Friday, November 3, 2006

November is dedicated to ...

In November Catholics remember that...

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God,and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But,they are in peace.
For if before humans, indeed, they be punished,yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect.
Book of Wisdom 3:1-9

You know that I have to tell you this. You know that I don't want any crying at my funeral. Now you know why. We don't die. Our sacrificial offering is finally consumed and God takes us to himself. Some of us get it done more quickly than others. That is because some of us live so intensely in God's presence that the fire of His love completes the holocaust earlier than in others. Some of us innocents suffer for such a long time that we are tempted to feel that we have been destroyed before our time. We need to run back to the line, "...their hope is full of immortality." In that hope, we intercede for our loved ones and God accepts our prayers for them and excuses their folly for thinking that our suffering is a punishment from God. Our Hope in God hones itself with every passing day that we give to Him, in joy and in pain. It is in this continuing sacrificial offering that we bring Him into our world and that of our friends and relatives.
There is a beautiful line in the book of Genesis about one of God's favorite people, Enoch by name. This wonderful, god-fearing man had lived for well nigh to "...three hundred and sixty-five years. Then he walked with God and he was no longer here because God took him." (Gen. 5:24) Hey, when God comes and takes me by the hand, put your handkerchiefs away, friends, I'm dancing all the way to the pearly gates.
November seems to be a great time to contemplate death. It is the drabbest month of the year. Dry, dormant trees, no leaves rustling in the wind, weather that knows not whether to be dry or wet, days getting noticeably shorter and shorter and the harvest is over and the gleaners take over to see what they can make of the slim pickings. It is also the time when here in America the poetry and grace of baseball have passed away for another year and we are battered by the violence of American football.
November is also a great time to contemplate the prayerful line, "...their hope is full of immortality." It is only in the hearts and minds of the foolish that this is death. We know that this is the time of invitation. We know that this is the sacrificial offering that we send up to God in the hope and faith that He will not hesitate to invite us to walk with Him and take our hand. We know that this is the time to invest in hope. We know that if our time hasn't come to walk with Him into the Eternal Mansion, we will be well accommodated in the Servants' Quarters of His Mission here below. He knows that there is plenty of work for us to do.
We live in strange times. We live in times when science confuses us with the promise of seven decades of life or seven weeks of life, depending on who makes the decision, God or Human. We live in times when science promises us weapons to battle the laws of nature that in earlier times would deliver us into the bosom of Father Abraham while at the same time treating the seeds of those laws as though they hold no intrinsic promise of their own. We throw away human embryos as carelessly as we throw away the unplanted seed from last year's corn crop. We spend millions training seeing-eye dogs rather than spending to train seeing-eye people to accompany the blind. At least one person can tell the other a joke every now and then. That would seem to be preferable to being accompanied by an animal. But more immoral that all of the above is the abandonment of old people, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and everyone in between. The way I hear God talking to us, we are being told that suffering belongs to all of us. Those who suffer are engaged in the mission of passing on hope to those of us who are suffering less acutely than those who are really afflicted. When the old and infirm walk with God and He takes them, we are left with the investment that they made in God for us through their sacrificial offering. We do not have the right to squander it. We also do not have the right to hide from it in the first place. We have to confront the obligations of our own sacrificial offering for the sake of others. The great sin of our times is that too many of us run away from that obligation when we abandon the very creatures who are sent to deliver the grace of that engagement. By hiding from death and suffering, we are sinning against our duty to pass on the "...everlasting hope full of immortality" that God has given us.
Think of it this way, where would we be if Jesus had been afraid of blood? Where would we be if He had hidden from death? If He had not made his ultimate sacrificial offering, we would not have His life-giving flesh to eat nor His blood to drink to keep us strong for our own personal way of the cross. It is for a very good reason that Catholics keep Jesus on the Cross in their churches and in their houses. It is because we believe in the message that we are given by the very old saints of nearly three thousand years ago, human suffering and death in the presence of God is not punishment of the sufferer, it is for the salvation of those for whom the suffering is offered. Yaweh tells Job's friends, "Offer a holocaust for yourselves and let Job pray for you. I will accept his prayer and excuse your folly..." (Job, 42; 8) Jesus tells us, "Whoever loves his life, loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life." (John, 12;25) There it is again, "...our hope is full of immortality."
The Catholic crucifix is the ultimate reminder of our obligation to be disciples of Christ, Jesus. As His disciples we are like Job and we are like Jesus, we have to lift up our sacrificial offering to God not only for our salvation, but as an intercessory prayer for the saints around us. God is listening for our prayer. He is listening to hear us asking Him to forgive us our folly and to forgive our friends their folly.
If we take some of these thoughts to heart, when the "time of our visitation comes, we will shine,and shall dart about as sparks through stubble..." We will have arrived! Now tell me, why would any true believer cry at a funeral after that? I hope that all of us believe this so deeply that we will never be tempted to cry at one another's funeral.
Amen. Alleluia!
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