Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made his fortune by inventing powerful explosives and licensing the formula to governments to make weapons. When his brother died, by accident, a newspaper printed an obituary notice for Alfred instead of the brother. It identified him as the inventor of dynamite who made a fortune by enabling armies to achieve new levels of mass destruction. It was not how he wanted to be remembered. After that he changed directions and dedicated his life to peace, to defend life rather than destroy it.
Jesus’ comments about those who died tragically must have been shocking to his listeners. Popular opinion of the time was that those who suffered or died like these folks were the cause of their personal sins. Jesus makes it clear that these are the tragedies. They should not surprise us. His point is to highlight the fact that death could come at any time and important nature of repentance. And if they die in such a state of alienation from God they will continue in it for all eternity…
Perhaps consider this Gospel reading in our time… Are the people of Ukraine suffering because of their sins? Are they any less sinners than we are? Of course not. They are suffering at the hands of a madman. While everyone of us will agree that they don’t deserve this, that is unjust, and it must stop – never have I witnessed in my lifetime the entire world rally around one country, one people… yet it is happening – good can come from evil. At the same time – and please don’t lynch me for this – is Putin any more a sinner than we are? Unfortunately for him this is how he will be remembered.
You see the point here being that we often live our lives in comparison to people who do heinous things and think to ourselves – well I’m like that so I’m a good person… I’m not a murderer, I go to church… I don’t sin… We tell ourselves these things to avoid confession and saying the things out loud that we are guilty of … After all, these are no one’s business but my own – its between me and God. But the truth is that we all have sins … we may not be murderers – but have we ever cut someone down with our words … have we ever missed Mass on Sunday… Have we ever carelessly spoken God’s Holy Name or used it in anger… and then approached the altar to receive Holy Communion? These are mortal sins that require confession before receiving Holy Communion. Repentance, confession… this is a gift to us… because gives us direction, affording us an opportunity to clearly see the path to grace and communion with God … we are not defined by our sins but discover the true nature of who God is when we allow Him to exercise His mercy in our lives … And it is this that brings life to our souls… This is how we cultivate a life of faith.
How do you want to be remembered? What will your obituary read? Will it say that you were a devout Catholic? And what does that even mean these days? If it said “Mike was a devout Catholic…” would that be accurate? Would it mean that you did all that you could, with a sincere heart, to cultivate and nourish a life of grace … and would that be evident in how you lived?