look at that.
Let’s use the example of going to Mass on Sunday. It is a serious matter which God has made a commandment (“Keep holy the Sabbath”) and Jesus has commanded us to do in the form of the Eucharist (“Take this all of you and eat it…do this in memory of me”). I think all of us know on some level that we have to be here every Sunday. But, if someone has full knowledge about the importance of the Mass – knowing the significance of God’s Word and the Eucharist, all that Jesus taught about the Eucharist and its role in our salvation, the history of the liturgy and how it fulfills Jewish ritual – if that person freely chooses to skip Mass for 24 hours on a Sunday, basically saying, “Jesus, I have more important things to do today like shopping, watching or playing sports”, then that’s bad. Really bad. That person has knowingly chosen to separate himself from Christ in a major way. God doesn’t send anyone to Hell; they freely choose to go there.
St John Chrysostom once said, “we shouldn’t ask where Hell is. We should ask how not to go there”. Christ gave us the sacrament of Confession so that we wouldn’t go to Hell. It is primarily for the forgiveness of mortal sins. If there is any sense that we’ve committed a mortal sin or if we know that we’ve committed a mortal sin, we need to go to Confession. Any time in my own life where I thought that I might have or knew that I’ve committed a mortal sin, I go to Confession asap. I don’t mess around with eternal punishment. One of the main reasons I became a priest was for your salvation. I want every single one of you to go to Heaven. That is why I am open for Confessions 24/7. If anyone needs to go to Confession, I am always here.
Jesus says last week and this week for us to always “be ready”. We need to be vigilant for his return. If only we were as vigilant with souls as we are with our homes! We lock our doors every night; we are ready for the thief’s coming. We need to be ready for Christ’s coming. If we live in a state of Grace – staying close to Christ in the Eucharist and Confession, mainly – we will always be ready for when he comes again.
I’ve said it before, but let me reiterate the quote from St Augustine: “it was for my own sake that I was baptized, but it was for your sake that I was ordained”.