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A sermon on Matthew 16:21-27

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Fr. Mike Paraniuk

By Fr. Mike Paraniuk
St. Mary Catholic Church (Hillsboro,
St. Benignus Catholic Church (Greenfield),
Saint Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (Peebles)
Holy Trinity Catholic Church (West Union)

Something happened to me last week that I never experienced before. I couldn't even find the words to describe the experience until I accidentally found an article on the internet that explained what happened to me. 

I was riding my Massimo UTV through East Fork Park. I go there to pray, relax and enjoy God's beauty in nature. Jesus found His Father in the desert. I find Jesus in the forest. 

Leaving the park, I drove down the road that leads out of the park. The road comes to an intersection. Turning right gets you to Old S.R. 32. Turning left leads you down a hill to the lake. One must be careful at this intersection because the line of sight on the lake road is very short. It is easy to miss seeing a fast-moving vehicle coming up the hill that suddenly appears on your left side. 

On this day, I stopped at the intersection, taking my time to carefully look both ways before proceeding. Seeing no other vehicles, I proceeded on to the road. Then I received the shock of my life. I saw a white streak followed by a great gust of wind. It happened so fast, just a few feet in front of me. Out of nowhere appeared a big white truck followed by a white car. They were going extremely fast, maybe 60 to 70 miles per hour. A young man was leaning out the passenger side window yelling and screaming to the wind. That dude was either crazy or drunk. It was a scene right out of the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show. 

I sat there stunned as the reality of what just happened hit me like a ton of bricks. I missed death by three feet and two seconds. Three feet further and two seconds later I would have been splattered all over the road. 

Then I experienced something like never before as sat stiffly on my UTV. I can only describe it as a "life review moment."

My whole life flashed before me, all 72 years of it. Decades-old memories from long ago came back to me that I forgot about. I fondly remembered happy moments at Thanksgiving and Christmas and my birthdays when the love was as palpable as the smell of cookies baking. I remembered painful moments, too, when the love that should have been there was stifled by fighting about things that, as I looked back, were not important at all. Eventually, the fear of just being killed gave way to a peaceful feeling that God gave me so many opportunities to use my life to do good for others. For this I am profoundly grateful to the Almighty. I beg His forgiveness for the opportunities I missed due to being an imperfect human. 

The article I found on the internet clearly explained what happened to me. There is a word for it. It's called a "fear death experience." 

These are situations where you fear your life is in imminent danger that brings about a life review. Jesus knew His life would soon end. Before he died Jesus was reviewing with the Apostles the purpose of His life and what we must do. Jesus states in Matthew 16:21 that He came to earth to give up His life so we can have life. Any follower of Jesus must do the same. "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'" (Matthew 16:24.)

What does it mean to take up your cross? I do not believe Jesus wants you to suffer all the time. God says in Jeremiah 29:11 "I will bless you with a future filled with hope – a future of success, not of suffering." I believe Jesus says taking up the cross means living your life the way He did. When you take up your cross you use your life to do two things: sacrifice and serve. 

Jesus said, “For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45.) When you "sacrifice to serve" you will discover what St. Paul did when he wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."  (Galatians 2:20.)

My "fear death experience" ended with a peaceful calm that my future would be a good one. I felt like St. Paul who wrote "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) Jesus said He will repay all according to their conduct (Matthew 16:27.) 

Remember, God is watching everything you do. Children understand this quite well as explained in this story: The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note and posted on the apple tray: “Take only ONE. God is watching.”  

Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.” Give God a life worth seeing. 

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