Tag Archives: death

All Souls Day: November 2

All Saints Day and All Souls Day belong together. On the Feast of All Saints we thank God for calling all to holiness as his children. All of us are called to be numbered among the saints of God.

On All Souls Day we remember that we are all weak and sinful and depend on the mercy of God.  We can lose hope in our call, and so on All Souls Day we ask God’s mercy for ourselves and those who have gone before us in death.

Listen to our prayer at Mass:

“Remember, also, our brothers and sisters, who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy. Welcome them into the light of your face. And have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the blessed Apostles and all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may be coheirs to eternal life and may praise and glory you, through your Son, Jesus Christ.( 2nd Eucharisitic Prayer)

We pray for all who hope in Christ’s resurrection, and also for “all who have died in your mercy.” All Souls is a day we pray for all who have died.

We begin our prayer on All Souls Day with St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, affirming God’s promise of eternal life to all humanity:

“Just as Jesus died and has risen again, so through Jesus God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep and as in Adam all die so also in Christ all will be brought to life.”

At the Communion of the Mass, we hear the words of Jesus:

“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Whoever believes in me even though he die will live and anyone who believes in me will never die.”

Yet death saddens us; it can weaken our faith. Praying for the dead strengthens our faith and benefits those who have gone before us. In our opening prayer we ask for stronger faith.

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord,
and, as our faith in your Son
raised from the dead is deepened,
so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants
also find new strength.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

“It’s a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the living and the dead.” Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Jonah and Jesus

Jonah Vomited from the Whale (Roman catacombs)

First Week of Lent, Wednesday

Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32

As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Magnificat Antiphon

“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Jonah 3:4

The mystical numbers three and forty ring throughout the season of Lent to attune our hearts and ears to our own death and resurrection in Christ.

Noah’s Flood, Jonah’s announcement to Nineveh, and Jesus’ temptation in the desert summon the span of forty days to combat the forces of evil.

Noah’s Flood, Jonah’s plunge into the sea and belly of the fish, and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river evoke the power of water to cleanse and purify all flesh.

All “flesh” (basar) sealed up in the ark, the prophet curled up in the “belly” and “womb” (beten) of Sheol [Jonah 2:2(3)], and the burial of Christ in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40) point to the recreation of all flesh.

Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights effected his conversion and “resurrection” from the darkness of Sheol:

Out of my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me;
From the womb of Sheol I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.
You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,
and the flood enveloped me;
All your breakers and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, “I am banished from your sight!
How will I again look upon your holy temple?”
The waters surged around me up to my neck;
the deep enveloped me;
seaweed wrapped around my head.
I went down to the roots of the mountains;
to the land whose bars closed behind me forever,
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O Lord, my God.

When I became faint,
I remembered the Lord;
My prayer came to you
in your holy temple.
Those who worship worthless idols
abandon their hope for mercy
But I, with thankful voice,
will sacrifice to you;
What I have vowed I will pay:
deliverance is from the Lord.

Then the Lord commanded the fish to vomit Jonah upon dry land.

Jonah 2:3-11

The Hebrew word for “banished” in Jonah 2:4(5) (garash, to drive out, cast out) is the same word used in Genesis 3:24 when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden. The first couple, like Jonah, was cast out from the presence of God. Yet both were mercifully protected by an outer shell from being engulfed by the forces of death and destruction—garments of skin and the fish.

The Assyrian city of Nineveh “took three days to walk through it” (Jonah 3:3), a parallel to the three days in the belly of the fish. On the first day of the prophet’s warning, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), all flesh repented in sackcloth and ashes—men, women, beasts, cattle and sheep (Jonah 3:7-8).

The sign of Jonah is a sign of redemption in Jesus Christ, who transforms the city of the world to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Jesus and Jonah in Forty Syllables:

Jesus was swallowed by the earth.
Out of the fish the prophet cried:
No vain idols shall I abide!
Apart from God I should have died.
Hell spewed out Christ to Heaven’s mirth.

