The Consistency of God
November 7, 2004
The Sadducees were a group at the time of Jesus who did not believe in the resurrection. In this respect, they disagreed with the Pharisees who believed that life would continue after death. In this debate, Jesus sided with the Pharisees, and that is why the Sadducees come to him in today’s gospel in order to question his teaching. He defends it and insists that there will be a resurrection. That belief has become a central part of the Christian message. We as Christians believe that death is not the end, but that we are called to eternal joy with God forever.
Of course there is no way to prove this belief. We cannot demonstrate scientifically that there is life after death. In our worst moments, as we struggle with grief and loss, we might be tempted to doubt whether the promise of life eternal is real. So what can we do to deal with these doubts? What can we say that would, if not prove eternal life, nevertheless assist us in believing in it?
I would suggest that we consider two questions. The first question is this: Do you believe that God is loving you now? This question is at the heart of the gospel. It faces the believer with a choice between two alternative views of life: Are the events in our life the result of randomness and chance, or are they the result of a God who is guiding us and loving us?
The Christian believes that God is both Creator and Savior, that God has a plan for our lives, that God is in fact blessing us and loving us. Now of course this belief cannot be any more proven than the belief in eternal life. We cannot demonstrate scientifically how all the blessings of our life are the result of God’s love. Others could say we are just having a run of good luck. But what the believer can do is point to concrete people and circumstances in his or her life to support the belief in God’s love. Look at the way you first met your fiancé, spouse, or life long friend. Was that meeting by chance or was God loving you? When you hold a newly born child or grandchild in your arms, is that child you are holding the result of a random sequence, or is he or she a personal gift from a God who cares? Even as you struggle with the difficulties of life, with grief, with disease, and even death itself, look at the people in your life who continue to love you and support you. Is their presence in your life the result of good luck, or are they there because God is loving you?
When we clearly look at what we have received, how we have been blessed, the believer knows how to answer the first question: “Is God loving me now? Yes. I believe God is.” And once we answer that first question positively, we can move on to the second. If God is loving me now, why would God stop loving me after death? If God has blessed me with life, family, friends, talent, and happiness, why would God end those blessings when I die? The Christian of course believes that God would not stop, that God continues to bless us with the eternal gift of Heaven.
Now, as I have already said, these two questions do not prove that there is life after death. But taken together, they provide a suggestion that is based upon the consistency of God. If God is blessing and loving us now, why would we think that God would change? Christians believe that God does not change. Who God is for us will continue. Therefore, when you are tempted to doubt what will happen after death, look at what is happening before death. Ground yourself in a deep thankfulness for all you have received and how deeply you have been blessed. For the more that we can claim God’s love for us here and now, the easier it will be for us to believe that God will continue to love us forever.
Beauty and God’s Presence
November 11, 2007
I do not usually refer to Greek philosophy in my homilies. But that does not mean that the great ideas of minds such as Plato or Aristotle are irrelevant to the gospel. In fact, the teachings of these founders of Western Civilization have been used by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries to shape many of the theological beliefs that we find in the catechism. Their beliefs have also deeply influenced the thinking of saints such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, in today’s gospel Jesus is arguing with the Sadducees over two questions, which are central to Greek philosophy: Who Is God? And what happens after death? Against the position of the Sadducees, Jesus argues that after death there is a resurrection from the dead. How does he argue this? From the scriptures. He says that at the burning bush, God revealed to Moses that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All of these ancestors were dead. But if God was still their God, they must, in some sense, still be alive. Because God is not God of the dead but God of the living.
Now I know this argumentation by Jesus is far from clear but its conclusion is obvious. Our God is not God of the dead but God of the living. We find God, not in death, but in life. Conversely whenever we encounter life, we also encounter God’s presence. It is in life that we find the reflection of God. Therefore life is a portal, a threshold to God.
But where in life do we find God? That is a deeper question. Here is where the Greek philosophers become useful. They thought extensively about such questions. There was a consensus in Greek philosophy that there were three places in life where God was most clearly reflected: in that which was good, in that which was true, and in that which was beautiful. Greek philosophy believed that whenever you encountered goodness in life, whether that was moral goodness or human goodness, goodness was a reflection of God. Whenever you encountered truth in life, whether that truth was correctness or responsibility or honesty, in truth God was present. Whenever you encountered beauty, beauty you could see or hear or touch, beauty was a reflection of God.
