Listen to this homily here.
Brothers and sisters, I was confronted by two deaths this week, one all of us surely have heard about, the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and several others in a helicopter crash, and the second one was the death of my best-friend’s stepmother, Irene. My best friend Chris happens to be a priest of the Archdiocese but I have been best friends with him since high school. When we were in college, his mother died, after a long illness. His father remarried and for the last 28 years his stepmother was another mother to him, and all she met.
Irene was a faithful Catholic, she went to Church, she volunteered at the Center for Hope Hospice, she founded and ran a Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at Our Lady of Lourdes in Mountainside. Prayer was important to her. The Eucharist was important to her. Jesus was important to her and she organized her life around service to Him. She loved her family and friends, and treated everyone with love. As I saw her at her wake, I thanked her not only for all the love, but for the witness she gave to Christ to all her family and friends. Irene was not a slave to evil, the Devil, or the world — she was freed by Christ’s redemptive suffering, death, and resurrection to live in the light of Christ whom she adored. I leave it up to God to determine whether or not Irene is in heaven, as He is the only judge, but if she is not, I feel that I have no chance. But, I pray that God has her in Heaven.
Unless one were under a rock this week, one has surely heard of the tragic helicopter accident which claimed the life of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other victims. Kobe Bryant was an NBA Superstar, winning five NBA championships in his twenty-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He had a wife named Vanessa and had four daughters with her. His family and the families of the other victims are grieving right now, and we should say a prayer for them. All of these facts we know.
What we may not have heard, and the stories have come out this week, that before Kobe and Gigi boarded that helicopter on Sunday afternoon, they were at Mass on Sunday morning. They celebrated the Eucharist at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach, California. Kobe was raised Catholic, and was married in the Catholic Church. He has been reported to have been seen not just at Sunday Mass but frequently at daily Masses. The Archbishop of Los Angeles said he knew him to be a man of faith.
However, Kobe had had his problems. He committed adultery. His wife divorced him. A priest helped turn his life around with good advice, and Kobe sought to live his life better. Eventually he and his wife reconciled and together they started a Foundation to help young kids develop physical and social skills through sports and charity work. I repeat these facts, not to impugn the dead but to demonstrate great hope.
Great hope in what? Great hope in God. Great hope in the Church. Great hope in the Sacraments, particularly the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. As with Irene, I leave it up to God whether or not Kobe, or Gianna, or any of the other victims are in Heaven or not, for He is the only judge. I pray for his salvation and that of all the other victims. But, I believe that faith, demonstrated by the reception of the Sacraments strengthens us and allows us to grow closer to Him, avoid sin, and to do good in our lives. I think Kobe’s story justifies my belief.
No matter our past, we have a future. And our destiny, because of our Baptism is to be with God in Heaven. Whether we actually achieve that is, of course, up to us and the choices we make to do good and to avoid sin. But, the Sacraments help us to become holy and to be rewarded with eternal life.
So, we must ask ourselves, do we take Church seriously enough? Do we come every week to Mass, repent of grave sin in the confessional, and receive the Eucharist worthily? Do we pray enough? Or, do we allow other things get in the way of these duties: sports, theatre, dance, parties, laziness, work? At the end of each of our lives, we will meet Jesus and have to answer for our conduct. Would that we were at Mass and receive the Eucharist worthily on the day of our death!