32nd Sunday of the Year (C) 2016
At this time of the year the Church focuses on death and afterlife. Not the most cheerful of subjects but the Church knows what it is doing. Death is the one certainty in life. Do you remember the old song, ‘Che sera sera’? Many a mother used to sing it to her children before they went to bed, or when the child asked them what will I be when I grow up. ‘Che sera sera, what ever will be will be, the futures not ours to see, che sera sera’? The song tells us that the future is uncertain, no one can tell what it holds. And this is true, life, especially for young people, is full of possibilities and uncertainties. However, there is one certainty in life and that is death. So, the Church chooses these four or five weeks at the end of its year to talk about something many would rather not talk about.
We live in a secular and materialistic society where death is a taboo subject. In the past when you went to diner in people’s houses they often said, ‘we don’t talk about religion and politics here.’ They were considered taboo subjects. Today though its death; not that anyone will tell you at a dinner, ‘we don’t talk about death here.’ But it’s not discussed in polite circles. And why is this? Well, it’s partly to do with the world we live in. It is, as I said at the beginning, a materialistic and secular world. Now, in this kind of world what is real is what you can see, and touch and feel. We live in an age of supermarkets, and departmental stores, we shop till we drop. Our priorities can often be the things we own: a house, a car or two, or three. Our work can often become the be all and end all of our lives; and success is often seen as getting to the top of the ladder. Heaven is seen as two or three weeks holiday beside the sea. In our secular world the TV and with its 7 day a week soaps and wall to wall sport have for many become the staple daily diet. And in a computer age we can inter connect with the universe from the comfort of our living rooms; we chat with others and surf the net; for many reality becomes cyber reality.
This is a crude snapshot of modern life, and obviously not everyone sees life in such materialistic terms but a lot of people do. In our modern society it is becoming increasingly ‘uncool’ to talk about God, never mind death and resurrection. It is more acceptable to talk about Richard Dawkins than it is about God. So, our society, focuses our attention on what it considers real, what you can see, and touch and feel. But that is only one dimension of life, there is another far more important one.
The Church does not mind being ‘uncool’. And it makes no apology to anyone for focussing at this time on death and the afterlife. Yet, even for us Christians it is not easy to believe in the resurrection from the dead. I remember my father saying things that surprised me; after the death of a life-long friend of his he said, ‘once you are dead you are dead, and that’s it’. It was unlike my father to make such statements, or any statements for that matter. He was in many ways a typical Irish catholic; his faith was second nature, he had been brought up to believe in God and the Church and all that the church teaches about life and death. But, as he clearly showed, it is not easy to believe in the resurrection of the dead. What we think of death is the acid test of our faith. It is, in a sense, ‘easy’ to believe in God, because we don’t see him, even though we know He exists. But when someone you know dies, someone whom we have seen and loved all our lives, then it is not so easy to believe that after we die we shall be raised from the dead. We want to believe this, of course, but in our more doubtful, reflective moments we can ask ourselves: how much of this is wishful thinking.
You see the Church has a lot of work to do if it is to convince even her members to believe in the resurrection. But this is precisely why the Church chooses these special readings about death and resurrection at this time of the year. In the first reading we heard about the heroic Maccabee family who underwent torture and death, one by one, rather than deny their faith. The youngest and last to die cried out, ‘Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him.’ That happened about three thousand years ago. Down through the centuries there have been men and women who have died a cruel death rather than deny their faith. And even in our own day there have been many people who have died for their faith; you know there were more martyrs for the faith last century than in all the other centuries combined. These people are our inspiration; they are the saints and martyrs.
Do not expect to get much help in this regard from modern society, on the contrary. Its attention is soley focussed on this present life; and we are being taught that what is real is what you can see and touch. But this is why we have the church and its sacraments, to help and support us in our faith. If we are faithful to the Church and are regularly nourished by its sacraments then our faith will not fail. We have God’s word for it. Pray always, especially in moments of difficulty and doubt. Know that it is not wrong to doubt only to despair, from which God will protect us.
If our lives were for this life only we could agree with modern secular society; we could nod our heads every time Stephen Dawkins speaks. But we believe we were created for a life after this, that this is just the beginning of our real lives; so that when we die it is not the end. On the contrary it is the beginning of our real lives. This is our faith, based on the risen Christ, and testified by thousands of martyrs and saints throughout the centuries.