-GMC

Asleep in the Garden

Creation of Eve. Byzantine mosaic in Monreale, 12th century.

5th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year I)

Genesis 2:18-25; Psalm 128

The creation story of cosmic and human origins in Genesis is shrouded in mystery, enigma, and impenetrable conundrums. The first chapter poetically captures the goodness, beauty and delight taken by the Creator God in the heavens and the earth, culminating in his “rest” (shabath) on the seventh day as in a temple. The second chapter develops the story of human origins in particular and also sets up the conflict and plot to follow. As soon as the two trees of life and knowledge are pointed out to Adam, the possibility of death is introduced.

You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.

Genesis 2:16-17

The tree of knowledge of good and evil is enigmatic at this point, for “evil” would have been meaningless in a world fresh from the Creator’s hand. A limitation set on human freedom did not detract from the goodness of creation, for it was a gift to exercise Adam’s trust and love and bring him to maturity. 

Will Adam pass the test? At this point, God observes something wanting in Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 

After Adam names the animals, none of whom are “a helper suited” to him, God casts him into a deep sleep, “and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21). 

The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”

Genesis 2:22-23

Adam, who was one, is now physically two. Yet “male and female” were already in the single nature of Adam before Eve was taken out of his side. 

St. Ephrem the Syrian (fl. 363-373) writes:

God then brought her to Adam, who was both one and two. He was one in that he was Adam, and he was two because he had been created male and female.1

St. Ephrem’s intuition is confirmed by Christology, the apex of Christian anthropology. John’s Prologue states that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Greek word for flesh (sarx) translates the Hebrew word for flesh (basar) in Genesis 2:24 of the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The New American Bible (Revised Edition) translates basar as “body,” but offers the alternative “flesh” in its footnote.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body (flesh).

Genesis 2:24

The implication is that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, in assuming “flesh,” assumed both halves of humankind at once, plus all living beings, which are encompassed in the idea of sarx

The text of Genesis does not elaborate on why it was “not good” for Adam to remain as he was, but the task of cultivating the garden and securing the fruit of the tree of life now became the joint vocation of Adam and Eve. 

Psalm 128:3 evokes garden imagery to express the goodness of the home and family, a sacred space like Eden:

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table. 

Jesus Christ (second Adam) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (second Eve) are the ultimate answers given in the course of salvation history, for together they overcame evil and gained access to the tree of life for all living beings. The vocation of Adam and Eve to become “one flesh” and integrate the cosmos in their humanity was accomplished by Jesus and Mary virginally. Ultimately, the story is “good” because freedom, love, trust and obedience were perfected in our humanity.

Within the cosmic temple, Adam is a microcosmic temple—a dwelling place for God, the temple’s essence. Temple imagery appears in the creation of Eve from Adam’s “rib,” for the Hebrew word for rib (tsela) also refers to the side chambers of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5), Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezekiel 41:5), and the side of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:20). 

Jesus referred to himself as God’s temple (John 2:19-21).2

As Adam and Eve compose the temple of God, Christ and the Church compose the temple of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Many patristic commentators reflect that as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, the Church came forth from the side of Christ on the Cross.

St. Augustine (354-430):

Even in the beginning, when woman was made from a rib in the side of the sleeping man, that had no less a purpose than to symbolize prophetically the union of Christ and his Church. Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth that blood and water that as we know, signifies the sacraments by which the Church is built up. “Built” is the very word the Scripture uses in connection with Eve: “He built the rib into a woman.” …So too St. Paul speaks of “building up the body of Christ,” which is his Church. Therefore woman is as much the creation of God as man is. If she was made from the man, this was to show her oneness with him; and if she was made in the way she was, this was to prefigure the oneness of Christ and the Church.3

Quodvultdeus (fl. 430):

