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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
It came to pass that seven brohters with their mother were arrested and compelled by the king against the law to taste swine's flesh, and were tormented with scourges and whips. But one of them who spoke first said, "What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die, rather than to transgress the laws of our fathers."
And when he was at the point of death, he said, "You are as fury taking us out of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto everlasting life."
After him, the third was made a mocking stock; and when he was required, he put out his tongue, and bravely, holding forth his hands said courageously, "These I had from heaven; and for his laws I despise them; and from him I hope to receive them again." Even the king, and they that were with him, marvelled at the young man's courage, for he regarded his pain an nothing.
Now when this man was dead also, they tormented and mangled the fourth
in like manner. When he was ready to die, he said, "It is good, being
put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by
him; but as for you, there will be no resurrection to life."
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, that the word of the
Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you; and that we
may be delivered from unreasonable
But the Lord is faithful, he will strengthen you, and guard you from
the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that
you are doing and will do the things which we command. And may the Lord
direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ.
And there came to him some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote unto us, that if a man's brother die, having a wife, and he be childless, his brother should take the wife, and raise up descendants for his brother. There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, but died childless; and the second; and the third took her; and likewise all seven also died and left no children. Afterward the woman also died. At the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife."
Jesus said to them, "The sons of this world marry, and are given
in marriage; but they that are accounted worthy to attain to the coming
age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in
marriage. They can no longer die, for they are equal unto the angels;
and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the
dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the place concerning the Bush, when
he call out to the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and
the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive."
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions againsst Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
|On this second Sunday in the
month of November, as we keep in mind in a very special way our family
members and friends who have gone before us into everlasting life, especially
those of our parish family who have died during the past year, and today
which is also November 11, the second month to the day from that terrible
dying that took place in New York City, it is important for us to hear
some words of comfort and to be reassured through the scriptures of the
resurrection and life with God forever in heaven.
Saint Paulís words in the first lesson can be very comforting to us. They remind us that Jesus has loved us and that God, who in mercy gives us everlasting comfort and true hope, will continue to strengthen us, encourage our hearts and make us steadfast in constant faith and trust.
The first lesson too is a lesson where we are reminded of people dying, being killed in a most terrible way. As you read the seventh chapter of the Book of Maccabees, you discover the kind of atrocity and hatred that seems almost incredible, although it still goes on in our world regularly. But in that passage, and also in the Gospel lesson, we are reminded that death is not the end. Death is not the final answer for those who were murdered 167 years before Christ or for those who were killed two months ago today. Death is not the end.
And, of course, all of us, Iím sure, struggle with a conviction about life after death. We know nothing about it really. And so it is always something that, deep down, we have a certain fear of, a fear of the unknown. And we try to convince ourselves of the reality of everlasting life in various ways.
Back when I was in school, one of the really important subjects we studied was philosophy and the whole thing about being. We learned about and tried to prove that a soul is immortal and cannot die. Rational proof is helpful, but it doesnít totally convince us or at least I donít find it compellingly convincing. We also, sometimes, I think, depend on anecdotal evidence, as when we hear about near death experiences and people who have a sense that they really have been there and they came back. Again, that helps. But, I suppose, unless you have that experience yourself, it isnít totally convincing.
However, the scriptures today tell us where we can really put our confidence. It isnít in ourselves, the way weíre made, what we are as human beings, body and spirit. And it isnít in that anecdotal evidence, if you want to call it that, of people who have these near death experiences. Our conviction comes from who God is. Thatís the key thing--who God is. Not what we are. Not what other people have experienced, but who God is.
In the first lesson today from the Book of Maccabees, we didnít go this far in the seventh chapter, but the passage goes on to speak about the mother who had to watch her seven sons be tortured and put to death. As she watched, the writer tells us, ďFull of a noble sense of honor, she encouraged each one of them.Ē Her motherís heart was moved by courage. So she told them why she could be courageous and they also. She says, ďI wonder how you were born of me. It was not I who gave you breath and life, nor I who ordered the matter of your body. The creator of the world, who formed us in the beginning and ordered the unfolding of all creation, shall in mercy give you back breath and life.Ē
Sheís reminding those young men and ourselves that we come from God, a God who gives us life, a God who sustains our life, and a God who will continue to sustain our life forever.
It is God who is always faithful to us. And because we know who God is, that is, Godís faithfulness and goodness, bringing us into being out of love, God will never leave us. Godís love is eternal. It is constant, it is unshakeable, and it is endless. The love of God will always be present to us.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus is trying to react against the mockery of the Sadducees who were making fun of him, making fun of the resurrection because he believed in life after death and they did not. The Sadducees were going back to the Torah, the book of the Law, the only five books they accepted. There, they found no evidence of the resurrection. So out of the Torah, they draw upon the example where a man would marry his brotherís widow and so on. And they draw it out into a fantastic and ridiculous conclusion only to make fun of the resurrection.
But notice how Jesus answers them by drawing from the same books they were familiar with and the only ones they accepted. He answers by reminding them of what happened in that experience of Moses with the burning bush where God is revealed.
