XXXII Sunday in Ordinary
10 November 2019
October 18, 1985 … A priest in Wichita, KS was traveling from his parish to a priest friend’s parish on state highway 96 … along the dark, narrow stretch of road, Father Steven Scheier was hit head-on by a truck going in the opposite direction. Father had been a priest for 12 years and surely, most people thought this was the end. He was not expected to live. Miraculously, however he survived. But it was months later, after the accident, while saying the morning Mass that it all came flooding back to him … a conversation – the last thing he remembered about the accident was being hit … but this conversation happened immediately after. He was standing before the Just Judge, Jesus, Our Lord. Father says he could not see but heard Him … he heard Jesus tell him of all the details of his life … of his sins … he admits that up to that point in his life he was rather spiritually dead … yet he always imagined a conversation with our Lord in order to explain himself and his mishaps in life … no such conversation happened, all he could do was respond: “yes, Lord” to each of the offenses he had committed… and then heard this: “your sentence is hell.” In his testimony, Father notes that he was not shocked, it was his own sentence, as if he chose it himself… but then another voice – a woman, pleading for him: “Son, spare his life and his soul” … “Mother, he is yours…” and just like that … a second chance.
Death – our own particular death – seems almost impossible to imagine yet when we do, it can become very real and very scary … what will happen? Who will we meet? Will we be able to speak? What will our sentence be??
Even Jesus makes that real for us in the Gospel – our God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Here Jesus affirms life after death by recalling the words of Yahweh to Moses in the burning bush – the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … this is the whole basis of Christianity. It is a journey toward God … Jesus points us and leads us to life beyond the grave – by first going there Himself … He dies and rises so that we too might die and rise with Him. If He doesn’t than Christianity is a pipedream … meaningless … but today we are reminded of the reality of eternal life … and our earthly journey to God …
Father’s story, first, is real … this really happened … also, he makes the Church’s teaching on death, judgment, heaven and hell real. As we journey through the month of November remembering our loved ones who have died, as we pray for them and for their entrance into heaven … we must not forget about our own eternal destination … for this is the reason for our faithfulness, it is the reason for cultivating a healthy spiritual life, it is the reason we come to Mass and go to confession … the reality of life beyond the grave is the reason for our hope for life in Him.
St. Gregory Nazianzen – a 4th century bishop and theologian, one of the early Fathers of the Church – makes this point: “If only we could be what we hope to be, by the great kindness of our generous God! He asks so little and gives so much, in this life and in the next, to those who love him sincerely. In a spirit of hope and out love for him, let is then bear all things and endure all things and give thanks for everything that befalls us, since even reason can often recognize these things as weapons to win salvation. And meanwhile let us commend to God our own souls and the souls of those who, being more ready for it, have reached the place of rest before us although they walked the sane road we do.”