Sunday, November 10, 2013

Homily for 32d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
32d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov. 6, 1983
2 Macc 7: 1-2, 9-14
Luke 20: 27-38
Our Lady of Pompei, Paterson, N.J.
This morning I preached at St. Vincent's Hospital, Harrison, N.Y., without a written text. Here's a 30-year-old homily on the same Scriptural texts; some of the specific references to current events are dated, obviously, but the principles evoked are not.

At the beginning of November we’re about halfway between Easters.  While every Sunday is a celebration of the life of our risen Lord shares with us, on this Sunday the Church reminds us more directly that “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life” (2 Macc 7:9), “that the dead are raised” (Luke 20:37) and “all live for God” (20:38).

The OT books of the Maccabees describe the persecution of God’s people by pagans, their courage, their resistance, and their faith in the resurrection of the just.  In particular, the 7th chapter of 2 Maccabees relates how a mother and the 7 sons are horribly tortured and killed rather than renounce God and God’s people.  Their belief that God will judge all mankind and raise up the good to eternal life sustains them against their tormentors.

Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees
by Antonio Ciseri
Jesus outwits the Sadducees by teaching a resurrection to a transformed, eternal life.  The greatest trick that Jesus played upon his opponents, however, was his own resurrection on the 3d day after his crucifixion.

We believe in the resurrection.  We believe that God has called us in Christ to live forever—to live in health, happiness, peace, friendship.  This has been the belief of the followers of Jesus ever since the women discovered the empty tomb and spoke with the Risen One.

How much do we believe it?  Would you be willing to die rather than renounce Christ?  It’s unlikely that we’ll ever face that test the way heroes of Maccabees did, the way thousands of Christian martyrs have, even in our own century.  We thank God that we live in a country where we can practice our faith without fear.  Yet 10 or 20 years ago, the Catholics of Chile, of Nicaragua, of El Salvador could also live in peace; today they must make choices every day.

Nor are we without choices.  Our belief in the resurrection can sustain us, has to sustain us.

For instance, the Gospel challenges us to be people of peace.  The Holy Father frequently reminds us of this and our American bishops have recently done so in a major pastoral letter.  We all know that war has a cost and a risk; we’ve certainly been reminded of that in the last 2 weeks.  But somehow we’re more afraid of the risks of working for peace—the peace of forgiveness and reconciliation of members of our own family, the forgiveness and reconciliation of whole nations.  I’m not a pacifist myself; but many Christians read the Gospel to mean they must be complete pacifists, suffering evil rather than doing violence themselves, and trusting in God’s justice and the resurrection of the just.  Not only do we have to respect these people, but we have to hear them.  That may be what God is calling all of us to.  Frightening, isn’t it?  That’s the tension of living in this world and being children of the resurrection.  That’s one of the choices we have to make.

Another instance is more familiar to us.  We face death frequently.  Our friends and relatives die.  We hear and read of thousands of people dying from earthquakes, of hundreds dying from the bombs of madmen.  Death isn’t pretty or pleasant.  It isn’t part of God’s plan for us.  We can face it only when we remember some truths of the Gospel.

First truth:  With the exception of infants, the innocent don’t suffer.  The 269 on KAL Flight 007 weren’t innocent; our Marines weren’t innocent; your Aunt Tillie who died of cancer wasn’t innocent; I am not innocent; and you are not innocent.  We are sinners.  We may not be murderers or rapists.  But we sin daily, and we know it.

Second truth:  The only one who can truly claim innocence died painfully on a cross.  He shared in our suffering by choice, not because suffering and death are good but because he had to overcome them in order that we might overcome them.  Maybe when little children suffer, we can see Christ-figures in them. 

Third truth:  Jesus Christ has conquered our sinfulness with his love, our death with his life.  He was raised up, and we shall be raised up to life—regardless of our being sinners, so long as we have surrendered our lives and our hearts to him.  We can face death, as we all must, because our risen Lord Jesus is at our side.

A month ago we were all watching Cardinal Cooke die.  There was a good and holy man.  He edified us most in his hour of suffering.  Why?  Just because he was good?  Because he wasn’t afraid of death, because he was confident of Christ’s love in his pain, because he saw himself united to the cross of Jesus and destined to live forever in Christ, because all of us want to die like that.

Well, we can die like that only if our faith in the resurrection is real.  That faith is a gift from God, of course; but it’s a gift we are free to accept and to nurture, a gift we must make our own every day when we choose good over evil, when we see beyond the material world, when we look beyond the temporary death of the body to the God of Abraham, of Jesus, and of all the living.

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