10th November 2013. 32nd Sunday of Year C
2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14. Martyrdom of the brothers and their mother: faith in the resurrection.
2 Thess 2:16-3:5. “May the Lord direct your hearts!” Paul prays for their fidelity in the faith.
Lk 20:27-38. Jesus teaches resurrection, because God is truly a God of the living.
Theme: In this month of the dead, we celebrate the God of the living, in whom all are alive. We are members of the Communion of Saints, linked with those who have gone before us.
First Reading: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”
After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven and because of his laws I disdain them and from him I hope to get them back again.”
As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing. After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. When he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Gospel: Luke 20:27-38
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question,
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.Now there were seven brothers; the first married and died childless; then the second and the third married her and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Knowing where we are going
We would regard it as foolish to set out on a journey without considering where it was headed. Yet our pilgrimage through life is largely a journey into the unknown, a journey towards the destiny God sets for us. However, a hope which is already visible is not hope any longer; for how can one hope for what one already sees
Much of our traditional images of heaven and hell stems from a section of Jewish writings, the Apocalyptic literature (which is not in the Hebrew canon of scripture) and also from writings and paintings of the Middle Ages, for example Dante’s Inferno and Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. During this month of the Holy Souls, it is good to recall the sober teaching of the Church about the condition of those who have gone before us and what kind of assistance we can hope to give them.
The teaching of the Church says that for all those who die without having properly repented their sins, there is a purification in the next life; also, that these departed souls can be helped by the prayers of the faithful still in this life, and especially through offering the Mass on their behalf. The Church teaches nothing about the nature of this purification, or its duration. It is purely popular imagination which imagines Purgatory as a kind of hell with a lower temperature. Most of our thinking about future existence is pure guesswork. The Cure of Ars, the mystic St John Vianney, when once asked about the life hereafter simply said, “I know nothing of to-morrow, except that the love of God will rise before the sun.”
The important thing is that we have Christ’s word of promise that he made at the Last Supper. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms and I am going to prepare a place for you”. But these words, however consoling, should not make us complacent, for we are continually being challenged to choose between the grace of God and our own selfish cravings. If we do not respond to the love of God we experience a sense of profound unrest and loneliness.
The great Cardinal Newman in his long poem “The Dream of Gerontius” wrote of the healing process of Purgatory ridding of the last traces of selfishness and so preparing us to live for ever in God’s presence, face to face. To be confronted with the perfection of the glorified person of Christ can at first cause anguish to the souls of the departed. But the Lord is there to heal that soul and draw it to heaven. And this is what we pray for the Holy Souls in this month of November.
The Riddle of the Seven Husbands
The riddle the Sadducees use in today’s gospel is exaggerated and humorous; but it was their way of setting the question about whether there is an afterlife, and see how Jesus would respond. In the afterlife, we will presumably be free of the bodily constraints and appetites that are part of our present experience. We will all be like children in God’s presence, fully complete in love, no longer needing what we need in this world.
Somehow, there is an inherent resurrection-hope within the human heart. But nobody comes back to tell us the details about the afterlife. It is what Shakespeare so memorably called “The undiscovered country from which no traveller returns.” And yet we can look at it more hopefully through the eyes of the great apostle Paul who said: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of any person to imagine what God has in store for those who love him.”