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32 Sun C- Resurrection of our Bodies

At the very end,  watch Video Reflection by Fr Bill Grimm, mm
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Starting Point: 

Missing the Point! 

One New Year's Day, in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit. It was out of gas. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas. The amusing thing was the float represented an oil company. With its vast oil resources, its truck was out of gas (C. Neil Strait, Minister's Manuel, 1994, 315). 

They had the entire resources of heaven at their disposals. They were entrusted with the oracles of God; however, in Luke chapter 20 the parade of Chief Priest, Elders and Sadducees come to a sudden halt when they cut themselves off from the resources of God who was now in Christ. 

Brett Blair
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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to the Celebration


We gather here on Sundays because this is the ‘day of the resurrection’. We call ourselves the people of the resurrection and of new life. We proclaim the mystery of faith: ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen.’ But we often do not stop and think about what we mean by ‘resurrection’ and ‘rising from the dead’. These questions will echo through our celebration today.
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Michel de Verteuil
General Textual comments
 

The gospel passage for this Sunday is challenging for us who practice the lectio divina method of reading the Bible text in dialogue with personal experience. From the outset there are three problems we must deal with if the passage is to speak to our experience as it is intended to.

a) The general theme of the passage is resurrection from the dead, something we believe in faith but have not experienced. We must therefore take the same approach as we did with “salvation” in last week’s passage; we start with partial and temporary “resurrections” we have experienced and allow them to become glimpses of the final and complete resurrection at the end of time. “Dying” will then refer to times when our world – or that of others – collapsed, and “resurrection” to times when we (or they) experienced new life in the wake of failure.

b) The passage refers to the Leviticus law in Deuteronomy 25:5, which is based on an understanding of marriage that is very different from ours. We Christians don’t see marriage in those terms at all. Our meditation will have to be very creative therefore, and we will probably find it impossible to use the word “marry” in praying the passage.
c) Some of the sayings in the passage are vague: “children of this world,” “children of the resurrection,” “they are like the angels,” “sons of God,” “to him all are alive.” In each case we must let the Word come alive by interpreting it in the light of our experience.

Through meditation, then, we will be led
– to celebrate “children of the resurrection,” including ourselves when we are at our best (thanksgiving),
– repent of our lack of faith in the resurrection, as individuals and as a Church (humility),
– pray that faith in the resurrection will triumph in us, in the Church and in the world (petition).
 

Textual Comments 

The passage is in three sections.
1. Verse 27: Introduction
The introduction sets the scene – a meeting between Jesus and the Sadducees; we can identify with both.
a) Jesus is in a specific historical situation. He is in Jerusalem, knowing that he is about to be arrested and condemned by the leaders of his own people and abandoned by his closest associates, but still self-possessed and trusting. In this encounter with the Sadducees he is not merely teaching, but bearing witness to his own faith in the resurrection. He “leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection” (Hebrews 12:2). In our meditation we celebrate him and those who have been his presence for us, challenging us by word and example to renew our faith in the resurrection.
b) The Sadducees are ourselves to the extent that we “say that there is no resurrection,” not in words (since the resurrection is part of our Christian faith), but in practice. What this implies is explained below.

2. Verses 28 to 33: a case study

The Levitical law is far removed from our experience, so we have to be creative in interpreting it. Like all biblical laws, this was a life-giving Word of God. In the culture of the time, however, it reinforced the lowly status of women. Women at that time found their identity in having children. A woman who had no husband – and therefore no children -  was nobody. Her inferior status is summed up in the Sadducees’ question “To which of them will she be wife?” which can be interpreted as “She has no husband, so who will she be?”
This approach is typical of people who “say there is no resurrection.” We fall into that category when we define people by their achievements – jobs, bank accounts, popularity, prestige, fame. We look scornfully at those who have none of these things – or lose them by “dying”. Like the Sadducees asking “To which of them will she be wife?” we ask the poor and vulnerable, those who are old or sickly or who have experienced failure, “Who are your friends? What have you produced?” Many still look on women as the Sadducees did; they ask, “Whose wife is she?”
In setting priorities for ourselves we “say there is no resurrection” when we get involved in projects not because they are good in themselves but because they bring us “outer’ benefits such as making money and attaining high positions, or “inner” benefits like feeling good about ourselves, feeling superior to others or having a sense of achievement.
The problem in each case is that we allow ourselves to be defined by these accomplishments. If we were to lose them (“die”), we would have to ask, “Who am I?”
We do this also as communities: the Church and its organizations and religious orders “say there is no resurrection” when they become fixated on achievements – attracting large numbers, attaining moral perfection, and so forth. Suppose we became “a little flock” again, we would be asking ourselves, “Are we really the Church?”
The capitalist system with its emphasis on productivity and consumption “says that there is no resurrection.” Nations too can seek their identity in military or economic victories, saying “What makes us a great nation is that we are No. 1.”

