32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
Living and Dying for Heaven
“You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”
— 2 Maccabees 7:9
The Old Testament is filled with examples of fidelity to the Lord, but the story of the Maccabees gives us a rare example of what it means to live not for this world but for the life to come. Other heroes of the Old Testament put their faith in God and His promises, but generally with a view to the fulfilment of those promises here on earth. The Maccabees testify that they are prepared to die not because they foresee some great earthly outcome, but because they believe in the promise of life after death.
One of the ways to understand the Old Testament is to see in its stories a series of “types” pointing to their fulfillment in Christ and in the life of the Church. In the Maccabees, we see a “type” of fidelity to the promise of resurrection. Their faith is strong enough that they willingly face torture and death at the hands of unbelievers. What their witness demonstrates partially is completely fulfilled in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that definitive fulfillment is echoed and reechoed in the witness of all the Church’s martyrs, down to the present day.
Our tradition recognizes martyrdom as paradigmatic for the whole Christian life. Although most Christians are not called upon to give their lives for Christ through the shedding of their blood, every disciple ought to be prepared to do so. And every Christian must exercise that self-sacrificial love than which there can be no greater form of love (see Jn 15:13).
A simple way to examine our own lives is simply to ask, “What sacrifices is God calling me to make for His sake, out of love for Him and for my neighbor?” We might then ask, “Am I making these sacrifices? Am I doing so in a spirit of joy and peace, or grudgingly? Is there anything I ought to do to make a more complete, perfect, and wholehearted sacrifice of my life for God?”
The practicalities of this examination will obviously vary quite a bit from person to person. I might be called to sacrifice more for my family, in my prayer, in my generosity to the poor and suffering, or in my work. Each person’s situation, strengths, and weaknesses are different, and so the next steps on the path of discipleship will somewhat different for each person. But in a world that emphasizes perpetual self-indulgence, it is essential that every Christian make such an examination regularly and discover what those next steps are for him or her.
Living self-sacrificial love, living for heaven, also requires a spiritual outlook. All of life must be viewed through the lens of our faith in Christ. Saint Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
In this brief exhortation, St. Paul joins the sacrifice of the body with the renewal of the mind and heart. The spirit of the martyr is one that is utterly centered on God and on His promises to those who are faithful. This complete focus on God is what equips a Christian to offer his or her body in sacrifice.
Last month, we celebrated the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the Church’s earliest martyrs. Saint Ignatius exemplified the clear focus of the faithful Christian on Christ and the promise of heaven. He writes in his own letter to the Christian community at Rome: “No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.”
The Holy Eucharist we celebrate and receive in the Sacrifice of the Mass is what Pope Benedict XVI has called the food of martyrs (2007 Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, par. 85). The Eucharist transforms us so that our minds and hearts become more set on God and His will for us. The Sacrament also draws us into closer union with Christ and prepares us to imitate His self-emptying love by filling us with that love. His broken Body and spilled Blood are the Sacrifice of our salvation, and make us ready to give our bodies and our very lives in service of God and neighbor.
A reward as great as eternal life with God in heaven is worth any cost. May the good Lord renew in us a strong faith in the promise of heaven, as well as a total commitment to making any sacrifice asked of us on our pilgrimage through this world and into the world to come. I personally invite you to consider a small sacrifice for our brothers and sisters who are in need through your participation in the stewardship program. God bless you.
Fr. A. Francis HGN