I admit, one of my “guilty pleasures” is, well, Las Vegas. The town fascinates me. There’s really nowhere like it: not Reno or Laughlin, Atlantic City or Macau nor even Monte Carlo. Where else can you have breakfast in Paris, pranzo in Venice, supper in New York and dessert in Egypt? Someone even came up with the idea to build a lake in the middle of the desert and put in it dancing fountains choreographed to music! Human imagination and ingenuity at its most entertaining. Las Vegas is a fun reality escape for most adults for a day or two unless you are prone to greed, lust or too much booze.
With all its illusions and excess, don't forget that God is also very much present in Las Vegas. Not so much for praying that you hit the progressive or win your money back. No, not in that sense. Rather the Church in Las Vegas is big and growing way beyond the Strip. My old friend, from way back when, Bishop Pepe (we were assigned together to the same Parish back in our Philly days) is in a nice competition with Bishop Olmsted to see who holds the record for the fastest growing Catholic Diocese in the US. At this point, I think Bishop Olmsted is a bit ahead!
Still, when you go to Vegas, you expect to lose a little money, hopefully not your shirt but definitely not your life. The last thing visitors are probably thinking about is their death. What makes the recent massacre even more bitter is that so many of the victims were young people, looking ahead to their lives not their deaths. All this calls to mind the sobering fact that we will each face physical death, on a day and at a time not of our choosing, often without warning and not within our control. So, whether death comes from an earthquake, hurricane, car crash or madman with a rifle we should avoid thinking that it only happens to other people. As Donna Bird often says about her husband Gary, who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11: “my husband knew he was going to New York for a meeting, what he didn't know was that it was a meeting with God.”
Therefore, we should do our best to be prepared for the moment of our death. For while we might not know the day nor the hour, nor have control of the how we do have some control over what happens next: our souls can be prepared to meet our God. As the scriptures tell us, “don't let the sun go down on your wrath”, reconcile with one another, repent of serious sin, go to confession regularly. On the paten that I use at daily Mass is an inscription from 1 Peter 5:8: “Stay sober and alert, your opponent, the Devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. It’s a daily reminder to me of how high the stakes really are for each of us.
We as Catholics have the wonderful benefit of “sacramentals”, visible, tangible signs of faith. These include wearing the Brown Scapular, or a Crucifix or holy medal, having a rosary in your pocket. All these might come in handy as visible reminders at the moment of death that give you the presence of mind to pray an Act of Contrition or beg Jesus for Mercy. And maybe when the rescuers find you, they might notice the Catholic symbols and call for a priest. Or in the case of the Las Vegas victims, many priests of the Diocese went to the hospitals, while they prayed with everyone, having a sacramental on your person could help a priest identify Catholics for the anointing or Last Rites.
None of us knows what spiritual state these victims of the Las Vegas shooting were in, nor can we judge. But the beauty of our Catholic faith instructs us to pray for the deceased and that our prayers and sacrifices can be efficacious for their souls. So offer a Mass or your communion for these departed, say a Rosary for them. Also, since we are still in the Jubilee Year of Our Lady of Fatima, you can gain a plenary indulgence and earmark the grace, not for yourself but for one of the victims. Remember while an indulgence does not forgive sin, it does remove the temporal consequences of sin or the spiritual consequences that each of us has to amend. These souls probably did not get the chance to do that, so sudden and unexpected was their deaths, but through the bonds of fraternal charity and because of the Resurrection we remain spiritually connected despite physical death, we can still assist them with our prayers.
Finally, when you go on vacation or take your mini reality escape wherever, don't forget to take God with you, make sure you are spiritually fit and your house is in order. Don’t go on vacation from your vocation. Then have lots of fun.
Viva Las Vegas.
Love, Fr. John B.BACK TO LIST