3. Verses 34 to 38: three wisdom sayings
Jesus answers the Sadducees’ – and our – question with three wisdom sayings intended to evoke the response, “How true!” and “How wonderful!”
a) Verses 34 to 36.
Jesus distinguishes between “children of this world” and “children of the resurrection” (there is a bit of both in each of us). “Children of this world” focus on achievements. “Taking wives and husbands” does not refer primarily to marriage (and not at all to Christian marriage). It means getting involved in projects in such a way that they define us. We do that when
– we sacrifice important values to attain high positions for ourselves and our families;
– we scheme and connive to prove ourselves better than others;
– we make “being perfect” the goal of our spiritual life so that when we fall into sin we become “nobodies”.
To the question “Whose wife will she be?” Jesus replies, “She was never just ‘somebody’s wife’; she was a person in her own right! So what if all her husbands died. She is still who she is.” This is the attitude of “children of the resurrection,” those who are “judged worthy of a place in the other world.”
Here again “they do not marry” does not refer to marriage as we understand it. It means, like Jesus himself, not allowing one’s identity to be determined by achievements. We can imagine Jesus saying to the Sadducees: “I too committed myself to many people (the leaders of the people, the Pharisees, Judas) and I have little to show for it. You think I am a failure, but I don’t see myself that way at all.” He told the apostles the same thing on the night before he died: “You will all run away, leaving me alone; but I am not alone because the Father is with me” (John 16:32).
We think of the great men and women of our time who give themselves to noble causes such as non-violence, harmony between religions, liberation of oppressed people, equality for women. Often they are not praised, are condemned even, but continue to live fulfilled and productive lives. They are “children of the resurrection,” they “cannot die,” they are “sons and daughters of God.”
We think too of “children of the resurrection” who give themselves to the service of others:
– parents who walk with children who are mentally challenged
– friends who continue to care for delinquents
– political leaders who renounce power rather than compromise principles.
They often do not see tangible results, their sacrifices seem useless and “die”. But they maintain their dignity, their sense of self worth, their sense of humour even – they “cannot die”. If we ask them, “Who are you?” they will answer like Jesus, “I am a son or daughter of God.” Like Jesus they teach us to understand what it means to be “the same as the angels.”
b) Verses 37 and 38a

Jesus further clarifies his teaching on resurrection by inviting the Sadducees (and us) to enter into Moses’ experience in “the passage about the bush”. This refers to moments when we sense the greatness of people who have touched our lives (“ancestors” in the widest sense). They died, failed, or did not receive due recognition but continued to “live”. They could do this because they were “alive to God.” We may be dead in the eyes of our fellow human beings, but if we are true to the best of ourselves, we are alive in the eyes of God. The passage reminds us that faith in God is what gives us human beings the power to transcend failure and humiliation.

c) Verse 38b widens the scope of the teaching. Not merely our “ancestors” (in the wide sense as above) but all men and women have within them the seed of immortality, the potential to be truly great, “alive to God.”

We celebrate moments when some “Jesus” helped us – by word and example – to understand these things.

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Sean Goan
Gospel Notes



There is no doubt that people have all kinds of questions about heaven and what it will be like. In today’s gospel that issue is touched upon when Jesus is asked a very specific question about heaven. The key to understanding this incident is to realise that the Sadducees, who put the question to Jesus, do not believe in an afterlife at all. They represent a small branch of Judaism that was dominated by the Temple priests. Unlike the Pharisees they rejected the idea of an afterlife and the resurrection of the dead. So they think that by posing the right question to Jesus they can show that these are foolish ideas. Jesus, in answering them, does not tell us anything about heaven as such, he simply shows that their reasoning is false because they have too narrow an idea of God. Thinking about heaven requires more than simply transferring what goes on down here to some heavenly sphere. Heaven is about union with God, life in its fullness, so whatever idea we have of it, it will still come up short.

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Gospel Thoughts 

This gospel section is found in all three synoptics, but the version in Luke is by far the most rounded and coherent. The situation is a dispute with those for whom the notion of ‘resurrection’ was ludicrous, and as such the object of curious questions. But Jesus refuses to get involved in such a materialistic imagining of God’s plan as their questions suggest, and rather asserts that God is the God of the living for all have life in him. This controversy, in turn, became for the church a commentary on its own faith in the resurrection as that which Jesus shares with his disciples.
Since this section of Luke’s gospel has a natural termination at 20:40, it is a pity that the last two verses have been omitted in the lection for today.

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Reflection
 
For many people it comes as a surprise to know that the idea of martyrdom, i.e. dying for one’s faith, is absent in most of the Old Testament. For a long period in Biblical history when there was no belief in an afterlife, to have to die for one’s faith was considered as evidence that God had failed you. Today’s readings show that belief in the resurrection radically changed the way people looked at life. It gave them a new hope that enabled them to live through dreadful hardships and persecutions. For the early church, faith in the resurrection of Jesus was the cornerstone of all their preaching and it was this that allowed a message of indestructible hope to reach many whose lives were filled with despair. As we move towards the end of the liturgical year, the readings invite us to think about the end. This is not an invitation to worry or be perplexed about what we don’t know — it is rather an invitation to hope and have confidence in God’s will for us.
 

