In addition to my work here at Sacred Heart, I also serve at the Archdiocesan level as the director of continuing formation for priests. It’s my job to make sure the 300 or so priests in the Archdiocese are up to date on theology, best practices in ministry, but even more importantly my office the handles the spiritual care as well, ensuring that we as priests, are also becoming saints. Yet none of that can happen if we don’t make sure that our priests are in a good place humanly. That they are managing the stresses that come with life and the job. This time of year, I am especially focused on our newly ordained priests. I have no doubt they are prepared from their seminary days, but it is one thing to learn about it in a classroom and it’s another thing to experience the day in and day out joys and challenges of the priesthood.
You see, as priests, we are welcomed into people’s lives at some of their happiest moments but also at the most difficult moments. So, every one of us, in our own way has to figure out how to handle the stressful situations. For myself, every night before I go to bed, I spend some time praying about the many the good and bad encounters of that day. As I recall those moments I turn them over to God and ask Him what is He trying to teach me, how is He trying to guide me and how is He challenging me to grow in the midst of what I have experienced. I then roll over and fall asleep only to wake up to a new day in the morning. Most mornings I wake up with a clean slate, yet, every now and then, something from one of these encounters sticks with me and challenges me for weeks, months or even years.
One of those moments that forever changed my life happened over two years ago. I had the honor of meeting with a woman who had a near death experience about a year before. Before that life changing experience she had everything she could want in life. In her 30’s she was the VP of a decent sized company, she appeared to have a great family, etc. Then in an instant she had this near death experience. As she entered my office I thought this was just another routine visit, but after sitting down she looked at me without mincing words, asked me point blank “if I had died would I have gone to hell?”
This question caught me off guard. It was direct and not what I was expecting. Yet, for as much as it caught me off guard, I think it’s an important question. It’s a very personal and straight to the point question. But shouldn’t this be a question each and every one of us stops every now and then to ask ourselves? I think one of the things that was most shocking about that question is it put everything in life into perspective. In order to answer that question, I think we first need to ask a more fundamental question: what are we seeking in our lives? I dare say if I went around this church, I would get all kinds of answers. Some of you, being honest, would say that you are seeking, money, fame, power, a pleasurable life etc. But I would hope after a little conversation, that we would get to a point where you would admit that you are seeking the kingdom of heaven.
Friends, it can be so easy to get caught up in the daily grind of this life that we forget we were not made for this life, but rather we were made for the life to come. We get so caught up in the things of this world that we fail to realize that those things will not be here anymore. As a priest, I have done countless funerals. They all happen the same way; some with more pomp and circumstance than others but all still the same. I have had the privilege of assisting at a funeral for a famous person whose funeral was broadcast on national television and I have said a funeral for a homeless funeral who had no one to attend. At their core, the funerals were the same. A person leaving this world in the same way that they came into it, with no material possessions. My friends that should make us hear Jesus in today’s Gospel when He commands us to “take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s a fact that we all leave this world in the same way that we entered this world; with nothing material.
My friends, “our first step to sanctity is realizing that nothing in life is worth so much as becoming a saint.” If we want to become saints, we must order everything else in our life around that goal of becoming a saint. Becoming a saint cannot be just one of many goals in our life; it must become thee goal of our life. If we want to obtain the kingdom of heaven, we must be willing to put that pursuit above everything else in our lives.
That conversation over two years ago forever changed my outlook on life. I’ll be honest I found the question a little dark, so I changed it slightly and now I ask myself every night before I go to bed, “if I die tonight will I go to heaven?” It’s certainly a big question, and it will keep you from sleeping if you aren’t focused, so let me leave you with three questions that may help you answer that question.
- If I passed away right now, and someone told my whole life story are their certain things I wish they would leave out? Now don’t forget everyone loves a redemption story. The truth is “no one is strong enough to travel the entire path of salvation unaided. All have sinned, all need the Lord’s mercy, the love of the crucified one.” This question isn’t focused on past mistakes it’s focused on making sure I have resolved past mistakes.
- If I passed away right now and someone was going through my belongings are there things I hope they wouldn’t find?
- If I passed away right now, are there any relationships in my life that I wish I would have straightened out? If we answer yes to any of those questions, then perhaps we are not ready for death.
So, I’ll leave you with one question. If you die today would you go to heaven?
 Albert Joseph Mary Shamon. Three Steps to Sanctity. Oak Lawn: CMJ Marian Publishers and Distributers (1993) pg 1
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press,2011. Pg 151 – 152