Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Friends, we are now well into the month of November, which for us Catholics also means that we are approaching the end of the Liturgical Year. Although the readings for Mass have already been hinting at it for the last several weeks, this week our readings shift our focus away from the nuts and bolts of our daily discipleship and toward consideration of “last things”, that is, the things that will come at the end of time. This week, in particular, the focus of our readings is on the reality of the resurrection from the dead.
In our first reading, we heard the testimony of three of the seven Israelite brothers who, with their mother, were being tortured by the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes in order to make them apostatize—that is, denounce their faith—by eating pork, which they believed God forbade them to eat. Each of these three courageously handed over their lives to their torturers rather than denounce their faith in God by breaking the Law that he had given them; and it was their hope in the fact that God could and would raise them to life again that gave them that courage. In other words, they believed in God’s promise of eternal life to those who remained faithful to his Laws and commandments and so they knew that, if they kept themselves pure according to God’s law, even if they should die at the hands of men, God would one day raise them to life again. And so, we see that our belief in the resurrection means something about how we live our lives before we die: for if there’s no resurrection, then eat pork and enjoy your life, while you have it; if there is a resurrection, however, then we ought to seek to serve the one through whom the resurrection will come (that is, God), so as not to incur his wrath.
In the Gospel reading, in answering the dilemma that the Sadducees put forth, Jesus doesn’t describe for us how we should live our lives in this world, but rather describes a glimpse of how eternal life will look. He describes life after the resurrection of the dead as one in which those who have been raised to life “can no longer die”, indicating that it will be an immortal life which will extend through all eternity. Now eternity, I think, can be a very hard thing to imagine. Fr. Larry Richards, who is a parish priest from Erie, Pennsylvania, and who travels to speak nationally, has one of the best illustrations about the length of time which is eternity and he describes it in this way: he says, “Imagine that, in eternity, every step requires 1,000 years to take and that you have been given the job to take every grain of sand from every beach and on every ocean floor, one at a time, to the top of Mt. Everest. You can imagine the countless billions of years that it would take to accomplish this task. Yet once you have finished this task,” he says, “eternity is just beginning.” He describes it in this way in order to put into sharp contrast the reality that with our infinitesimally short time on earth (in comparison to eternity) we will determine how we will spend eternity (either in heaven or in hell). Thus, once again, our belief in the resurrection of the dead means something about how we ought to live our lives before we die.
In his encyclical, Spe Salvi (in English, In Hope We Were Saved), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “the one who has hope lives differently.” Hope, as he speaks about it and in the Christian sense, is not merely “optimism” about the future—that is, good feelings that, in the end, things will come out positive for us. Rather, it is the grace of a vision of a real, positive outcome that we see is concretely possible for us to attain in the future, even if it is beyond our power. Thus, we see how it is possible for one who has hope to live differently: for he/she no longer need worry about what can happen in the present time, because one sees the vision of the positive outcome for him/herself in the future. This is the hope that the Israelite brothers and their mother had which gave them courage to endure horrendous torture and death: hope that provided the vision of the positive outcome for them—that is, the resurrection to an everlasting life.
Last week, at the end of Mass, we heard a testimony from our parishioners describing how being involved in the ministries of Saint Mary’s has made a positive impact on their lives. Each one of them was a testimony of hope: that what is sacrificed in this present time is of no account in light of the positive outcome that awaits those who are faithful to the Lord. I pray that you have reflected on these things over this past week and are now ready to make or re-make your commitments of your time and talent to the ministries of Saint Mary’s. I pray that your reflection has been full of hope (and, thus, gratitude): gratitude for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ which has made a life beyond this life possible for us, and hope that, through baptism, we will one day enjoy that life.
Therefore, if you are ready to do so, I now invite you to make your commitment by turning over your time and talent commitment card to us. Hopefully you brought yours with you today. If not, there are extras in the pew. I’ll give you a few moments to complete them, if necessary, before inviting the ushers to come forward and collect them. They will then be brought forward to be placed at the altar and, thus united to the sacrifice that is our hope: the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood for our salvation. If you are not ready to make your commitment today, don’t worry. Know that you can make your commitment at any time.
May God bless you all for your openness to serve and may Mary’s prayers strengthen us to bring these good commitments to fulfillment.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 9th & 10th, 2019