Homily Notes
 
1. We bandy the word ‘resurrection’ about with gusto. No cele­bration of the Eucharist is complete without some use of the word, while we cheerfully say that ‘we shall rise with Christ,’ or use similar expressions with the ease that we use a phrase like ‘I’m popping out to the shops for some milk.’ The as­sumption is that the meaning of ‘resurrection’ is immediately obvious. Yet this is the exact opposite of the case.

2. First, the notion of resurrection is, in popular contexts, very often thought of as little more that some sort of resuscitation (a corpse being brought back to life), or that it is no more than a verbal variant on the quite widespread belief in the immort­ality of the soul as a natural quality of human (or indeed ani­mal) existence, or indeed some even think it is just another term for some vague post mortem existence (e.g. ‘There is something beyond the grave’) or otherworldly place (e.g. the media expert who says ‘What the Vikings called Valhalla was called Heaven by the Christians who converted them’). These confusions are ‘where people are at’ and today’s gospel pro­vides an opportunity to address them.

3. Second, the term ‘resurrection’ (literally ‘standing up again’) is itself but a label for a mystery that is beyond us but which we glimpse in our experience of the presence of the Christ still with us, but also in the glory of the Father. The ‘resurrection’ is not some miracle to be either proved or disproved as ‘having happened’ in the historical order, rather it is the at­tempt in our human, earth bound language to give expres­sion to our conviction, shared with the very first disciples, that Jesus’s presence did not end on the cross, but continued in a new way within the creation, and that he showed this new way of being, this new existence at the ‘ right hand of the Father,’ was also the destiny of all who became one with him. Resurrection is about both now and the future, and it is about transformation both now and in the future. But this transform­ation in Christ is only glimpsed in this life in shadows and images; perhaps the greatest of these shadows that expresses this transformation is the ritual of baptism, while one of the simplest is the word ‘resurrection’.

4. But because resurrection is a mystery, it is, of its very nature, very difficult to preach or communicate verbally. By far the best positive preaching of resurrection takes the form of our great actions of faith: baptism, the movement from darkness to light at vigil services, or in the presentation of the Eucharist as the encounter with the risen One now in his meal. Yet we cannot remain silent for we are also creatures of language and words, and words can clarify and refine our understandings and open up the mind to the realities beyond words. So what can we say in a few moments about resurrec­tion?

5. One method is to use a series of simple statements in the form of ‘not that, but this’. Here are four such statements that may clarify key aspects of Christian belief from some of the counterfeits found in contemporary popular culture:

A. Resurrection is communal, not individual.
We become the new People of God, the emphasis is not on my escape from the grave.

B. Resurrection is transformation, not resuscitation.
We can so easily get lost in materialist questions about empty tombs and miracles, but this is to see resurrection as one more event in the historical order, rather than the beginning of a new possibility of existence in God whose nature and form are beyond our imaginings.

C. Resurrection is life in God, not ‘spiritual’ endurance.
Our focus of interest is not on some’ soul’ that might survive death, or some ‘place of the dead’ in an ‘ otherworld’ or’ after­life’ – all of which are very commonly held religious beliefs ­but that we become part of the Body of Christ sharing in the life of God.

D. Resurrection is God’s gift, not some quality of the immort­ality of the soul.

In any average congregation there will be some people who are interested in the ‘paranormal’, in so-called ‘near death ex­periences,’ or in practices that claim to speak to the dead. Such people often simply assume that the abilities they claim are justified by the Christian belief in resurrection. But such claims for an existence after death – while not contradictory of the belief in resurrection – are wholly distinct from it. The new life is God’s gift in Jesus Christ – we share in his resur­rection – not simply an individual human life force having its own continued existence.


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Prayer Reflection 

This great disaster is a symbol to us to remember all the big things of life and forget the small things of which we have thought too much.”   Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking to the Indian people on the night Gandhi was assassinated

Lord, we worry so much about what will happen to what we have worked for:
– will our children put into practice what we have taught them?
– will the community project we started survive?
– will we remain in good health?
– will our political party win at the polls?
We are like the Sadducees who say there is no resurrection.
But now and then you send us Jesus
to remind us that the only really important thing in life
is to be judged worthy in your sight,
and then we are truly children of the resurrection and we cannot die.

“Raise me up Lord, until at long last it becomes possible for me in perfect chastity to embrace the universe.” …Teilhard de Chardin
Lord, free us from petty concerns,
that the whole world may be alive to us as it is to you.

