32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached November 10, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Today’s 1st reading, from the 2nd Book of Maccabees, gives us a small portion of the account of the martyrdom of seven sons and their mother for their fidelity to the law of Moses. This would have taken place a little more than a century and a half before the birth of Christ.
If we read the books of Maccabees, we will find that behind this persecution of the Jews by the Gentile King, Antiochus Epiphanes, there was originally a betrayal of the people. Towards the beginning of the 1st book of Maccabees we read: In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: ‘Let us make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.’ … They covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing. (1 Mac 1:11,15)
A few Sundays ago, I spoke about heresy and in particular about the heresy of ‘modernism’, condemned by Pope St. Pius X, that has penetrated the life of the Church during the course of the past century and more. We could make a comparison between ‘modernism’ and the very ancient Jewish heretics who betrayed the covenant and allied themselves with the Gentiles, covering over the mark of their circumcision, the distinctive sign of the covenant.
As certain Jews of the 2nd century BC felt inferior and ‘out of date’ in comparison to the richness and sophistication of Greek culture, the ‘modern’ thing of that time, so the ‘modernists’ feel inferior and ‘out of date’ in relation to the sophistication of the modern culture of science and technology. As the heretics the 2nd century BC wanted to adapt themselves to Greek culture, even to the point of abandoning their distinctive mark of Jewishness; so modernist Catholics adapt themselves to the contemporary world to the point of abandoning what is distinctive about the Catholic faith. In both cases, modern thinking takes priority over traditional doctrine and practice. In both cases, traditional doctrine and practice is judged by modern thinking, rather than vice versa.
In the last analysis the Church will never be accepted by the modern world, nor should she seek such acceptance. She will always be regarded as ‘out of touch’. That is really more a problem for the modern world, not for the Church. It is the modern world that is so arrogant to think that we are wiser and better than our ancestors and that science and technology solve or can solve all the problems of human life.
In today’s 1st reading both faith and practice comes to bear in the martyrdom of the seven sons and their mother. Would we be willing to stand up for the truth of the faith, for right and wrong, and even for the practice of the Church, with the same courage and steadfastness? That is what we are called and strengthened for through the sacrament of confirmation.
The seven sons strength to suffer martyrdom derived from three particular points of doctrine. The first is belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead. For the Jews of the time, faith in the bodily resurrection was a disputed point, denied still at the time of Jesus by the group of the Sadducees. For Christians belief in the bodily resurrection, beginning with the resurrection of Jesus, is absolutely central. It is not open to dispute.
St. Paul writes: If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are false witnesses against God, because we have testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable of people. (1 Cor 15:13-19)
Yet, modernist Catholics, precisely because they don’t really believe in God, the Creator, don’t really believe in the bodily resurrection, even if they still use the word ‘resurrection’ and retain a sort of vague faith in ‘eternal life’.
The second point of doctrine, closely related to the doctrine of the resurrection, is the belief in God’s judgment, which presupposes God’s power and knowledge. The seventh son will state clearly: You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty and all-seeing God. My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant, but you, by the judgment of God, shall receive just punishments for your arrogance. (2 Mac 7:35-36)
Modernist Catholics generally substitute the ‘judgment of history’ for God’s judgment.
The third point of doctrine that strengthened the seven sons and their mother, not mentioned clearly in the selection we heard from today, was their faith in the power of the Creator. The belief in the power and wisdom of the Creator undergirds their whole faith and ours as well.
After her first six sons have given their lives for the law of God, the mother exhorts the seventh to follow in their footsteps. She says: I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law. (2 Mac 7:22-23) And: I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and the same way the human race came into existence. (2 Mac 7:28)
The modernist Catholic, who does not really believe in the Creator, will say that none of this really happened, but these are merely stories people told to encourage one another to be strong in their faith. Still, they can hardly dispute the reality of the much more horrific sufferings that North American Martyrs, St. John de Brebeuf and St. Isaac Jogues, and their companions, endured at the hands of the Iroquois Indians in the 17th century. To the modernists, our Lord says: You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. (Mt 22:29)
Nevertheless, we can recognize the influence of modernism precisely by the lack of belief in the power of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the promise of our resurrection. They are, as St. Paul says, the most pitiable of people because they have sought to repurpose the Catholic Church for the service of this world.
Still, they use the language of faith. They especially like to talk about ‘The Kingdom’. They correctly say that Jesus preached about the Kingdom. They conclude that we too must speak about the Kingdom. Only instead of the Kingdom beginning with the life of grace in the Church and coming in its fulness through the resurrection and the judgment, for the modernist the Kingdom becomes some future of justice and peace in this world, or perhaps some evolution of consciousness that will bring about a reign of ‘love’.
Instead, let us briefly set before our eyes the fundamentals of Christian hope for happiness and wholeness, and yes also communion that will be attained in the true Kingdom of God.
November 1, All Saints Day, set before our eyes the supreme happiness that belongs to the communion of saints in heaven, which consists in the vision of God that belongs to the pure of heart who have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb. (cf. Mt 5:8; 1 Jn 3:2-3; Rev 7:14) The pure mind, united to the pure heart, will see God as he is just as clearly as we now see that 2+2=4. This vision brings the saints themselves together into the most perfect unity that mirrors the unity of the Trinity they behold. (cf. Jn 17:21)
Though the vision of God, in one way, is sufficient to fulfill our every desire for happiness, we do not just want happiness, we want to be whole. I would wonder if even the healthiest person in the world truly feels ‘whole’. There is always something missing in our bodily life. The saints in heaven, with the exception of the Virgin Mary and maybe some others, are missing their body altogether. They are truly happy, in their souls, but they are not all there, body and soul, to enjoy that happiness. That will only come about with the resurrection of the body.
In the resurrection, St. Paul tells us what was sown corruptible will be raised incorruptible; what was sown dishonorable will be raised in glory; what was sown in weakness will be raised in power; finally, the natural body that was laid in the grave will be thoroughly spiritualized and divinized, while yet remaining a true body. (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44)
There, even in our bodies, we will be immortal as the angels in heaven; there will be no more need for marriage because there will be no need for reproduction. There it will become clear that while we were created male and female, masculinity and femininity has a purpose deeper than sexual union because each finds it fulfillment in union with God himself. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. (1 Cor 6:13-14)
The celibacy of the priest and the virginity of the nun bears witness to this bodily reality that already fully exists in Jesus and Mary. We do not serve the kingdom of this world, but the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Resurrection.
Now for the martyrs in the time of the Maccabees their hope was only for the faithful of the Jewish people. Yet, after the Messiah of the Jews, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead, he commanded his apostles saying, Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. (M 16:15)
Through faith and baptism we have come to share in this same hope and we are called and commanded to proclaim this hope to all, without exception.