Saturday, November 5, 2016

Heaven looks like God's love

NOTE: I have prepared two homilies for this Sunday. Which one should I give? - FT


One day, a young preacher came upon a farmer working in his field. Concerned for the farmer’s soul the preacher asked, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord?” Not even looking up at the preacher the farmer replied, “No sir, I’m planting wheat.” “You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?” With the same amount of disinterest, the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be lookin’ for Jim Christian. He lives a mile down the road.” The determined preacher tried again asking, “Are you lost?” “No sir! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer. Frustrated the preacher asked, “Are you prepared for the resurrection?” Finally, this caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?” Thinking he had accomplished something the preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.” Wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.”

My friends, our Scriptures today are asking us essentially the same question: are you prepared for the resurrection or, perhaps more simply, 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. November is a good time to think about these things as the leaves fall, our skies begin to turn gray and we celebrate a month of prayer for our beloved deceased. It is a good time to hear today’s Gospel and Jesus’ own words about what lies beyond earthly life.

There is nothing more central to our faith than the resurrection from the dead that Jesus came to bring us. “I have come to give life and give it to the full.” But, many people today can be confused by belief in the resurrection. After all, when was the last time someone you knew rose from the dead and came back to talk about it? But what people don’t realize is that this questioning of the resurrection is not modern at all. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely the Sadducees. “Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus.”

In today’s gospel, some 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, whereas Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. There is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for ultimate extinction. 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, 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. Why? Because it is the effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism that focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, the destructive nature of power, the accumulating of money, the competition of ownership. The resurrection looks at that and says, “so what?” Our God loves us individually. He has counted even the hairs on our heads. He knows us so well, and wants us to be with Him forever.

What will heaven look like? We simply don’t know – or just maybe we do. Heaven looks like the love that God has for us. And, I think in this extraordinary time of Pope Francis, we are continually being shown some passing glimpses of this love. Think of some of the images that stick with us from these three years: the way that he washed the feet of prisoners on his first Holy Thursday, his embrace of a young boy with cerebral palsy on his first Easter. Or so powerfully you’ll recall the images of Pope Francis embracing a man whose body was covered in disfiguring boils, a condition known as neurofibromatosis. It was a compelling image. As a Franciscan, it reminds me of the singular moment in the life of St. Francis when in the early stages of his conversion, he embraced a leper in the countryside of Assisi. He got off his horse, embraced and kissed that leper – the kind of people that he formerly despised - and after he had done that, the man disappeared. He later understood that man to have been Christ incarnate. That encounter changed the course of his life, he would later describe it this way, “What was bitter to me had been changed to sweetness of body and soul.” And now this new Francis, Pope Francis, does similar things on a near daily basis. And perhaps this profound act of love, God’s love on display for the world to see, is meant to change us again.

In the Pope’s embrace of this disfigured man we see something so powerful. The Pope’s kiss, his embrace, reminds us of God. Pope Francis is reminding us that this is the way God loves us. He is reminding us that God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity. Few of us suffer the way this man is suffering. We are not physically disfigured the way he is. But maybe our scars are on the inside. Maybe there is something in us that makes us feel unworthy of God’s unconditional love. Yet our gracious and loving God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly and as lovingly as the Pope embraced that man.

So, what will heaven look like? What does God’s love look like? Look no further than Jesus. Look no further than our beautiful and loving Pope. And look no further than the daily opportunities to give and receive love that God places before us every day. Do we embrace them or do we run away?

My friends, resurrection is real. God’s unconditional and unending love for us – which is the most basic definition of Heaven – is real. Jesus doesn’t give us the final answers about heaven, 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 have the courage to love others as God loves and we too will know the joy of Heaven.

May the Lord give you peace.

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