2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
We love to use the word ‘hope’ these days. We use it to encourage change in politics, we use it to spur us on to victory in athletics, we use it in education and the workplace to push us toward greatness, we use it in our daily lives as we look forward to a time of peace or the attainment of some perceived good. As a priest whose life is almost entirely consumed by things of the faith, much of my hope is focused not on athletics and political things but on the things of faith in our community, our diocese and around the world. While there is much to be frustrated by in our days, there is even more to build within us the gift of hope.
Last week we concluded 40 Days for Life, a 40-day prayer vigil at the abortion clinic in Baton Rouge. The prayers and presence of people from our parish and other parishes in the Diocese of Baton Rouge helped 19 women choose life for their child instead of abortion during those 40 days. Hope.
Just a few weeks ago we mourned the death of Fr. Louis Oubre, a priest of our diocese who served across the river for some years and died in his mid-fifties. We continue to be aware of the decreasing number of priests in active ministry in our diocese. But this year 9 young men entered the seminary for our diocese, bringing the total number of seminarians to 19, nearly equal to the most we’ve ever had as a diocese – and three more already applying to enter next year to join their ranks. And we can add to that a dozen young Religious Brothers and Sisters from our diocese, ministering in other communities. Hope.
The world continually works to lead our youth away from God and the faith through so many avenues. And yet there are many youth who are devout Catholics ready to show the world the joy of the faith. Nine buses of high school students from our diocese will drive up to Washington DC in January for the annual March for Life. Nearly 1000 gathered two weeks back for our Diocesan World Youth Day. Our Catholic Schools continues from Pre-K up through High School continue to see incredible things as teachers and students alike continue to catch fire with our faith. Hope.
Those are just a few examples of many more good things going on in our diocese. I say all this to encourage you to contribute to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, which will be used by the Bishop for various projects in our diocese to continue to build up our local Church in the faith and in hope. We can look to recent years to see some of the good that has come from your generosity in this appeal: over 45,000 individuals helped through Catholic Charities, $75,000 given for tuition assistance programs in Catholic Schools, $52,000 given to help with evangelization through our local Catholic TV programming, $100,000 given for emergency generators at parishes. I’ll stop there to keep from being too long-winded, but you get the idea. All of the things mentioned above are things that we have benefitted from directly here in our cluster. If you have received an envelope already, we have them available at the rear of the Church and invite you to continue in your support not only for our local community but also our wider diocesan community.
This homily isn’t about money though. It’s about hope. The examples listed above were things that encourage us to be hopeful about our future as a diocese. Those things are all important for us to urge us on in our faith here on earth, but we also have to remember that our true hope is not in earthly things at all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that hope is “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (1817). True hope is focused on one thing and one thing only: heavenly life.
The Resurrection is one of those things that can be difficult to understand because it raises so many questions we can’t answer: What does it mean to have a resurrected body? How will it happen? Will I look the same? Will we have our personal attributes still? How can we have bodies in heaven, which is a spiritual reality? To those questions we could add another 1000, but the simple fact is that we cannot know the answers because we have not experienced the reality. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
In our first reading we hear this intense story of seven brothers who are killed for not forsaking Jewish laws prohibiting the eating of pork. As they undergo their torture and martyrdom, they each begin to speak of the heavenly life that awaits the righteous. Keep in mind this is over 125 years before Jesus was even born. The idea of an afterlife and even a bodily existence there wasn’t something Jesus made up but was actually a belief of many pious Jews, Jesus of course included in that group. That’s why we hear these bold proclamations from the third son saying of his tongue and hands, “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again” and from the fourth son, who does likewise, saying, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” The Resurrection is not just a nice thought. It is a reality that all of us can and should look forward to.
another group of seven brothers, each taking the same woman as his wife. There was actually a law at the time that if a man died leaving his wife childless, his brother should marry the woman and ensure the brother’s lineage was upheld with children. It’s strange, but that was the case. That’s how we arrive at this strange question posed to Jesus about which of the seven men would be her husband in heaven. Jesus recognizes that the questioners have an idea of heaven that doesn't match with the truth and seeks to change that by jolting them a bit with his answer: there is a resurrection of the body, but there is no giving and taking in marriage in heaven! We can be a bit upset when we hear this because it seems like Jesus has a negative view of marriage, as if when we get to heaven you think ‘Well thank God that marriage isn’t here!’ That’s not it at all. Jesus held marriage in high esteem and even chose that context for His first miracle. Jesus isn’t saying marriage is bad but rather uses earthly marriage to emphasize the goodness the Resurrection of the Body and eternal life that are to come. After all, when we think of intimacy, passion and love, what do we think of most clearly – married life. It is in married life that we see a man and woman joined together in one flesh to share themselves completely with one another, to journey with one another for the rest of their lives, sharing their greatest joys, sorrows, fear, and dreams. That is intimacy! And as beautiful as that is and as life-giving as that is for that couple, Heavenly life will make that seem like nothing. That’s what Jesus means when He says that people are not married or given in marriage, not that marriage is bad but that heavenly life is going to be where we encounter life, love, and passion in a way that we cannot even begin to understand here on earth.
That is the gift that awaits us.That is the salvation that God holds out to us and longs for us to receive. That is what our hope points us toward. As we receive Holy Communion today, let us receive the fullness of grace we need to be faithful to our God here in this life, that we might be able to one day behold forever the One who is always faithful to us.