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Homily - 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 6 November 2022

Jesus in now in Jerusalem and facing a showdown with the Jewish leadership, a struggle which will end with his death. This is not a time for fun and games. The question from the Sadducees is a trick. They don't believe in the resurrection of the dead and set Jesus a scenario that they hope will catch him out. They fit into the pattern of wanting a narrow black and white answer to a major issue. But Jesus knows what is happening and uses it as an opportunity, not merely to win an argument but to teach. What might we learn?

Firstly, Jesus is explicit about life after death. Christian faith says that human life will be transformed. It will not merely be a continuation of life as we know it, made up of lots of free time with friends and family. Jesus uses the word resurrection. We die and become ourselves in a new way, just as he was both himself and something different after Easter Sunday. That is not an easy belief to accept. One recently bereaved faither expressed that when he asked me angrily whether his firstborn son's body in the cold earth was now nothing more than fertiliser for the plants. Jesus challenges the Sadducees and us as to whether we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. It is much easier for many to limit their horizons to the here and now – and to live as if life had no meaning beyond this world. The consumerist culture encourages that claustrophobic one-dimensional worldview. It tells us that life is a joke, just for fun, and we are entitled to enjoy it as well as we can for however long it lasts. Belief in resurrection puts life in a different perspective, for somebody else - God - gives meaning to who I am. God is the author of my life and the source of my eternal life. A mature faith is not just a general notion that there possibly is a divine being somewhere. Faith means believing that there is God who has moulded each of our human lives and wants us to share the divine life.

Secondly, Jesus speaks about those who are 'judged worthy of a place in the other world'. He has already spoken about taking up our cross and following him. If we want to join Jesus in his resurrection, we have to be ready to do some dying to ourselves. If we do not take Jesus seriously, we are not taking our own lives seriously. He is clear that being his disciple is no walk in the park. We know from the gospels that there were times when Jesus challenged followers to make tough decisions – and some walked away. And here is another element to our belief. Especially in St John's Gospel, the emphasis is not merely on resurrection and eternal after death. For Jesus, eternal life begins here and now. For those who believe in Jesus, the Father and Christ will come and make their home in us. The seeds of resurrection are sown during this life. Thus, what we do during our lifetime is part of our preparation for the hereafter. Our life of faith, hope and love is about broadening our horizons away beyond our limited human imagination and daring to belief in the divine, the eternal, the One who gives life a different meaning. Our liturgy is meant to give us a glimpse of life beyond the grave. In Holy Communion we share Christ's risen life. The feasts of All Saints and All Souls ask us to look at our Christian Hall of Fame, at the heroes who allowed God's grace to work in them. If our young people know no heroes except over-paid sportspeople and musicians, it is no wonder that so many are crushed by lack of hope and dreams. A parish is not just a place where Mass can be attended on Sundays. A parish is a community that keeps alive hope of eternal life in a world dominated by fears rather than trust.

Thirdly, the Resurrection of the body contains another radical element. It says that our bodies are worthy of being raised up. Our culture tends to treat the body as a toy to be obeyed, pampered and played with. We end up with a world where we look after appearances – but do nothing to nourish the inner person. It is not surprising that such a society should be tempted to despise what is not shiny and sleek. Our glossy culture is rapidly moving to a position where human life is disposable before it is born and when it becomes frail. It is a culture where bodily intimacy is cheapened. In an earlier generation, people were encouraged to give their heart to someone and then to seal that commitment with a life long giving of the body. A consumerist mindset says that nothing is precious, sacred, beautiful or good. Indeed, our modern culture says that the body's urges must be obeyed. The words 'want' and 'need' are almost interchangeable. Where there is no prospect of resurrection, the body loses its dignity, and we are praised for being slaves to our animal drives. We see the destruction of human dignity and the emphasis on semi-detached, disposable relationships caused by that profound lack of freedom that is packaged as the right to choose. But Jesus says that the body is sacred, and that human intimacy is sacred. Jesus says that we are capable of something great. He shows us that the Adam and Eve temptation to make bad choices can be overcome, no matter how strong the urges may be. He tells us there is another way of looking at the beauty of the human body, for it is destined for resurrection.

Next weekend marks the final Sunday before the Feast of Christ the King. We are almost at the end of St Luke's account of Jesus' formation programme for his disciples. Before we celebrate Christ the Universal King, we might ask ourselves whether we have grasped a little better the core elements of the faith that Jesus proposes. Thus, our remembering the dead in November is not just our way of doing what people do around the world in a form of ancestor worship or vague consoling rituals. This Gospel asks us whether we believe in life after death, in the fact that preparation for that life begins here and that our bodies are sacred. A hope-filled heart that loves the Lord here, and longs to be united to Christ hereafter will not waste time in glowering condemnation of others. In the words of the Mass, 'we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour'. November is the month, not just of vague consolation but of hope-filled trust in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. As we remember our deceased young people and care for our living are we mature enough to take Jesus' teaching seriously?

+ Donal McKeown

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St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302

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