The great mystery is that Adam hopes after receiving the promise. He sees that the spouse in whom he believed is now united to him. Therefore he symbolically announces to us that through faith the Church will be the mother of humankind. It is evident that since Eve had been created from the side of the sleeping Adam, he has foreseen that from the side of Christ hanging on the cross the Church, which is in truth the mother of the whole new humankind, must be created.4

St. Ambrose (c. 333-397):

If the union of Adam and Eve is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband and flesh of his flesh, we also are members of Christ’s body, bones of his bones and flesh of his flesh.5

If all Scripture speaks of Christ,6 Psalm 128:3 is the voice of the Bridegroom about his Bride, “the wife of the Lamb.”7 The poem evokes the children of God the Father around the Eucharistic table:

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table. 

The resurrection of Christ and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reclothed Adam and Eve in their robe of glory at their “wedding.”

The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:25

They were not ashamed because of the glory with which they were clothed.

St. Ephrem the Syrian8

Asleep in the garden,
Eve emerged from Adam’s side—
His perfect companion,
Most beloved friend and bride.

Awake in Gethsemane,
Prayed Adam for his wife.
In a grove of olive trees,
His life pledged for her life. 

Asleep on the Tree of Life,
The Church flowed from Jesus’ side—
Blood and water from the temple,
Divine life to save his Bride.

-GMC

1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.12. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 69.

The Ancient Christian Commentary footnote explains: “Before Eve, Adam was two in that Eve was already implicitly within him. After Eve was created, he was two because he had been created male and female. Yet in all this duality he did not cease to be a single person, hence one.”

There is ambiguity in this explanation concerning the notions of “person” and “nature.” Based on Trinitarian anthropology, the nature of the universal Adam is one, but persons are multiple. Neither St. Ephrem nor the Ancient Christian Commentary footnote addresses whether Adam and Eve are unique “persons.” Current theological anthropology is still ambiguous on distinctions between person, nature and individual. Since humankind is materially divisible yet metaphysically one, the conundrum is magnified. In the case of Adam’s division, St. Ephrem intuits the simultaneity of duality and unity, but has not hardened them into concepts.

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote for other references.

3 St. Augustine, City of God 22.17. From Ibid., 71.

4 Quodvultdeus, Book of Promises and Predictions of God 1.3. From Ibid.

5 St. Ambrose, Letters to Laymen 85. From Ibid.

6 “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” From Catechism of the Catholic Church 134, quoting Hugh of St. Victor. 

7 Revelation 21:9.

8 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.14.2. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 72.

Now and at the Hour of our Death

Panel 1: Andreas Pavias, The Crucifixion, detail, 15th century (National Gallery of Athens) 
Panel 2: Andreas Pavias, The Crucifixion 
Panel 3: Andreas Pavias, The Crucifixion, detail
Panel 4: Russian Icon of the Crucifixion, late 16th century (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg)

32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Luke 17:26-37

“Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather” (Luke 17:37).

Heavenly Father,
May we be found in the Body of Christ, washed in his Blood, on the last day. 

Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. 
Amen.

From Qoheleth to the Christ

Russian Icon of the Crucifixion, late 16th century

25th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Ecclesiastes 11:9—12:8, Psalm 90, Luke 9:43b-45

Rejoice, O young man, while you are young 
and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart,
the vision of your eyes;
Yet understand that as regards all this
God will bring you to judgment.
Ward off grief from your heart
and put away trouble from your presence,
though the dawn of youth is fleeting.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, 
before the evil days come 
And the years approach of which you will say, 
I have no pleasure in them; 
Before the sun is darkened, 
and the light, and the moon, and the stars, 
while the clouds return after the rain; (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:2)

The wiser, older Qoheleth took the young under his wings and exhorted them to enjoy their fleeting days of agility and health, conducting themselves well in the sight of God. 

