Sunday November 11, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14)
Reading II (2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5)
Gospel (St. Luke 20:27-38)
In the first reading today, we hear that beautiful story about the mother and her seven sons who all saw death on the same day; and the extraordinary faith, not only of the seven sons, but particularly of the mother as she encouraged her sons to go forward and be willing to die for their faith rather than to transgress the law of God. While we do not hear about the death of all seven of the sons, we have to understand that what happened is that they began with the eldest and ended with the youngest. After they had already killed the first six sons, when it came to the youngest, they offered him lots of gifts and positions and all sorts of things if he would only be willing to take a bite of pork. At that point, the mother, in her own native tongue, encouraged the son; and that young boy also saw death. Then, so did the mother.
When we hear about these things we can look at what occurred and ask: "Is it worth death instead of eating a bite of pork?" It seems a rather small thing just to take a little piece of pork and put it in your mouth. But that is the problem. When we transgress the law of God, to us it oftentimes seems just a small thing. But we need to ask ourselves, in light of this story: "Where is our faith?" Is it strong enough that we would be willing to die as opposed to transgressing the law of God? What if someone were to say to you: "Deny Jesus Christ or die," or "Violate one of these Ten Commandments or die." It seems just a small thing to use God's name in vain. It does not seem like that big of a deal to violate one of the commandments in order to maintain one's life. But it is a violation of God's commandment. We know what it is that He has commanded, and if we are going to profess our faith in Christ then it is not an option for us to be able to sit back and say, "It would be okay to preserve my life by doing something that is wrong." It is not permissible to do evil in order to bring about good. God does bring good out of evil, but we cannot go about trying to do the evil with that kind of thought in mind: "Well, God will bring good out of it anyway, so it is okay for me to go ahead and sin." That is not permissible.
Then, when we look even further, we need to ask ourselves about our faith. We hear the Sadducees in the Gospel reading coming to Jesus and asking Him: "Who will be married to this woman that seven brothers were all married to and all died?" Of course, their way of looking at it would be that if one of them had at least had children with this woman then he would naturally be her husband. But all seven of them died childless, so who is going to be married to her? The answer that Our Lord gave is: "None will, because in the resurrection there is no marriage."
Now, for those of you who are married, that might not strike you as the best idea in the world. You married the person that you did because you loved that individual and you want to be with that individual for eternity; hopefully, you will. But marriage ends at the moment of death. The reason marriage ends at the moment of death is because there is an even more intimate union that is going to take place in eternity than what you already share now. That is something that we cannot even begin to grasp. How can something be more intimate than two souls being united so that they are one? It is like asking - How is it possible that there can be something even greater than to receive Jesus in the Eucharist? How can that only be a foreshadowing of what is going to come? The same is true, though, with marriage. The intimacy and the beauty of what we have in marriage today are merely an inkling of the intimacy that God has in store for us in Heaven. When you get to Heaven (assuming that both of you go that direction) there will be a closer union between the two of you; but not just the two any longer - you will have that intimate union with every single person who is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Every person who is united to Jesus Christ, in Heaven, will have that same kind of intimacy with you. You will know who your spouse was; you will know who your children are; but you will not be spouses any longer because you will all be a spouse of Jesus Christ.
As we look forward, we really need to stop and ask ourselves: "Where does my faith lie? Do I really believe in the resurrection of the dead?" That is what this whole thing is about. When Our Lord tells these people about the resurrection, it is because He is pointing them to something that is even greater than this life. When these young men from Maccabees and their mother were willing to die, it was with the resurrection in mind. If we do not believe in the Resurrection, then we might as well do exactly what Saint Paul said we ought to do if there is no resurrection; in quoting Proverbs, he says: "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die." Why should we even try to live a good Christian life in this world if there is not something far greater in the next?
But the reality is that your soul will never die; your soul is immortal. And there are only two possibilities of where we are going to go for eternity. We do not make that choice in the next life; we make it in this life. So we have to make that choice, and that choice is going to be made based upon our faith. Not just the lip-service kind of faith that says, "Well, yeah, I believe in Jesus." That is not going to get anybody into Heaven. We have to live the faith. That is why Saint Paul talked about having the faith so that God will provide for you everything needed for every good work and deed. "It is that faith that also gives us the encouragement and the endurance of Christ," Saint Paul said. That means to stand up and live our faith and to profess our faith, even when it is not popular, even when it is difficult, even if it means we have to die for that faith.
Now, when you put it that way, we need to ask that question again - Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? None of us has ever seen anybody risen from the dead. Perhaps, if you are a doctor or a nurse, you may have seen somebody resuscitated. But that is not the resurrection: those people will have to die again. Once a person rises again in the resurrection, there is no more death. "Death has no more power over him," Saint Paul says. No one in this world has ever seen anyone rise from the dead. The resurrection will take place on the last day of the world. At the moment when Our Lord comes back, the tombs of the dead will open and the dead will rise. Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Thessalonians: "It will take place in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the archangel's trumpet." It will be an instantaneous sort of thing and it will all happen simultaneously. So it is a matter of faith in the resurrection, not a matter of proof, not a matter of knowledge. We, of course, believe that Our Lord is risen from the dead. And, indeed, Saint Paul says that if we do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, how is it possible that we can preach Jesus Christ raised from the dead? He goes on to say: "If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then those who have died in Christ are the deadest of the dead because they have no hope." But as it is, Christ is risen from the dead. Therefore we are people filled with hope and encouragement, as Saint Paul said in that second reading.
