Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2022
St. Michael Catholic Church
Bedford, TX

2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

The gift of our faith reveals and provides in Christ a unity between our life on earth and our future destiny. Today, in our readings we have two different considerations of what follows for human beings after death. First, we see illustrated in our first reading from the second book of Maccabees the martyrdom of seven brothers. Seven brothers with their mother were arrested because they would not disobey God or His Covenant by eating pork. Reverent and obedient to God’s law in this life, they had confidence in Him that they would share in His life in the next. They valued God even more than the great gift of their lives and they did not want to reject Him even under great suffering.

We hear only part of the story in the reading today because the Lectionary has omitted the words of the mother who, as a faithful woman, taught and inspired her sons to love God and to resist the temptation to abandon faith. What she told them was this: “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath… therefore the Creator of the world who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in His mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of His laws.”

The mother and her sons are believers. She has taught her sons the confidence of faith that God is more valuable than this passing world and that any suffering in this world pales in comparison to the fidelity of belonging to God and His Covenant — the Source of their being and identity. She suffers even more than her sons because she witnesses their martyrdom, but even with a heart broken by trauma, she will not capitulate to the powers of this world and abandon God. She knows that God has more than this world can offer.

The Gospel today offers us the more limited perspective of the Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and they understand this world as created by God but as all that there is for human beings. The Sadducees mistakenly consider the issue of an afterlife without first considering God or God’s loving covenant. They deny the resurrection because they think of the afterlife only as a place limited by space and time and not within the realm of the sovereign power of God. They mock Jesus and His teaching on eternal life by the ridiculous example they tested Jesus with. Jesus does not directly answer their question because it is intended as a mockery and not an inquiry.

Jesus reveals instead that they are missing the point. Life with God after death is different from this passing life on earth. We can hardly imagine what resurrected life is going to be like since life with God is nothing like the life we experience here that is still wounded by original sin and our tendency towards sin. In fact, the teaching of Jesus is that as Christians we really cannot speak of having an “afterlife” but rather as being baptized into eternal life, which does not so much begin at our death but rather at our Baptism. Heaven or Hell begin today by how we respond to the teachings of Christ and how we decide to love Him or to reject Him. The bonds of marriage do not remain in heaven, but the love between a husband and wife becomes perfect and complete because their sacrament has come to everlasting fruition in Christ.

The way we live now foreshadows what we become forever, transcending the bounds of space and time. We are free to determine our own future, and the life that awaits us is a consequence of our decisions and actions right now. Yet, what matters even more so is how our decisions and actions and the way that we make them involve God and our response to His love for us and His call to us.

This week is National Vocations Awareness Week in the United States and the readings for today illustrate the right and wrong way for us to consider vocations. Like the mother in the first reading, our understanding of a priestly or religious vocation begins and ends with God and not simply the consideration of these types of careers of this world. The mother in the first reading is a vivid example of the required disposition of mothers and fathers when they consider the prospect that Christ might be calling their sons to priesthood or their children to religious life.

At ordination, Christ configures a man to His own image as Head and Shepherd of the Church. The priest is called to lay down His life — not simply out of a sense of service or duty to the people of the Church — but to Christ and to His example to give his life for the sheep. The martyrdom of the seven sons in our first reading is not a fanatically driven act of self-destruction; theirs is an act of gratitude and love for God and His gift of life. A priestly or religious vocation involves the laying down of one’s life out of gratitude for the gift of life and a desire to return God’s love with total dedication.

The mother of the seven sons does not have as her highest value or wish for her sons to have her own grandchildren or that they have an opulent lifestyle of self-sufficiency, but that they love and remain faithful to God. She is most definitely not a peer to her sons but is their mother, which she understands because of God’s grace and not because of her own accomplishment or design. She does not stand in the way of her sons’ fidelity to their call, even though this fidelity involves immense suffering but only in the passing moment with eyes set upon God and His eternal love. It is impossible to hear, let alone respond, to a vocation from God if we see eternal life simply as an inevitable but vague afterlife without obligations or rewards, or if we act as if this world and its possessions are all that exist.

This week, as we pray more intentionally for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, let us also pray for vocations to be the father or mother of a priest or religious that faith might grow, and love might flourish. With this intention, as we approach the Eucharist let us make the words of Saint Paul that we heard earlier in our second reading to be our own, “Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you are doing and will continue to do.” May the Lord direct our hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.

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