For all will vanish in the blink of an eye:

You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight 
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night. (Psalm 90:3-4)

With poetic imagination, a poignant image of the young person’s imminent future was depicted by Qoheleth. Common allegorical interpretations for the poetic figures are found in the footnotes of the New American Bible:

When the guardians (arms) of the house tremble, 
and the strong men (legs) are bent, 
And the grinders (teeth) are idle because they are few, 
and they who look through the windows (eyes) grow blind; 
When the doors (lips) to the street are shut, 
and the sound of the mill (mastication) is low;
When one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song (voice) are suppressed; 
And one fears heights, and perils in the street; 
When the almond tree blooms, (white hair of old age) 
and the locust grows sluggish (stiffness in movement of the aged)
and the caper berry (stimulant for appetite) is without effect, 
Because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets; 
Before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, 
(The golden bowl suspended by the silver cord was a symbol of life)
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, (death)
and the broken pulley falls into the well, (death)
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, 
and the life breath returns to God who gave it. 

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, 
all things are vanity! (Ecclesiastes 12:3-8)

In the face of the meaninglessness of aging and death, Qoheleth found solace in virtuous conduct and the enjoyment of the short life allotted to him: “I recognized that there is nothing better than to be glad and to do well during life. For every man, moreover, to eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of all his labor is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). 

Life may be empty and futile—vanity of vanities!—but one can still rejoice and be glad in God’s gift of life. Cheers!

What a shock, then, to hear from the sage of sages, the Messianic Son of David, that he intended to embrace a violent death in the bloom of youth:

While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying (Luke 9:43b-45).

Miracles, healings, signs and wonders evoked the spring of youth, life, and vitality. Jesus himself was young and robust. The wintry blast of icy death in his prediction of his betrayal and passion made no sense. Nor did anyone wish to probe the matter with questions. Ignorance was bliss. 

-GMC

Now and at the Hour of our Death

DSC00169

In the Hail Mary we ask Mary to pray for us sinners, “now and at the hour of our death.” These are the two most important moments in life. We have the past and the future, for sure, but they’re far less important than now and the hour of our death.

“Now” is the time we live in, the present moment. Whether it’s a time of joy or sorrow, a time of satisfaction or disappointment, a time of sickness or health, it’s the time we have to love, to give, to endure, to act, to live.

“The hour of death” is God’s time, when God brings us from this life to the next. It may be instantaneous or prolonged, but it’s the time when God who gave us life takes this life away.

Both of those moments benefit from faith. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was a believer who trusted in the power and presence of God through these same moments of life. They’re challenging moments.

After the angel left Mary in Nazareth, no other angel came; she walked by faith from the Child’s birth to the death and resurrection of her Son. As we face the mysteries of life, we ask her in our weakness to be with us as a believer and a mother, who knows the goodness and power of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ her Son.

“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

The Death of Death

Mary Magdalene announcing the resurrection to the apostles (Illuminated manuscript from St. Albans Psalter, St. Godehard’s Church, Hildesheim)

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

John 20:1-2, 11-18

Nothing haunts the human consciousness more than death. The universal history of tomb building and funerary rites, symbols and myths that developed around the phenomenon of death bear witness to its mystery and the fear of the unknown that have burdened the human race for millennia.

Given the universal agreement on the finality of death, the religious authorities took unusual measures to ensure that Jesus was dead on arrival at the tomb. The evidence of the flow of blood and water from his pierced side on the Cross should have been enough. But driven by an unconscious fear, the chief priests and Pharisees had the tomb officially sealed by Pilate, who also ensured no hope of escape by the dead man by setting guards at the entrance round the clock (Matthew 27:62-66).

Something as deadly serious as death was made deadlier still by the official commotion and conspiratorial discussions of the religious establishment. Wasn’t death an absolute and irrefutable fact? Why all this fear and fuss over one man’s claim that he will rise from the dead? If death was absolute, the man could only be a lunatic anyway. 

The actions of the authorities could only be classified as irrational given the facts and circumstances of the case. For they were treating a lunatic claim as if it could be true. Even if the disciples were to fraudulently claim their master’s resurrection (though he be actually dead), the authorities treated the matter as if it had believability (unlike a child’s belief in the Easter bunny, which threatens no one). 