The fulfillment of our destiny is to find in God all our individual and personal reality.
…Thomas Merton

Lord, forgive us for accepting the notion that we fail as human beings
when we are not productive:
– we make parents feel inferior because they have no children,
or because their children are not successful at school or in the work place;
– we are envious of fellow professionals who have attained greater heights than us;
– we do not give full respect to the aged in our communities;
– we lose enthusiasm for what we are doing
because our worth is not recognized by others.
We are Sadducees who say there is no resurrection.
Give us the grace to approach Jesus and receive his word
challenging us to move from being children of this world
to becoming children of the resurrection, your sons and daughters.


Leonardo Boff

“Is it worth it? Everything in life is worth it if the heart is not small.”   Leonardo Boff
Lord, we thank you for faithful people,
– those who remain faithful when their spouses are not;
– parishioners who are content to work for the community without acknowledgement;
– those who fight for a noble cause without success.
They often die childless,
but we know you judge them worthy of a place with you in the resurrection from the dead.

Lord, we thank you that, like Moses, we can call you the God of our ancestors,
from Africa, India, Europe or the Caribbean.
Many of them didn’t have our faith,
things we hold dear were not important to them,
but they are alive to us, because they believed in you
and you are not the God of the dead but of the living.

“Human beings ought not to consider their chances of living or dying.
They ought only to consider on any given occasion whether they are doing
right or wrong.”   ..Socrates

We thank you, Lord, for sending us in every age men and women like Jesus,
who challenge us to be children of the resurrection,
to know that we cannot die once we are concerned to be alive to you.

“To the conquistadors, where there were no wonders there was nothing. …V.S. Naipaul

Lord, we your Church ask your forgiveness
for the times we judged cultures by their wealth and military might,
forgetting that to you they were alive – your sons and daughters.

“The Church admits that she has greatly profited and still profits  from the antagonisms of those who oppose her.”  …Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World

Lord, we thank you for people who come to us as the Sadducees came to Jesus.
At first their objections seem foolish,
but then we find that they help us clarify what we believe in.
 

HOMILIES: 

1.     FROM CONNECTIONS 

THE WORD: 

The Sadducees, the priests and governing class of Judaism at the time of Jesus, were very conservative in matters of religion.  Unlike the Pharisees, they dismissed the oral tradition and any doctrinal developments not specified in the Pentateuch.  They put no credence in the thousands of detailed regulations and ritualistic practices that the Pharisees embraced.  They rejected the notion of angels or spirits, the belief in an afterlife and the idea of a messiah. 

The hypothetical case that the Sadducees concoct based on Moses’ teaching on marriage and pose to Jesus in today’s Gospel is designed to ridicule the so-called “Messiah’s” ludicrous teaching on the resurrection.  Jesus, first, dismisses their attempt to understand the reign of God in human, worldly terms: the life of God transcends our understanding of human relationships and values.  And second, citing the Sadducees’ own cherished Mosaic writings, Jesus reminds them that God spoke to Moses of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the present tense, as still being alive before him and not as long-dead memories.  God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living; Christ comes with the promise of always living in God and with God.

HOMILY POINTS:

Our God is a not a God of condemnation and retribution not does God call us to condemn or seek vengeance -- our God is a God of love that redeems and transforms; and God calls us to love in the same way.

We often try to gauge God by our standards, to measure him by our yardsticks, to define God by our systems of reasoning and understanding.  But the God revealed by Jesus defies our explanations and designs.  Our response to Jesus' call to be his disciples begins with opening our minds and spirits to become what God intends us to be.

To become “sons and daughters of the resurrection” we must embrace that Gospel vision of love of neighbor as brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us children of God.

Resurrection is the promise and hope of our faith as Christians — but resurrection is also an attitude, a perspective for approaching life and sorting out the decisions and complexities of our lives.  In dying to our own worst impulses, disappointments, and the sometimes-overwhelming sense of hopelessness, we can rise to the heights of the life and love of God. 

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Fr. David Vincent Meconi, sj 

A Heart United, A Family Forever. 

Purpose: When one loves rightly, there is no competition between love of God and love of creatures.  I am commanded to love those in my life by loving them as God loves them, to align my desires with God’s desires.  In this way, I shall come to see at the end of my life that there was no such thing as a “human love” and a “divine love.”  By loving all now, as God does, I shall be united with both God and them forever.

Today’s readings converge at the point of family—of choosing and claiming our spiritual family as God’s children over and against our merely biological family.  In the old covenant, God’s grace was dispensed primarily through natural ethnicity and kinships.  God chose Israel and the Jewish people, by the very fact that they were the children of Abraham, and thus blessed in a way that other tribes were not.  Yet, the moment God became human, his covenant became literally Catholic—a universal promise to all people that God is now present in their midst.  If this is true, our old identities must be transformed: we are no longer simply the child of this family, no longer simply a citizen of this or that community, not just a member of that political party, and so on.  Now we realize that we have been made for nothing other than life in heaven. 

Accordingly, we can look upon God, and the human family, in the same way no more.  God is no longer tied to a particular people but now to the entire human race.  That is how we are to interpret those places in Paul where he teaches that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28; cf. Rom 10:12; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11). To interpret these passages correctly is not to say that there are no longer historical (personal, gender, social) differences, but that God no longer distributes his grace determined by these differences.  All are now one in Christ!

