TEXT: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 24, 2023

September 24, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 24, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

What is the meaning of life and death?

Every culture and every age seem to make their own attempt

         to answer these questions.

In our time and our culture, we find a lot of people seeing life in terms of

         “quality of life” and “length of life.”

Others tend to see life all too often in terms of riches, popularity, or “success”.

But one of the great things about being Christian

         is that we don’t have to worry about those things

         because we know the meaning of life and death:

         St. Paul tells us today in the second reading,

                  “To me, life is Christ, and death is gain.”

This beautiful passage of St. Paul puts the whole Christian perspective on

         the meaning of life and death in a nutshell.

While the secular world approaches life looking for its meaning and purpose

         in quality or longevity, or “success” or riches,

         Christians look at life and see it as something which has meaning

         only to the extent it’s lived as a life with Christ.

As God tells the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading,

         “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”

The world looks at death and sees only the end of life

         –perceiving it as either something to be feared and avoided

         or perhaps as a way out of a life that “lacks quality”,

         has gone on “too long”, or become unsuccessful.

But Christians look at death and see the perfection of living life with Christ.

The fundamental truth of the Christian perspective is that life centers on Christ.

We are called to live with Him to share in his divine life

         every moment in this world.

And we believe that life isn’t meant to end with death

         –it’s meant only to change, to be perfected by sharing in divine life forever.

Thus, St. Paul says, ” Life is Christ, and death is gain.”

Life in this world isn’t bad or something to be despised.

Life in this world is good

         if it’s lived with the understanding that its ultimate purpose

         is to grow closer in love to Christ

         and to realize that this love is only perfected

         when we are in perfect unity with Christ in the world we enter after death.

This is what St. Paul means when he says,

         “If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…

                  necessary for your benefit.”

Life is only truly good, truly beautiful, truly “successful”, and even truly “fun”

         when it’s lived in a manner that’s fruitfulfor the Lord;

         when it’s lived in a way that brings about

         the will and the love of Christ in the world.

In short, when it produces, in us and those around us, “holiness”.

But when life in the flesh is over, perfection of this life and of this holiness

         comes for those who have been fruitful, or productive, [for Christ]

         –those who have labored to live a holy life.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord reminds us

         that it’s not how long you work for holiness,

         but the fact that you do in fact work for holiness

         –work for Christ in your life and in the life of the world around you.

When we do this, He will reward us with a full day’s wages

         when our time on earth has ended.

Notice–a full days wages, where nothing is lacking in our reward,

         where all our labor is brought to perfection, completeness,

         and fullness in Christ.

So death is nothing to fear if we have worked hard for the Lord in life.

And life is nothing to be avoided or despised or deliberately terminated

         –it is to be lived and enjoyed in the context of working for holiness.


When I was a brand-new priest, about 25 years ago, part of my first assignment

         was as part-time Catholic Chaplain at Alexandria Hospital.

So, several times a week I’d take Communion

         and give the sacrament of anointing, hear confession, and pray

         with the sick and the dying.

I quickly discovered, as any priest will tell you, that it’s in places like that,

         in hospitals and nursing homes and in the homes of the homebound,

         that you really see the meaning of life and death,

         and the Christian life yielding the fruit of holiness

         and the rewards of eternal life.

In places like that, where people can’t even get out of bed

         to go to the bathroom by themselves,

         much less enjoy what most people consider a “quality” lifestyle.

There, where life is not fun by any human understanding.

Where money and worldly success has little use

         in the face of loneliness, pain, and looming eternity.

There, the mystery of Christian life and death take on concrete shape.

There’s one woman I used to visit in the hospital

         who in many ways personified all of this.

You may have heard me talk about her before

         because she was truly remarkable.

She was dying a very painful death from cancer.

She couldn’t get out of bed; she could barely move to drink water from a straw.

She had tubes running in and out of her body

         —she was at the complete mercy of her caregivers.

And yet, she knew that her life still had meaning and purpose.

She had followed the instruction of the Lord that we read in today’s first reading:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found.”

She sought him even by her sick bed—her death bed.

And finding him there, she clung to him tightly

         and placed Jesus Christ right in the middle of her life,

         accepting her circumstance and seeking ways every day

         to fruitfully labor for the Lord

                  –to produce holiness in this world.

And she succeeded.

Everyday, she became more and more deeply aware

         of her complete dependence on God and His grace,

         and of His many gifts to her both in her past life

                  and even her life in the hospital

         –especially the great gift of his consoling love.

And she saw her life as producing holiness in the lives of those around her

         –like the nurse who began to pray with her every day,

         and the other nurse who, after years away from the Church,

                  started to go to Mass again.

Or like the priests that came to bring her the sacraments

         –who she instructed in the ways of Christian living and dying

         as they saw her understanding her life of suffering

         as fruitful labor to bring the holiness of Christ into this world.

She was not afraid to live—because she saw it as bringing her closer to Christ.

Nor was she afraid to die because she had great faith and hope

         that it would perfect her closeness to Christ.

She understood what St. Paul tells us today:

         “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.

         … I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two.”

Many people are afraid to die, and they try all sorts of things

         to avoid death or even thinking about death.

Many others are afraid to live,

         at least live in a way that is difficult or painful

         or a failure in the eyes of the world.

So they seek ways to end life–

         either slowly through destructive habits like drugs or alcohol,

                  sexual promiscuity, or self-absorbed lifestyles,

         or quickly in suicide.

We see it all around us.

Maybe from time to time, we ourselves, in large ways or small,

         fall into this way of thinking.

We succumb to the thinking and the ways of the world, and forget that

         “[God’s] thoughts are not [our] thoughts, nor are [His] ways [our] ways.”

But for the Christian, this perspective is unacceptable

         because in the life in the flesh, we live for Christ,

         and in our life after death, we live with him forever.


Is Christ at the center of your understanding of life?

Are you afraid to live, knowing–as a Christian—

         that living should be a life with Christ,

         and you might have to change some things in your life to do that?

Are you afraid to die, knowing–as a Christian—

         that perfect and eternal life awaits only those

         who have worked for the Lord in this world–

         and maybe that doesn’t very accurately describe what you’ve been doing?

If you are afraid, don’t be.

It’s not too late to live for Christ and go to work for Him.

Because, as today’s Gospel reminds us, whether we come to work for the Lord

         at the dawn or the evening of the day, as a child or as a senior citizen,

         it’s never too late as long as the sun has not set on this earthly life of ours.


As we enter now into the mystery of the life and death of Christ,

         this mystery that is truly present in the Mass and Holy Eucharist,

         let us pray, now and always,

         that we may put aside our worldly ways of thinking and living

         and begin to let God’s thoughts become our thoughts

         and His ways become our ways.

So that the words of the apostle Paul may truly become our own:

         “To me, life is Christ, and death is gain.”