God is revealed as a God who has relationship with those he has created. When God is revealed to Moses, God says, ďI am the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Isaac and Rebecca, the God of Jacob and Leah.Ē All of them had been dead for hundreds and hundreds of years. Yet, when God is being revealed to Moses, God shows that God is a God who continues to be in relationship with those who had gone before. So they are still alive and with God because Godís relationships are endless. Godís love is endless. And as God has brought us into being, God will continue to sustain us and support us. And, if we deepen our relationship with God, then we build, more and more, a deep confidence that we will live forever. A confidence that we will be with God after we depart from this world and that all who those have gone before us God continues to be in relationship with. They are alive and with God, the God who is forever and so are they.
And so these passages today give us a real sense of comfort and strength as we remember those who have died, and perhaps those who have been killed in such terrible ways. But there is another part of the scripture, the Gospel, especially today, that is so important for us to hear and to follow.
Notice what Jesus says about those who have died. Or about those who are alive I should say. He says, ďYou are sons and daughters of the resurrection. You are sons and daughters of a God who is alive.Ē And Jesus is telling us that we must not live like the people of this age who donít accept who God is and what the resurrection is. We must not be like the people of this age who reject God and Godís ways. We must be sons and daughters of God, sons and daughters of the risen Lord Jesus, sons and daughters of the resurrection and live according to the ways of Jesus.
We must live according to what Jesus has been teaching us during this long journey to Jerusalem that weíve been listening to over the last many weeks.
Thereís real a sharp contrast between those who, as Jesus describes them, are people of this age and those who live according to the resurrection. That contrast, for me, is brought out in an extraordinary way by the attitude of those who want to kill in response to killing, in response to those who have been killed.
The most direct and provocative way that this is put are in some words of Senator John McCain who is a military hero of our country. He unabashedly makes a combat virtue out of hate. In his words, ďI hated my enemies even before they held me captive because hate sustained me in my devotion to their complete destruction and helped me overcome the virtuous human impulse to recoil in disgust from what had to be done by my hand.Ē
Thatís a person who is living according to the tenants of this age.
Iím not condemning John McCain as a person. Itís the attitude that is so common with people who live according to this age as Jesus describes it. Those who have since become so self-destructive, they engender within themselves hatred. He says himself, ďSo that I can overcome the virtuous human impulse to recoil in disgust from what I have to do.Ē In other words, he destroys his own humanness in order to kill, in order to be hate-filled. He destroys his humanness, the person of this age. And any of us who would do the same thing, engender a spirit of hatred for the Taliban, for those who destroyed the World Trade Towers and want to destroy them in return, we are acting like people of this age and not like sons and daughters of the resurrection.
But I have something else to share with you that I find almost overwhelming. I had a phone call the other day from a young women in New York City who called to urge me that when I go to the bishops meeting this week to try and speak out and to convince the bishops, if possible, to take a strong moral position against any further bombing, any further engendering of hatred, any further engendering a spirit of retaliation.
Her brother was in the World Trade Tower. He didnít work there I found out, but he had gone there to the top part of the tower to the restaurant for breakfast. He was truly in the wrong place at the wrong time and he was killed. After the phone call, she sent me a written message. She says, ďIím writing to you to offer support and encouragement for what I hope will be an ongoing discussion among the bishops. My brother was killed on September 11 at the World Trade Center. There is no scale on which my family can begin to measure our loss, nor are there any words to adequately express our sorrow. My family is quite clear, however, that we would never want another family, whether Afghani or American, to feel the way we do now. My family runs the spectrum from pacifist to marine. But we have tried to listen very carefully and respectfully to one another these past two months.Ē Further on, she says, ďMy youngest sister feels that in the face of this horrible evil, the only way to change people is to show them love, not more evil. Christ like, yes, foolish and naïve in human terms, no. Not when you really think about it.
Personally, I adamantly oppose the bombings. I have no argument, other than, it is not Christ like. I do not know what Jesus would do in these current times, but I am certain he would not advocate the bombing of anyone.
The deepest truest part of our collective heart knows this truth. You and I and my family live in a very human world. So how can we reach this true place?
One stumbling block seems to be the lack of choices given the American public concerning our response to September 11. Our country sees no other way because we have been presented with no other way.
This is my urgent request of the bishops, ĎCan you begin the discussion of the other way, Christís way? Can you help provide moral guidance to a majority that is voicing support for a bombing campaign? Can you open a dialogue of alternatives, concrete ideas leading to Christís truth in our hearts? Can you pray that we may all be open to Godís difficult, and sometimes divisive, message?Ē
And then she ends it by remarking about a homily from last summer where Jesus had said, ďI came to bring fire to the earth, a transforming fire.Ē And she says, reflecting on that, ďI could not but help think about my brother trapped on the 106th floor of Tower One. And although I know my brotherís death will never be in vain, it helps me to think of Jesusí transforming fire and all that he wants for our world: justice, peace and love. In the end, there is nothing but love.Ē
And thatís how she ends her letter.
And I suggest that from those two very sharp, contrasting responses, we have a clear example of what it means to be people of this age and what it means to be sons and daughters of the resurrection. Isnít it important for all of us to be like this young woman in New York City and struggle to be sons and daughters of the resurrection?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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