This is what makes the opening reading from Maccabees (a family name traceable, appropriately enough, to the word “hammer”) all the more remarkable. In the reading in 2 Maccabees, we hear the story of Judas Maccabeus who led a revolt against Antiochus Ephiphanes IV (King of the Greek Seleucid dynasty, covering most of modern-day Turkey and beyond) defeating his army in 161 B.C., so as to free the Jews from foreign domination. 

The lesson here for us Christians is obviously what the Apostles themselves knew very early on as well: it is better to follow God than to capitulate to man (cf. Acts 5:29).  It is ironic that we are a people who claim to have a unique friendship with one we know created the world, rules all things providentially, who became one with us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and with one who has pledged his own sacred body and blood to us at each moment of our lives, and yet, we still fear to trust him completely.  We are still afraid of death.

However, this is what we proclaim as Christians: that love is infinitely stronger than death and we have been lovingly made members of an eternal family.  God is now our true and everlasting Father, Mary is our Mother, and all the saints are our newly-acquired siblings.  This is why we hear the Apostle Paul refer to those in the Church at Thessalonica as “brothers and sisters.”  These Christians are closer to him than any would have been to their own naturally-born siblings.  It is the Faith that thus binds, and Paul realizes that not all have such life within them. 

This might be an opportunity to comfort those before us by reminding them that this world was never meant to be their true home.  Instead of feeling sad and despondent that we are not closer to others (especially our members of our immediate families), or that we find many aspects of our lives lacking, perhaps we could see these tears and aches as the realization that we know we are not made for earth only, and that our true destination and character is still to come.  As Tolkien realized, as opposed to the elves who could not die, death is the “great gift” of humans because it finally transposes us from this “veil of tears” into an everlasting community of joy. 

That is where today’s Gospel strikes.  We are to live in this world as if we were already claimed for heaven.  Even the closest possible human relationship, the sacrament of matrimony, is to be lived sub specie aeternitatis—with the realization that your spouse on earth is not your eternal spouse but a living icon through which you are to see your eternal love.  Marriage’s ultimate purpose is for you to hand your spouse over to Jesus each day, and to assure that your life together is cemented by Jesus’ love and care.  This is why matrimony is a sacrament: even on those days where you feel like being selfish and vindictive, the grace is offered you to become other than you might feel at any unfortunate particular moment. 

When Luke says the married are like the angels in heaven, it is important to stress what this means.  The elect are like the angels in heaven, not because they leave their bodies behind, but because there will not be marriages celebrated in heaven.  Nothing makes me more upset when I hear well-meaning (but poorly catechized) Christians assure someone that their deceased loved one is “now an angel.”  No!  Angels are spiritual substances who were created without bodies, and who never will have bodies; we humans are incomplete without our bodies, and will one day enjoy glorified and resurrected bodies.  Angels cannot become human, humans do not become angels.  The point here is that, if lived rightly, marriage fulfills its purpose by one’s getting one’s spouse to heaven.  For Christ must be the first and  the form of all our loves, the union by which all the cares and affections in our lives are brought together.

Toward the end of his classic, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis depicts a young, grieving mother named “Pam” who is claiming that the love she has for her son, who died at an unfortunately early age, is what should grant her heaven.  The angel of God points out that the lavish attention she showed her son, Michael, was never, in fact, true love, but her own possessiveness: “You’re treating God as only a means to Michael.  But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for his own sake.”  “You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a mother.”  “You mean if I were only a mother.  But there is no such thing as being only a mother.  You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature.  That relation is older and closer.”

Today’s homily, then, can focus on how we Christians are currently landlocked, but are given the grace to live as if we were already in heaven.  Heaven is not a place, but that relationship with Jesus Christ which transforms our every thought, word, and action here on earth.  Christ does not want to take away our families, and our deepest desires, but to become the “glue” that holds them all together.  As long as our hearts remain divided between creator and creatures, we will never be happy.  Once we surrender all of our seemingly “human” loves, and plunge them into the Heart of Christ, thus allowing him to become the love that unites us to even the most natural of our affections, our world becomes consecrated.  For this reason Jesus asks us today to put him first in order that we may love ourselves and others, not only rightly, but eternally.

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Fr John Speekman
 
We spoke last week of Zacchaeus the tax collector and we referred to him in the words of Cardinal Newman as one of those who walk by their own light. There are all too many in the world who do this, who: pace round and round in the small circle of their own thoughts and of their own judgments.
 
Zacchaeus the tax collector was just such a man – pacing round and round in the small circle of his own making – collecting gold and silver pieces as he went.
 
When Jesus found him he was up a tree, a fitting image of the life he had been leading. All too many people are like that, wouldn't you agree? Maybe even you and I?
 
