What happens when I die?
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 6, 2022:
What happens to us when we die? Is there any more profound question? I’m sure there’s not one among us who hasn’t asked this question at some point. Especially this week as we spent Tuesday and Wednesday celebrating all saints and all souls, we’ve probably given some consideration to this ultimate question – what happens after we die? All of our Scriptures today are focused on this very question. What happens when we die? Is there a resurrection? November, of course, is a good time to think about these things as the leaves fall, the skies turn gray and we celebrate a month of prayer for our beloved deceased. So what does Jesus have to say to us today about this eternal question?
First, of course, there is nothing more central to our faith than the resurrection from the dead that Jesus came to bring us. Jesus said, “I have come to give life and give it to the full.” And we pray in our Creed each week, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” We can sometimes be confused about the resurrection. After all, when was the last time someone you knew rose from the dead and came back to talk about it? But having questions about the resurrection is not only a modern reality. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely the Sadducees.
We heard today, “Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus.” The Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to prove to Him how absurd it is for any reasonable person to believe in the resurrection. They came up with this story of seven brothers who were all in turn married to the same woman and asked, “In the resurrection whose wife will the woman be?” Jesus replied that it was impossible to understand life in Heaven in the same way that we understand life on earth.
Notice that the problem of the Sadducees has to do with how things are in the resurrected life, but Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. His point - there is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living; resurrection is part of God’s very nature. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for death. God does not breathe life into us like bubbles, here now, gone in a moment. No, God gifts us with life even after our time on earth is complete.
Jesus fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking or a fear of death. Our belief is based on the nature of God. The God who Jesus reveals is not an unknown, unseen, distant architect of the universe. Our God is the God of the living, and this God of the living is a loving God who wants only one thing from us – our love and our eternal dwelling with Him.
If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. The resurrection is the only effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism that focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, on the destructive nature of power, on the accumulating of money, on the competition of ownership. The resurrection looks at all of that and says, “So what? What did all of that get you? You can’t take it with you!” Nothing that we can obtain or achieve in this life can come close to comparing with a God who loves each of us individually; who loves us eternally; who has counted even the hairs on our heads; and wants only that we be with Him forever in Heaven.
So, what will heaven look like? Heaven looks like the love that God has for us. And, I think in this age of Pope Francis, we are continually shown glimpses of this love. Think of some of the images that stick with us from this papacy: the Pope washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, his embrace of a young boy with cerebral palsy at Easter. Or the image of Pope Francis embracing a man whose body was covered in disfiguring boils, a condition known as neurofibromatosis. These are compelling images of the kind of love that God has for each one of us; shown through the love of our Holy Father.
It reminds me of the singular moment in the life of St. Francis of Assisi when in the early stages of his conversion, one day he got off his horse, embraced and kissed a leper – the kind of people that he formerly despised - and after he had done that, the man disappeared. He later understood the encounter to have actually been with Christ. That encounter changed the course of his life, he would later describe it this way, “What was once bitter to me had been changed to sweetness of body and soul.” And now Pope Francis does similar things on a daily basis. And perhaps this profound act of God’s love on display for the world to see is meant to change us.
The Pope’s embrace of those so often rejected by the world is an image of the love of God. Pope Francis loves the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity. Few of us suffer physically the way some do. We are typically not disfigured in our suffering. But maybe our scars are on the inside. Maybe there is something in us that makes us feel unworthy of God’s love. Yet our loving God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly and as lovingly as the Pope embraces the world. This is what God’s love looks like. This is what resurrection looks like – our pains, our sorrows, our suffering, our grief – all lifted up and transformed through love into glory, into joy, into eternity.
So, what will heaven look like? What does God’s love look like? Look no further than Jesus. Look no further than our loving Pope. And look no further than the daily opportunities to give and receive love that God places before us every day. The amazing reality is that this love is not limited to God. He invites us to love the same way. And this love will lead us to a share in the resurrection both today and forever.
My friends, resurrection is real. God’s unconditional and unending love for us is real; and it isn’t something that only matters at the end of our lives. It matters every day of our lives and we experience glimpses of it every time we receive or offer the same kind of unconditional love that God offers us. Jesus doesn’t give us the final answers about heaven today, but He does give us the way to prepare for our homecoming – through Him, with Him and in Him. “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” So, let us live for God. Let us live for Heaven.
May the Lord give you peace.
11/10/2022 05:22:13 am
Fr. Tom, since this is not published, I assume I can privately share how this sermon affected me so deeply. This was the perfect moment for me to hear it! This week I came across the information that is out there in our scary world that the Pope is considered by some to be an anti-pope. It really startled me. And then a couple of days later my niece shared with me that she was shaken and needed prayers because of things :”that have been going on in the Church.”
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