The claim of the Christ was not dismissed as outright lunacy, but as containing a seed of possibility. This in itself was remarkable, for it exposed a glimmer of light within human consciousness that could only be suppressed by extraordinary “rational” measures to stamp it out. An unconscious and supra-rational doubt about the finality of death mobilized a curiously vehement energy to permanently seal the sepulcher and put death in its place. Why the religious leaders wanted to suppress the possibility is another deep enigma. 

Against this backdrop, extraterrestrial beings popped in to lighten things up. Bleary-eyed and sorrowful after a mournful Sabbath, it didn’t even occur to Mary Magdalene to wonder why two shining youths were hanging out in an empty tomb. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” 

She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” Mary was clueless.

Then another voice echoed the youths, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 

She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”

Enough hide-and-seek, the “gardener” decided with a twinkle in his eye, and the risen Jesus called out to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.

Absolutely convinced of the finality of death (a mark of her mature rationality), Mary failed to recognize the voice the first time. Recognition and expectation go hand in hand. Nothing in her conditioned mind prepared her to expect to hear the Lord’s voice again. As soon as she heard her name, however, her heart awoke to her beloved.

Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

The freshness of life emanating from the risen Christ was overwhelming, like the fragrance of new blooms. In the moment, Mary could not have understood the full significance of Jesus’ injunction to let him go to the Father, but she faithfully reported his words to the disciples.

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he told her.

The fear, perplexity, and doubt that continued to plague the disciples up until the Ascension and Pentecost testify to the deeply entrenched fear of death that had darkened the human consciousness over the course of civilizations. Jesus’ resurrection was not an easy message to preach. Not even the evidence of sight, hearing, and touch made it easy. The disciples would need the infusion of the Holy Spirit’s power and energy to go to the ends of the earth with such an out-of-this-world Gospel.

-GMC

Hope in the Resurrection

Ascent of Elijah (Northern Russian icon, ca. 1290)

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

Sirach 48:1-14, Matthew 6:7-15

According to statistics, the mortality rate is 100%. Four exceptions to this rule are recorded in salvation history:

Seven generations after Adam, Scripture records that “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). 

The prophet Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind with a flaming chariot and horses (2 Kings:11).

Death could not hold the Lord Jesus Christ, who rose on the third day after his crucifixion and ascended into heaven forty days later.

Traditions East and West affirm that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. (The East believes she “slept” peacefully before being assumed; the West believes she did not die.)

Enoch interrupted the downward spiral after Adam’s expulsion as a ray of hope piercing the darkness. Once a pattern sets in, human consciousness begins to accept it as normal and “natural.” However, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). As long as there is one exception to a rule, the rule is not absolute. 

Enoch and Elijah kept alive in human consciousness the possibility of bodily resurrection, foreshadowing by their mysterious translations the resurrection of Christ and the assumption of Mary. The Sadducees, the high priestly class, had already given up hope in the resurrection, effectively nullifying the witness of Enoch in the first book of the Pentateuch which they revered. The flame of hope is so easily snuffed out in a fragile humanity grown old.

It takes the heart of a child to believe in Jesus’ promise of eternal life: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). 

In praying the Our Father today, we may contemplate Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Saints Enoch and Elijah in whom his will was done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The curtain separating heaven and earth was torn in two on the Cross, and the transfiguring Light of the Trinity shines everywhere. May we be granted eyes to see it. 

-GMC

Whose Wife Will She Be?

King Kalakaua’s Torah and yad in display case at Temple Emanu-El, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Licensed by Wmpearl under CC0 1.0.

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Mark 12:18-27

What is it like not to believe in a spiritual realm? If reality is confined only to the material, sensible world, the focus of one’s energy might be to preserve and perpetuate one’s existence in time as long as possible—the family name and property. 

