Sunday Sermon for November 6, 2016, the Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thes 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:27-38
In the first reading today we hear about the heroic family who all suffered death at the hands of a tyrant who was trying to force the Jewish people to give up their faith because it made them different from everyone else in the kingdom. While we hear about four of the brothers, there were actually seven brothers and their extraordinary mother who all died that day.
We might breathe a sigh of relief knowing that such things occurred “back then” but they are not occurring any more. After all, we live in an enlightened age; such a thing would never happen. Really? Considering that the twentieth century saw more Christian martyrs that the previous 19 centuries combined tells us that there is still a very strong hatred for the truth in our world. In our own day we see the radical Muslim push to establish a caliphate which you either join or die.
We have also witnessed the movements to establish a world religion which would be syncretistic. By taking pieces from all of the major religions and putting them together, everyone is supposed to feel comfortable, satisfied, and united by this false religion. The story is that it will bring peace because it will unite everyone in the same beliefs, but you can guarantee that if you do not buy in it will demonstrate itself to be anything but peaceful.
In the face of such things we desperately need the encouragement St. Paul prays for in the second reading: that our hearts will be strengthened and encouraged for every good deed and word. The greatest of all good deeds is to lay down our lives for our Lord. This, He Himself tells us, is the love of which there is none greater. But the thought of this is something that brings a great deal of fear into the hearts of many people. For this reason we have to look at a couple of points that provide a perspective.
The first is the teaching we find in today’s Gospel reading: there is a resurrection and there is eternal life. Our life in this world is brief and it is a preparation for where we want to spend eternity. If we truly believe in the Faith we profess, then we will have no doubts that we will live forever and that our bodies will rise from the dead and will be reunited with our souls. From that moment we will live in the fullness of our persons. Death, from a Christian perspective is not something to fear, but it provides the means for us to cross from this life into Heaven. In this way, it is something to look forward to rather than something to run away from.
The second point is that if one dies as a martyr, that person has not only the privilege of loving Christ and loving Him to the end, as He did for us, but such a person also bypasses Purgatory. It is sort of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card from the Monopoly game. So these privileged souls get to go straight to Heaven because they have been purified in their profession of faith, in their witness to Christ, and in the shedding of their blood.
But even if death is not a fearful reality, many people are still terrified of the suffering. The stories of the martyrs from the early centuries make it pretty clear that God gives an abundance of grace at that moment so that the martyrs feel either very little pain or even none at all. I have not watched many of the disgusting videos that the ISIS people have posted to the internet, but the little I have seen showed that none of those who were being beheaded even flinched.
Someone told me of a story of a nun from Syria who was on EWTN. She told of a young couple and their three year old daughter. The Muslim terrorists were demanding that the parents renounce their faith or die. Sadly, both of them denied the Lord. When they came to the three year old, she refused to deny Jesus. The unfortunate souls crucified her in front of her parents, just like what we see in the first reading today. The nun said that as they drove the nails into the child she giggled because it tickled. She remained on the cross in complete peace until the moment before she died. At that moment she looked at her mother and said “Mommy, I’m going to sleep now; I’ll see you later.” Clearly there was no pain in the heroic child; I trust it brought her parents back to the Faith. Are you ready? Are you willing? Trust; have faith! The Lord’s promises and fidelity are absolute.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.