And what are we to do about that? What can we do about that? The answer is very little! There is very little we can do about most things in life but we must do the little we can. Zacchaeus climbed a tree. That’s all he could think of doing – just a little thing, really. And curiously, that’s all Jesus wanted him to do – the little he could.
Jesus ‘looked up and spoke to him’. Zacchaeus responded and ‘hurried down’ and in the sudden joy which came upon him repented of his sins and welcomed the Lord into his life. And Zacchaeus teaches us something else – I am responsible for myself first – and here I am touching on an area which has become extremely relevant to my own life. Let me explain.
 
A priest told me recently that if he were asked to draw a picture of his fifty years of priesthood he would have to draw a line from the top left to the bottom right of the page. I was shocked and saddened but I knew precisely what he meant.
 
He went on to say: Whatever it is we are doing as priests, it’s not working! We baptise them, celebrate first Reconciliation, first Holy Communion, Confirmation – and never see them again. And people say, ‘They might come back’; but I have seen no evidence of that.
 
You parents, and grandparents, and great grandparents know what I am talking about; the sadness of seeing children, grandchildren and great grandchildren being lost to Christ - just drifting away, not interested – and worse still, becoming duped by the empty, evil promises of a world which delivers only confusion, brokenness and unhappiness.
 
As a priest I see it constantly and it is very scary. Families who were once at the heart of parish life – gone, as well as their children. Even those who are still connected to the Church are giving signs of tiredness, weakness, doubt and for the flimsiest of reasons will suddenly turn their backs on the Church.
 
Don’t make the mistake of thinking we priests are somehow exempt from the creeping coldness, indifference and even despair which is overtaking the western world. I would have to draw the same picture of my thirty years of ministry as the priest I spoke of earlier: Whatever it is we are doing as priests, it’s not working!
 
And so I come back to my earlier statement: I am responsible for myself first. Before I worry about my son or my daughter or my grandchildren or husband or wife I am responsible for myself first. Though all around me fall away from the fullness of the true Faith let me at least do the little I can to keep it safe in me.
Every day at Mass, just before Holy Communion, I join my hands, bow my head and pray quietly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world; free me by this your most holy Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.
 
Keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you. Let me always hear the words of Jesus to Zacchaeus addressed personally to me: I must stay at your house today. Only then will my heart be filled with the joy which makes discipleship possible, and which keeps it faithful.
 
It all starts with me [and with you, and you, and you]; never mind what the world does. I will make efforts to understand what the Church teaches and why she teaches it; I will familiarise myself with the scriptures; I will say my prayers; I will attend Sunday Mass faithfully; I will confess my sins regularly; I will financially support my parish; I will open my life to the needs of my brothers and sisters; I will be ready to die for Christ and his teachings because I believe in the resurrection of the dead.
 
We are prepared to die rather than break the laws of our ancestors.
 
The King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again for ever.
 
When he neared his end the fourth brother cried: Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.
 

ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     Worshiping at our own altars 

A writer had a dream in which she visited hell. 

To her surprise, this hell had no infinite fire or bottomless burning chasms of tormented souls.  It was not like the hell she had pictured at all -- in fact, it was rather “church-like.”  She was led through a labyrinth of dark, dank passages lined with the doors to many cells.  Each cell she passed was identical.  The central piece of furniture in each cell was an altar and before each altar knelt a sickly, weak, greenish-gray, ghostly figure in intense prayer and adoration.

“But whom are they worshipping?” the visitor asked her guide.

“Themselves,” was the reply.  “This is pure self-worship.  In their worship of their own beings, in placing their hopes and dependence on themselves and their own dreams alone, they are feeding on themselves and exhausting their own spirits.  That is why they look so sickly and emaciated.”

The writer was appalled and saddened by row upon row of cells, small prisons for their pathetic, isolated inmates, who were doomed to spend eternity in solitary confinement, themselves their first, last and only object of worship. 

[Adapted from Who Walk Alone by Margaret Evening.]

God, as revealed by Christ, is not the vengeful Judge or cosmic Tyrant who takes cruel delight in our failures; the God taught by Jesus in the Gospel is the God of life, a God whose limitless love put us and all of creation in motion.  God will love us for all eternity -- but there always exists the possibility that we will refuse that love.  That refusal to accept love, the refusal to respond to it, is precisely the meaning of hell.  Hell is not a place where God puts us – it’s a place where we put ourselves.  But to become “children of the God of life” is to dismantle the hells we create and set in their places the justice, peace and forgiveness that are the building stones of the kingdom of God.   (From Connections)

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2.     Andrew Greeley: 

Background:

In this story Jesus is not describing the specifics of the relationships of the genders in heaven. Attempts to elaborate a theory of how the human body behaves in heaven out of this story miss the point completely. Rather the story is about how Jesus dealt with the logic choppers and the legalists who tried to trap him by playing games with the scriptures. While Jesus won the argument, clearly he did not permanently dispose of those who use the   bible to impose there rigid ideas on everyone else.  

