Sunday Sermon for November 10, 2013, the thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 2 Mac :1-2, 9-14; 2 Thes 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:27-38
In the Gospel reading today our Lord gives the Sadducees some clear teaching about the resurrection. The challenge that the Sadducees pose to our Lord has to do with a point of the Mosaic Law which required that the brother of a man who dies leaving a childless widow must marry that widow and give her children. I do not suppose that there are too many women who would want to marry their younger brother-in-law if her husband should die, but that is secondary to our Lord’s teaching.
First of all, we need to make clear that when Jesus says that in the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage this does not in any way suggest anything negative about married life. The point he is making is about what will happen in Heaven, not what is true of marriage on earth.
The Church teaches us that marriage ends at the death of one of the spouses. Assuming that when the second spouse dies, even if that person remarried after the death of the first spouse, assuming that both go to Heaven, they will be united in a bond of charity that is even closer and more intimate (not physically) than what they enjoy in this world. However, that bond will not be between the two of them alone, it will be with every member of the Mystical Body. All are untied together and all together are untied with the Lord.
To make clear that there is nothing negative being implied regarding marriage in our Lord’s teaching, when the whole Mystical Body is united with Christ then the whole Mystical Body becomes the Bride of Christ. So, there will be marriage in Heaven, but not with one another. Rather, all will be united in an intimate bond with Jesus. So, marriage in this life is supposed to be a foreshadowing of what the next life will be.
This brings us to the second and more pressing point of our Lord’s teaching regarding the resurrection. It is a necessity which precedes the teaching about our union with Jesus in Heaven and that is eternal life itself. The soul, of course, is immortal, so it will live forever. However, there is not guarantee that it will live forever in Heaven. We have to choose eternal life, not in some trite or flippant manner, but by the way we live our lives.
If you want to go on a cross country trip you have cannot just say that you want to go, you have to make the preparations, undertake the journey, and overcome whatever obstacles might arise, expected or unexpected. If things get difficult you might be tempted to give up your plans. The other possibility is that the obstacles make it all greater when you reach your destiny.
Our journey is not across country, but all the way to Heaven. There will be obstacles, but if we are determined, the obstacles will not cause us to waver. We know that many people stumble and fall along the path; perhaps we have done so ourselves. This is part of the reason our Lord allows the challenges in this life. We say that we want to go the Heaven, but if we give up at the slightest difficulty we demonstrate that we really do not want it very badly.
If we keep our focus on Heaven we are constantly reminded not only of where we want to go, but why we want to go there. This is precisely what we see in the first reading as the seven brothers and their mother all perished in a single day. They did not cower before the threats and they did not back down from the suffering because their focus was on the life to come. This life is very short and the sufferings, no matter how bad they are, will be nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us. Coupled with that, St. Paul tells us in the second reading that the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen us.
This does not mean that He will make it easy or that He will not allow any suffering. We know this from the martyrs who remained faithful in spite of suffering unto death. They did not put the value on this life as much as on the next. Perhaps those in difficult marriages can do the same. There is a glorious marital union awaiting you with Christ if you can do your best in your present marriage. Love that person with a focus on Heaven. This does not mean your marriage will become easy, but it gives you a greater reason to do your best now: because it is preparing for a glorious eternity that will make the sufferings of the present well worth it.
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.