And if we have hope, then we need to ask ourselves why we are afraid of death. No Christian person in the world should be afraid to die. But most Americans are. The only reason we could say we are afraid of death is because we really do not believe that there is something on the other side. Now, it may be that we are afraid of death because we are in the state of mortal sin and we are afraid of what is going to happen for eternity. But the fact is, if we are living our Christian life we have no reason to fear. It is our faith and it is the promise of God and it is the promise of Jesus Christ that there is life beyond this world. You do not even have to be a Christian to believe in the immortality of the soul. If there is any question in your mind, I would recommend that you pick up the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 200 or 300 years before Jesus and proved, philosophically, the immortality of the soul. It is not merely a matter of Christian faith; it is a matter of natural human reason that the soul is immortal.
But what about the body? Our bodies are going to rise from the dead. That is what will happen on the last day. Your soul is immortal; it will not die; it cannot die. The body will die, but the soul continues to live. And the soul, at the moment of death, will go forward to judgment and will wind up in one of two places for eternity. It may be in Purgatory for a while, but ultimately there are only two possibilities: You will be with God for eternity or away from God for eternity. That is a frightening thought. It is a wonderful thought if it is with God because nobody will ever want to get out of Heaven. But nobody will ever be able to get out of hell. So we need to make the choice now. We need to make that choice in a very radical way to live that faith that we profess. And it is not enough to say that the soul will go to one of two places; your body is going to rise from the dead as well. That is a difficult concept. Do you really believe that? Your body - the one sitting right here in the pew - will rise from the dead. It will rise from the tomb and it will be reunited with your soul in one of two places for all eternity. As the prophet Daniel says, "Some will rise and they will be glorified with God. Others will rise and they will be an everlasting horror and disgrace."
It is made very clear, but it is a matter of faith in the resurrection. It is not an option for Christian people to believe in the resurrection of the dead. In fact, more than that, you have been baptized into Jesus Christ. Saint Paul tells the Romans: "Do you not know that when you were baptized you were baptized into the Death and the Resurrection of Christ?" You already share in the Resurrection. So how is it even possible that we could entertain a doubt about the resurrection? But it is more than that. If we are afraid of death, then not only are we living according to the flesh instead of living according to the spirit and according to faith, but we are living according to nature; and more than that, we are not living according to our baptism into Christ, but rather, we are living according to the way of Adam.
It is exactly what Adam did. Look back in the Book of Genesis: You see Satan come walking into the garden and what happens to Adam? He runs away! He hides behind a tree! And even worse, he sends his wife out to talk to Satan instead of doing it himself. (Doesn't that sound like us? "I don't want to have to deal with that, you go." And when the temptations are there how often do we fall prey to them, just like Adam, because he did not want to die?) We can look at the foolishness of what he did and say, "You know, all Adam had to do was walk over to the tree of life, take its fruit and eat. And he [would have] had the guarantee that Satan had no authority over him. It would not matter what Satan would do because he had eaten of the fruit of the tree of life. Death would have no more power over him at all."
But you have eaten of the fruit of the tree of life. In just a couple of moments, once more, you will eat of the fruit of the tree of life when you come forward to receive the Eucharist. The Cross is the tree of life now; the tree of death at Calvary becomes the tree of life for each one of us, and the fruit of that tree is Jesus Christ. You have the opportunity to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus told us: "Whoever eats of the bread that I will give will live forever." And He told us beyond that: "I Myself am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." You have the promise of eternal life. You are a member of Jesus Christ, baptized into His Death and Resurrection. You have eaten the Bread of Life. You have eaten the Fruit of the tree of life. You should be able to stand fast before Satan and say "no" to any temptation. And if you are threatened with death as opposed to the faith, choose the faith because if you die for Jesus Christ you have a guarantee of eternal life. Like the young men in the first reading today, you can hold out your hands to have them cut off, you can put out your tongue to have it cut out, you can stand firm in your faith because you choose not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but the tree of life.
So why would we doubt? Why would we entertain even the slightest doubt? All of the promises of Jesus are there and we know those promises. So the real question is - do we believe in them? Where is our faith in Jesus Christ? Remember, after Lazarus had died, Jesus looked at his sister Martha and said, "Your brother will rise again from the dead." She said, "I know that he will, in the resurrection on the last day." As Christian people, we have no fear of death. None. If you look into your heart and you are afraid of dying that means your faith is not as strong as you would want it to be. Look at Jesus on the Cross, Who did not shy away from death, Who was not afraid of death and, in fact, willingly embraced death so that you can have life. Look at Him on the Cross. Then ask yourself: "Do I believe that He rose from the dead?" Saint Paul says that we have already risen with Him and, in fact, we are already seated with Him at the right hand of God. So we already share in the life. We already share in the Resurrection.
Then why would we doubt? Instead of running away from death, we should be running toward it. Not in some kind of morbid way, not in some sort of suicidal manner, not at all; but rather, in the manner of saying that we do not need to be afraid. We simply need to profess our faith, to live the faith that we profess, and to have no fear of death. Know that if you are living your faith and if you die in that faith you have the promise of everlasting life in Christ; you have the promise that on the last day you will rise and be glorified with Christ. You have no fear, then, of rising to be an everlasting horror and disgrace because you are already baptized into Christ and you share in His life. "Doubt no longer, but believe," Jesus said to Thomas. Reach out; eat of the Fruit of the tree of life - and live.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.