While some of the Fundamentalists are especially likely to do this (not all of them by any means) we are not above quoting bits of the bible or of papal documents out of context to force people to agree with us. The story today should serve as warning that Jesus doesn’t like that kind of argumentation, especially because it almost always ignores the principle them of his message, that  we are all God’s beloved children.

 Story:

Once upon a time there were some parents who were upset about the soft drink machines in the high school to which their children went. Pop (or soda if you’re from a part of the country where they use that odd term) was not good for kids. It kept them from drinking things like (low fat) milk and fruit juices which were good for them. They demanded that the high school take the machines out of the school. The next thing, one of the juniors said, is that they’re going to try to take pop corn out of movie theaters. He was joking, but that was really the next item on the parents agenda.

They had closed down stores with dirty magazines, they had banned cigarette smoking in the school, now they wanted to get rid of the soft drink machines. They were determined that everyone in the school would lead healthy, wholesome lives, all the time.  They’ll go after rock music next, a freshman girl protested, you just wait.  The kids argued that they needed a little caffeine each day to keep going, indeed a lot of caffeine. We’ll make them put in a tea machine, said one of the parents. That’s all you need for a quick pick-me-up. Don’t they have anything else to do but ruin our lives,  the president of the sophomore class complained. 

So the old retired pastor, the Monsignor who had founded the school, was called in to arbitrate the matter. He suggested that the parents do volunteer work in the inner city with their kids. The parents really didn’t want to do that. So, as a compromise, he said that there should be an ice tea machine and a (low fat) milk machine and a fruit juice machine as well as the pop machine. Individual parents could tell their children what to drink and what not to drink. The parents who tried to ban the pop machine were furious. They didn’t like democracy very much. Just to show them all the kids went ape over ice tea. 

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Someone has figured that if we put all of the materials in the Gospels that tell us about the life of Jesus together that it would equal about 80 pages. Yet, most of that would represent duplication, for we know that some of the Gospel writers copied from others. If, therefore you eliminate the duplication, you would have only 20 pages that tell us about Jesus life and teachings. Of those 20 pages, 13 of them deal specifically with the last week of his life. And if you separate it still further, you will discover that one-third of those 13 pages took place on Tuesday of Holy Week. Thus, in terms of sheer volume, we know far more on this day in his life than any other day. The events of that day represent a significant percentage of what we know about the man Jesus.

We know that Jesus spent Monday evening in Bethany, probably in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, since that is where he spent Sunday evening. He arose early on Tuesday morning and he and his disciples returned to Jerusalem. If you will then let your mind drift back through the pages of history, let us assume for a moment that you are living in First Century Palestine. It is the Season of the Passover and you and your family are among the thousands of religious pilgrims who have migrated to the ancient walled city of Jerusalem to participate in the religious celebration. You were there on Monday when Jesus took whip in hand and radically ran the moneychangers from the temple. It had been an eventful day.

But now it is Monday and it has come time to retire with your family. As you walk down the Villa de la Rosa you pass by the palace of the high priest, the residence of Caiaphas. You notice that a light is burning in the upper floor of this exquisite mansion. You comment to your family that Caiaphas must be working long hours to see that all of the religious festivities go on as scheduled. Yet, if you only knew what was really going on in that palace that evening. If you only knew what was taking place in that smoke filled room... 
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 The ultimate insult kids dish out today is to look down their noses and snort, "Poser!" A "poser" is a "wannabe" who will "never-be." 

A "biker poser" wears a leather jacket, biker boots and drinks coffee from a Harley-Davidson mug, but has never ridden anything more powerful than a John Deere on a Saturday afternoon.

A "rocker-poser" has the tough, trashy tattoos, the black T-shirts, but doesn't know the difference between a fret and being fretful.  

A "nerd poser" can talk a "geek streak," has high scores on video games, but can't write a single line of computer code.

In short, a "poser" talks the talk, but doesn't "walk the walk."

 In the infancy of Christianity, those first generations of disciples, those first followers of the person of Jesus, engaged in dozens of fierce theological arguments over the basics of Christian faith. One of the most repeated and seemingly reasonable arguments was the assertion made by various groups that the resurrection was "real" yet "not real." The gist of all these various claims was that Jesus' appearance on earth, his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, did truly occur. But that Jesus himself only "appeared" to be human during all these events. In reality, from his "birth" through his "death," Jesus was wholly and fully divine. Jesus, in other words, was never truly human in any essential sense. Jesus was a poser... 
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3.     Humans Are Not Meant For Hibernation 

The poet T. S. Eliot in his famous poem "The Wasteland," calls April the "cruelest month," because the showers of April stir up the dull and dormant roots of trees and flowers to begin bursting forth with new life instead of allowing them to remain comfortably asleep in the frozen ground of winter. Yet the sleep of tree roots and flower bulbs is the sleep of hibernation, not of rest. Trees were meant to put out green leaves; tulips were meant to push up through the soil and produce beautiful blossoms. Human beings are also meant to grow, to mature, to blossom, not to hibernate in the frozen sleep of habit or tradition or familiarity. Paul says that we were meant to grow until "we attain to the full height of the stature of Christ." 

