Bishop MacDaid’s Homily, Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year, 10 November 2013

Mass of Thirty-second Sunday of the Year

                                                                                    10 November 2013           

St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 10.30am


My dear friends,

In today’s Gospel reading we find Jesus drawn into the argument which went on between the Sadducees and the Pharisees regarding the resurrection.  The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, the Pharisees did. In different ways, all three readings of today’s Mass deal with the theme of eternal life.  It is not the most popular topic of conversation for the breakfast table at any time, even if we feel the onset of winter in our bones and it is the month of special remembrance of our deceased.

 But as we move on in life, and we begin to lose our contemporaries, we become increasingly aware of how fleeting life is, and how precarious is our hold over it. In spite of ourselves, we become more familiar with the thought of death.  This need not be a negative or morbid thing.  In fact it can be a very positive thing.  Thinking of death can lead us to a greater appreciation and love of life.  An acknowledgement of death can bring us to accept each day as a gift, and when we embrace life in that spirit, it can become very precious to us.

After his conversion to Catholicism, under the influence of the life and beliefs of Mother Teresa, Malcolm Muggeridge could say “I look forward to death with colossal joy.”  There are others who treat it as a business, a job for which you can earn a few bob.  I came across a radio commercial in the United States, which was sung to the tune of “Rock of Ages”, and it went:

“Chambers caskets are just fine,
made of sandalwood and pine.
If your loved ones have to go
call Columbus 690.
If your loved ones pass away,
have them pass the Chambers Way.
Chambers customers all sing:
“Death, o death, where is thy sting?”  

These irreverent thoughts have nothing in common with Paul’s message to the people of Thessalonica, when he says to them in our second reading, “May the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and , through his grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.  May the Lord turn your heart towards the love of God and the fortitude of Christ.”

 An Indian Master called Sadhu Sunder Singh wrote the following piece:  The human spirit lives in the body, rather like the chicken in its shell.  If one told the chicken of the great outside world which it would see when it was set free of its shell, the chicken would not understand or believe it.  If we told it that its feathers and eyes would enable it to see and fly, it would not believe it.  And there would be no way of proving it to the unborn chick until it came out of its shell.

 So, in the same way, many are uncertain about life after death and the existence of God, because they cannot see beyond the shell-like body of flesh.  Their thoughts, like feeble wings hampered by the shell, cannot take flight beyond the narrow confines of the brain.  Their weak eyes cannot discover those eternal unfading treasures which God has prepared for those who love him.  The conditions necessary for attaining eternal life are like those of the chicken egg which is hatched by the warmth of the mother hen.  If we are to receive eternal life, we should receive in faith the life-giving warmth of the Holy Spirit.

 The first reading of today’s Mass is quite an extraordinary one.  It is taken from the Old Testament Book of 2 Maccabees.   One is left marvelling at the confidence which the incident shows in belief in the afterlife.  The story of the courage and confidence of a mother and her seven sons, holding to their customs in the face of threat to their very existence, is an extraordinary one.   But then seeing is believing, and the strength of their belief and confidence in the God they served was not lost on the king’s attendants who were, we are told, “astounded at the young man’s courage and indifference to suffering.”

 There was a barefooted big city drifter named George.  He had wild hair, wore tattered pants and an oversized, food-stained T shirt.   One Sunday morning, as he ambled past a big beautiful Church in the heart of the city, he decided to go in.  The Church was full and the priest was making his way to the ambo.  George found no seat and no one moved to try and make room for him.  So having walked all the way to the front, without finding a seat, he squatted down on the floor in front of the ambo.

 The priest was about to begin his homily, but he paused when he noticed the Church’s elderly head usher slowly make his way down the aisle towards George.  The usher was elegantly dressed, and even though he walked with the aid of a stick, he had a confident and authoritative air about him.  At this stage the Church was silent in anticipation of what might happen.  When the old man reached George, with some difficulty he laid his stick on the marble floor and lowered himself to sit on the floor beside George so that he would not be alone.  When the priest got his breath back, and as everyone tried to take in what had happened, the priest said, “what I am about to preach, you may never remember.  But what you have just seen, you will never forget.”

 The Sadducees and the Pharisees will never cease arguing about the resurrection; and while in the shell, the chicken egg will not be able to see or understand the form or shape of things to come.  But the good news in the message of Jesus Christ, given living witness by the elderly head usher and by the brave woman and her seven courageous sons, shows us that in faith, seeing is believing.

+Liam S. MacDaid         
10 November 2013

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