12 Nov Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov. 10, 2019
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting this homily on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular Sunday readings. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
I’m sure many of you have seen the famous bumper sticker: “The one who dies with the most toys, wins!”
Many years ago, I was in Times Square in Manhattan, New York City and there was a several stories high billboard, all in black, with large white lettering…It spoofed this popular bumper sticker curtly proclaiming: “The one who dies with the most toys,…is dead.” Dark? Yes! True?… most definitely…and really puts things in perspective. Just as do our readings today.
For many Christians today, the acquisition of material things and the pursuit of pleasure are the driving forces, the measuring rods for living a successful life. Our readings today urge us to re-focus. This world is a preparation for the next. The priorities we pursue in this life,…how we live in this life…will directly determine how we will live in the next. In a few moments and at every Sunday Mass we pray in the creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (Nicene Creed) This line of the creed and the readings of the end of the Liturgical year, today and the next two Sundays, challenge us to reflect on the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come…what we have in traditionally referred to as the Four Last Things: death, judgment and heaven and hell.
Our first reading is from the second book of Maccabees: One of the last books of the Old Testament. First and Second Maccabees are two of the most exciting books of the Bible to read. They recount the story of the Maccabee family who lived in the first half of the second century before Christ. At the time, Israel was ruled by a foreign king who tried to wipe out the Jewish religion and culture. They desecrated the temple, the most sacred place on earth for Jews of the time. They set up pagan idols in the Holy of Holies. They tried to force the Jewish people to break their religious laws and betray their faith. Some buckled at the pressure and gave in to the foreign tyrant. But The Maccabees fled to the hills and led a rebellion. This small group of vigilantes managed to retake the temple and cleanse it. They were horrified by the pagan idols that had been placed in the temple. They purified the temple and re-dedicated it to God.
This is the setting of the mother and her seven sons in the first reading. They were arrested, tortured and were being compelled to eat pork and break other religious laws against their conscience. When they refused, the sons, one by one, were executed in front of their mother. It is an awful, terrible, heart-wrenching event.
The brothers were willing to die because they believed that there is life after death, and that life after death is a greater good than life itself. They knew that if they gave up the faith to save their bodies, their souls would not be saved. In death, life is changed, not ended. Death is a powerful beginning. The fourth brother recognizes this and after being tortured, and near death he boldly proclaims. “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him but, for you,” meaning those who had killed his brothers and were about to kill him, he said: for them: “… there will be no resurrection of life.”
Even though this happened almost 2200 years ago this is very much an event in history that resonates throughout the centuries. For the first three centuries of the Church, every pope and practically every bishop was challenged by the Romans to renounce their faith in God. Each and every one of them were executed, martyred, because they would not deny the Faith. There have been many martyrs throughout history; those who were put to death when they refused to deny their faith.
This happens in our own day as well. You’ll remember just a couple of years ago in 2015. The 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya who were arrested by ISIS, the Muslim terrorist group. They were held captive for many days. They were ordered to renounce their Christian faith. They all refused. As they forced the captives to kneel before them each was invited one last time to renounce their faith in Christ. When they refused, one by one, they cut off their heads. It is reported that many of them spoke the name of Jesus as they were about to die. Their bravery is amazing. But the story doesn’t end there. There were 20 Christians. But 21 men were killed. The 21st was a man from Chad…a co-worker of the other 20. He was not a Christian…but he was so inspired by the courage and conviction of the other 20 men that when he was asked as to which God he believed in,…gesturing toward those lying dead around him he immediately said: “Their God is my God.” And immediately he too was be-headed.
The martyrs most vividly witness to the reality of life after death.
There is an ancient Catholic saying: Momento Mori. It is Latin meaning ‘remember that you must die.’ Throughout the ages moment mori is an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death; that we should be ever mindful of Heaven and Hell and our judgment. It goes so strongly against our modern world that tries to avoid the thought of death or the inevitability of death so much so that often to say someone has died requires a euphemism. They passed or something like that. Many of the saints would have a skull on their desk to continuously remind them that they would die and to live this day as though it was their last. It is a common practice in religious life to put a crucifix on one’s bed after you have made it so that you are reminded each morning of your death in order to live the day as though it might be your last.
As I have mentioned to you before that in 2003, I was in Calcutta, India with a group of university students from Newman House, here at Queen’s. We were working with the dying who had been brought in from the streets. I had the great privilege of celebrating Mass in the Motherhouse of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, every day for three full weeks. In the sacristy of their chapel, on the wall, there was a plaque that exhorted the priest…and can be applied to all of us..: “… pray each Mass as though it was your first Mass, your only Mass, your last Mass!”
Imagine how our days would change if we intentionally lived each day as though it was our first day, our only day, our last day!
As the Catechism teaches us this life is the time open to accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ (2 Timothy 1:9-10) (which he gives us in the Sacraments). The New Testament…affirms that each of us will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with our works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, and many other texts speak of the final destiny of the soul. Some remind us that we will not all end up in heaven. (CCC 1021) (Lk 16:22; 23:43; Mt 16:26; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; Heb 9:27; 12:23)
The Catechism continues that each one receives his/her eternal retribution in their immortal soul at the very moment of their death, in a particular judgment that refers all the choices and events of one’s life to Christ. How Christ-like has our life been? Has it displayed the self-sacrificial love that He modelled for us? Have we used the Sacraments of the Church to keep us strong, so that our life is as Christ like as possible? Have we especially frequented confession so that at the moment of our death all grave sin has been confessed?
The result of the judgment of our soul at the very moment of death is either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-.) immediately, (Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000-1001; John XXII, Ne super his (1334):DS 990.) or entrance into the blessedness of heaven through a purification in Purgatory, (Council of Lyons II (1274):DS 857-858; Council of Florence (1439):DS 1304- 1306; Council of Trent (1563):DS 1820— If we have lived a life away from God and in serious, unconfessed sin at the moment of our death then there is the possibility that at our judgment of we will immediately find ourselves eternally separated from God in Hell. (Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1002. ) (CCC 1022)
At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love. (St. John of the Cross) . Have we loved the Lord completely enough to receive all His Sacraments and the grace he gives us in them? Have we loved him enough that when we grievously sever our relationship with him in serious sin that we use the great Sacrament of Confession to be reunited with Him?
Our Liturgies in the month of November cause us to take a good, honest look at this life and ask the question: “Am I living this life in such a way that should I die today, I would spend eternity with the Lord?”
From this perspective: the one who dies with the most toys most certainly does not win.