A theoretical question was put to Jesus by the Sadducees who did not believe in an afterlife or spirits: Suppose seven brothers die in succession after marrying one woman, and the woman finally dies. “At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be?” The Sadducees were confident that the question would expose the absurdity of an afterlife.

Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.”

There is more to life than meets the eye. The unseen realm exists, Jesus said, and it far surpasses the bodily existence of this life. What exactly the angelic life will look like for humans was not spelled out, but it most certainly lies beyond marriage and family ties. 

Jesus then appealed to the written Torah (the Pentateuch), which the Sadducees accepted as most authoritative: “As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.”

The patriarchs who preceded Moses are alive, Jesus said, though again not spelling out any details of the how or where. The text was given not so much as a “proof,” as words can be interpreted in many ways, but was presented in a new angle to open the eyes of the Sadducees who had developed tunnel vision. Jesus shattered the assumption that life simply ended with death.

The odd thing is that the Sadducees believed in the God of Moses who is spirit. From their sect came most of the priests who performed the Temple sacrifices. If human existence was only confined to this earthly life, their God must have been very remote and cut off from earthly affairs. Spirit and matter did not touch. How shocking then, to meet a man who claimed to be the Son of God who will rise from the dead. 

The teaching authorities of the people who waited for centuries for the Messiah were very unprepared for a Christ come in the flesh. “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” Jesus warned (Matthew 16:6).

If the idea of an afterlife was unbearable to the elite of Jesus’ people, one only wonders what Jesus held back when he said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now” (John 16:12).

-GMC

32nd Sunday C: Thinking About Death

Audio Homily here:

How do we want to die? I think we’ll be hearing that question more frequently after our current elections are over. “End of life” decisions are going to be part of the political agenda in the future. In our society we’ll be facing a range of questions about death and dying.. 

Let’s think about the term “end of life” first. If we listen to our first reading from the Book of Maccabees, the seven brothers who are put to death for defying their Greek conquerors and keeping their Jewish faith don’t see death as an end of life. “You are depriving us of this present life,” one of the brothers says, “but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”

The seven brothers see this life as given to them by God, who is master of life and death. Life doesn’t end. We are in God’s hands from the beginning. It’s for God to decide when we die, but God promises life beyond death. It’s for us to remain faithful as long as we live.

We hear in today’s gospel people denying that there’s life after death and trying to bait Jesus with what they think are absurd circumstances. Jesus tells the Sadducees  that life beyond this life is not the same as here on earth. A heavenly life is beyond what we can imagine.

So denying life beyond death isn’t new. Today we can hear the same denial of eternal life, the life that Jesus promises and shows us in his resurrection. One of the signs of that denial may be, I think, the increasing number of suicides, even among young people. We can see this life as our only life, and when circumstances become seemingly intolerable and seemingly hopeless, some unfortunately end their earthly lives. But we leave them to God’s mercy.

Today death often goes unmentioned. We don’t want to talk about it. We just want to think about life. But death is an important part of life.

There was a passage in a popular book some years ago by Carlos Castenada about an old Indian, Don Juan, and a young sophisticated scientist from the northeast, walking together in the desert in the southwest. The two are world’s apart in the way they think. 

As I recall it, the old Indian says to the young man, “Did you see the White Eagle circling over your shoulder?”

“ Yes, I see it,” the young man replies.

“That’s your death, keep an eye on it.”

“That’s a morbid thought,” the young man says, “We don’t think about that any more.”

“You should,” Don Juan says, “Keep an eye on your death. It will keep you from being small-minded.”

The young man’s describing the way a lot of people look at life today. We don’t want to think about death. We’re thinking more about extending life here on earth, through better diet, better heath care, better exercise;  we don’t like to think of a life ending in death.

But we should keep death in mind. Death is the door to another life. By ignoring it we can limit ourselves to a life too small, too self-centered, too brief. We need to see life as God sees it.   Life is not ended in death, it’s changed.

So death  is not something to be ignored; it is one of the two most important moments in life. That’s why we say in the Hail Mary. “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”