Larry R. Kalajainen, Extraordinary Faith for Ordinary Time, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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4.     The Main Thing

A few years back I was asked to write a meditation for the back of one of our Sunday bulletin covers, and I was excited about the prospect until I took a closer look at the assigned text. It was today's text, whose message I continue to find difficult to distill into a few short paragraphs. But in the weeks prior I had come across one of Yogi Berra's picturesque sayings. Berra, you may remember, was the New York Yankees catcher back in the 1950's and '60's who in his own garbled way said some profound things, once asserting that "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."

In effect, is this not what Jesus is saying to his critics? In the life of faith, keep focused on the main thing. And what is the main thing, but to maintain and nurture our rootedness in God, to embrace life in God's kingdom, a life of compassion and grace, of peace and self-giving love, of servanthood and hope. When Jesus speaks of the God of the living, he is prodding his critics to expand their vision. In effect, says William Willimon, Jesus is saying to that group of critical Sadducees, "Your questions betray your limited point of view, your narrow frame of reference. The resurrection is not just some extension of your world. It is a whole new world, the world as God intended the world to be." It is a world in which the woman of your story is "a child of God, not a piece of property." It is a world in which each of us lives as children of the resurrection.

Joel D. Kline, Life in the Real World

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5.     What's the Right Side Like?

A little girl and her father were walking on a clear, starry night. She turned to him and asked, "If the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what will the right side be like?"

When it comes to answering that question, we'll just have to leave it up to God, won't we?

Randy L. Hyde, Seven Weddings and a Funeral 
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6.     A Theological Curveball

A certain minister has made it a policy for many years to refer "six-year-old theology questions" to his wife. Since she has taught very young children for many years, he says, she has a much better grasp than he does of how to address the questions which little kids ask.

The other day, a first-grader brought a drawing of a skeleton into class where she teaches English as a second language. The titled across the top of the drawing read "Inside of Me." It was designed to teach children that everyone has a skeleton inside of them. He unfolded it proudly and showed it to the class. One little girl from India was astounded at the thought that she and others had this scary-looking skeleton inside them, and so she pressed the issue a bit farther. "Even you got one of these inside you, Mrs. K?" The teacher replied, "Yes, I have one, too."
The next question was the theological one. "Even God got one inside him?" Now in a class made up of children from many different countries, cultures, and religious backgrounds (most of them not Christians), you can imagine that this question had the potential for major theological debate. I doubt if I'd have had the presence of mind to give the answer the teacher did; but, as usual, her expertise in six-year-old theology saved the day. "If God needs a skeleton, I'm sure he has one," she replied. "God has everything he needs." This apparently satisfied the theological curiosity of the class, and they got on with the lesson.
Asking questions is an essential part of learning. If we don't know something, we look for someone who does and we ask. The only dumb question is the one you don't ask. We learn by asking questions about what we don't know.

Larry R. Kalajainen, Extraordinary Faith for Ordinary Time, CSS Publishing Company
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7.     Hypocrisy 

With tongue in cheek, Mark Twain spoke of the two-faced life we all live: I am constructed like everybody else and enjoy a compliment as well as any other fool, but I do like to have the other side presented. And there is another side. I have a wicked side. Estimable friends who know all about it would tell you and take a certain delight in telling you things that I have done and things further that I have not repented. The real life that I live, and the real life that I suppose all of you live, is a life of interior sin. That is what makes life valuable and pleasant. To lead a life of undiscovered sin! That is true joy.

Mark Twain in a speech to the Society of American Authors, November 15, 1900
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8.     Who's Stupid Now?

There is an Italian legend about a master and servant.

It seems the servant was not very smart and the master used to get very exasperated with him. Finally, one day, in a fit of temper, the master said: "You really are the stupidest man I know. Here, I want you to carry this staff wherever you go. And if you ever meet a person stupider than yourself, give them this staff."

So time went by, and often in the marketplace the servant would encounter some pretty stupid people, but he never found someone appropriate for the staff. Years later, he returned to his master's home. He was shown into his master's bedroom, for the man was quite sick and in bed. In the course of their conversation the master said: "I'm going on a journey soon."

"When will you return?", asked the servant.
"This is a journey from which I will not return." the master replied,
The servant asked: "Have you made all the necessary arrangements?"
"No, I guess I have not." 

"Well, could you have made all the arrangements?"
"Oh yes, I guess I've had time. I've had all my life. But I've been busy with other things.

The servant said: "Let me be sure about this. You're going on a journey, from which you will never return, and you've had all your life to make the arrangements, but you haven't."

The master said: "Yes, I guess that's right."

The servant replied: "Master, take this staff. For at last I have truly found a man stupider than myself."
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 Sunday Gospel Reflection With Fr. Bill Grimm