This homily was NOT an easy one for me to write. If I had kept it to the aspects of heaven it would have been much easier for me to write. In fact it would have been a real joy. However, I believed I had to be faithful to what the Catholic Church teaches and to what I believe is the teaching of Jesus himself. This meant I had to include the reality of hell. I know some friends of mine who are not Christians are likely to see this homily and that they may be offended. They may disagree with Christian teaching on heaven, and maybe see it as a fairy tale or wishful thinking, but at least most of them will not find it offensive.
But the idea of hell can be offensive and seem repugnant. Indeed even some Christians may find this teaching offensive, though Jesus very clearly spoke and taught about the reality of hell. All I can do is stress that I do not believe God is a vindictive tyrant looking to send people to hell. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end' . According to Catholic teaching, for a sin to be mortal it not only has to concern a serious or 'grave' matter but it also has to be committed with "full knowledge and deliberate consent" .
So the way I would try to explain it is that God is desperately offering all of us his love and forgiveness, but that we have the choice to refuse it and to exclude ourselves from his love and life. But I guess that thinking, and maybe debating, about such matters may become the subject of another blog at some stage in the future, or maybe of messages and discussions between some of us. What follows though is a homily for those who do believe, it does not engage in apologetics, or in philosophical arguments, or even in theological arguments. It is really just some teaching and preaching and it is not complete nor does it try to explain everything or how different aspects fit together.
The homily as written below still needs a lot more work. Aside from matters of editing, there are A LOT of other things I would have liked to include and some nuances that it might have been good to have made. I would also have liked to say more about how we are to live now in this world and about work with the poor.
Because of all this I was not sure whether to post this homily, or whether to post it now. However, since most readers will be in the Philippines, seven or eight hours ahead of me in Nigeria, I think I will indeed post it now so that people can read it in good time. Maybe at a later stage I will come back and rewrite it, I don't know. It might depend on whether I get any comments about it
Anyway for it is now approaching midnight here in Nigeria and I am celebrating mass at 7am. I will use the homily below as the basis for my preached homily, but I might end up saying something rather different, we shall see!
My written homily follows:
7th November 2010, 32nd Sunday Ordinary time Year C
The king of the world will raise us up, to live again forever
1st reading 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9 -14
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 16
2nd reading 2 Thessalonians 2:166 – 3:5
Gospel Luke 20:27 -38
"The king of the world will raise us up, to live again forever" (1st reading)
"I shall be filled when I awake, with the sight of your glory" (psalm)
"The Lord…is God, not of the dead, but of the living" (Gospel)
Today's readings focus on a vital truth; THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY. Death is not the end! When we die we do not just fade into oblivion to be no more. No! After death there will be a resurrection of our body, which will in some mysterious way be transfigured in Christ. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ, and through the action of the Holy Spirit, we have a sure hope. Jesus Christ, through his own death and through his glorious resurrection, has transformed our death from an enemy into a friend. Because of Jesus Christ, death is now a gateway into eternity. An eternity which God wants us to spend experiencing his glory, savouring his love and goodness.
I need to say however that this eternity can be spent with God or without God. Sometimes we do not like to dwell on all the aspects of the teachings of Jesus. But we need to listen to the hard teachings of Jesus as well as those that are easy to accept. Possibly in the past Catholics dwelt too much on the reality of hell, I do not know, I did not live in those times. But now however, perhaps we Catholics do not dwell enough on either the reality of heaven or the reality of hell.
Today's readings help us focus us on the teachings of the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus, and the teachings of the Church about death and the resurrection of the body. Let me very quickly review that teaching, including those aspects which we may find very hard to accept.
Bodily death would not have happened were it not for original sin. But now at death the human soul is separated from the body. "Death" also, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church , "puts an end to human life as the time to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ". Immediately upon our death there will be what the Church calls the "particular judgment" that refers our life to Christ. As St John of the Cross says, we shall be judged on our love. This judgment will be our gateway either into "the blessedness of heaven – through a purification, or immediately" or into "immediate and everlasting damnation"[CCC 1022].
Those who die "in God's grace and friendship" will "live for ever with Christ", even though they may need to be "undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" . But those who freely refuse to love God and accept his love, his mercy, and his grace exclude them selves from communion with God. Thus "to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him by our own free choice" and consigning ourselves to hell .
Our eternal fate will be decided immediately upon death at the particular judgment. But following the teaching of Jesus, the Church teaches that as well as the particular judgment when we die, there will be a general judgment at the end of time. At the end of time Christ will return in glory to transform and renew not just humanity, but the whole world, indeed the whole cosmos. When he comes he will carry out the "last judgment". At this time the resurrection of the dead will happen.
In some way, beyond our understanding, when Christ returns at the end of time ALL those who have ever died will rise again and somehow their souls will be reunited with their bodies. At this time each person's particular judgment will be publicly affirmed and Christ will separate "the sheep from the goats". The condemned will then "go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" [Matthew 25].
This talk of judgment and hell can be quite frightening. But actually it should be seen as a wonderful call to repentance and faith in Christ. The reality is that God is a God of love and mercy. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son Jesus to die so that we might have life. The reality is that all of us deserve punishment. The reality is also that nobody could be good enough to deserve God's love or to earn a place in heaven. But the good news of Jesus Christ is that we do not have to try to do this. But that, through Jesus Christ, God in his love is offering us forgiveness and the grace to transform us.
If we are in Christ we have no reason to fear death, indeed we have every reason to eagerly look forward to it. We should enjoy life here on earth. But if we truly understand and believe our faith then, like St Paul we will long to go and be fully with the Lord. It may well be that at death we have to experience that purifying fire of God's love which Catholics call purgatory. But if we die in Christ then we can be assured that we will live for eternity experiencing the love of God for which we were made, not as souls but as bodily beings, and not simply as individuals but in loving communion with others.
We should long for this, but in the meantime what are we to do? Sit back and wait? No we should prepare ourselves by even now allowing Christ to transform us with his love. We should show that we are indeed "in Christ", that we have indeed responded to God's love, by showing fruits of repentance and faith in our lives. We should remember Christ's call to practical love- especially to love the poor. If we have indeed responded to God's love then this will be shown in our love for others, especially in our love for the poor – love which expresses itself in actions.