Now I think we regularly associate God with goodness and truth, but how often do we associate God with beauty? This insight is the new learning which results from my convoluted discourse about Greek Philosophy and the gospel. Our God is a God of life. And one of the places in life where God can be encountered is in that which is beautiful. Beautiful things convey to us the presence and the power of God. It is important that we see beauty in that way.
So here is my practical suggestion for the week: be attentive to the beauty in your life. Be attentive this week to the beautiful things you experience and do so with the religious sense that in that beauty you encounter the living God. If you by chance this week were to see one of our beautiful fall sunsets, do not simply let its beauty enter your eye. Pause and let it touch your heart. Then say to yourself, “God is near.” If you stop in to check on your four year old son as he sleeps, pause long enough to see in the beauty of his innocence the truth that God is present. If you see two teen-agers walking hand-in-hand in the mall, so connected and so unaware of what yet still lies ahead, see in the beauty of their relationship the truth that God is still with us. When you come to your wits end, when you simply need a break from all of your responsibilities, take a moment and walk in the park. Let the beauty that surrounds you touch you. Or listen to a favorite piece of music and sense in its beauty the love and power of God.
Use such moments of beauty as a prayer, as a prayer which says: Of all the things I experience today, let me not miss this moment. For in the beauty of this moment I experience you, Lord. I can touch your love and your strength. In this beauty I can know that you are my God—not God of the dead, but God of the living.
The God of the Resurrection
November 6, 2010
Jesus argues with the Sadducees in today’s gospel about the resurrection. The Sadducees were a Jewish group of the first century who denied the resurrection. Jesus, however, agreed with the Pharisees and proclaimed a resurrection. Now because we are Christian, we side with Jesus. We believe in the resurrection. But, what are we believing in?
My experience is that most Catholics, indeed most Christians, say they believe in the resurrection, but really do not understand what resurrection is. So today, my homily will be in two parts. I would first like to discuss with you what we mean when we talk about resurrection. Secondly I will suggest what resurrection tells us about God and us.
What do we mean by resurrection? We can talk about Jesus’s resurrection and our own resurrection. We believe that Jesus has already been raised up. This is what we celebrate at Easter. We also believe that we will be raised from the dead on the last day, when Jesus returns. What I have to say applies to both Jesus’ and our resurrection. What most people think that resurrection means is that death has been conquered and we will live with God forever. Now, resurrection does mean that, but it means something more. Resurrection is a certain kind of living with God forever. Resurrection asserts that we will live with God forever and our bodies will participate in that life. You see, many ancient civilizations believed in an after-life. The Egyptians did. The Greeks did. But, they imagined an after-life as a spiritual reality where the soul would live on and the body would be left behind. The Jews were different. They believed that a day would come when God would raise us from the dead and that our physical bodies would participate in the gift of eternal life. You can hear this very clearly in today’s first reading from the book of Maccabees. One of the brothers who is going to his death says, “Cut off these hands. God gave them to me and I am going to get them back.” He is expressing his faith that his hands will share in the resurrection. Resurrection, then, means bodily resurrection.
To be clear, we do not think that our resurrected body will be the same body that we have now. It will be a transformed body, a glorified body. It will not age or be prone to sickness or death. We cannot imagine a glorified body because every body we know is destined to death. But, the gospel challenges us to imagine a body in which the only what is good remains: energy, heightened senses, the beauty of form and grace. We believe that Jesus already has such a body, because he has already been resurrected. The resurrection narratives in the gospels try to express this physical but yet transformed body. Jesus can speak to his disciples; he can touch his disciples; he can eat fish. But at the same time he can pass through locked doors and suddenly appear and disappear. So, we believe that Christ already has a resurrected body and that those who belong to Christ will also be raised up. We believe that our beloved dead who are already with God in heaven will on the last day be raised up bodily to join with all of us and to share God’s presence forever.
This then is resurrection. It is bodily resurrection, and it is a central tenet of our faith. We affirm it every time we say the Apostle’s Creed. “. . . I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.” This is what we mean when we talk about resurrection.
What does resurrection tell us about God and us?
It tells us that God will always be faithful to us, because God will never discard anything that God has made. You see, the way that the Jews came to the understanding of resurrection was because they first believed that God was creator. God had made everything and had made it good. Because God made the world and everything in it, God would never turn away from what had been made. So when the Jews tried to conceive what eternal life with God could be like, they could not imagine that God would leave this created world behind, as if it was so much chaff to be thrown away. If God made my body, if God made that tree, if God made this earth, then somehow all these things would participate in God’s eternal joy. God would never abandon or discard anything that God had made.
When we look at the resurrection from this perspective, it not only tells us something about our future—what will happen on the last day—it also tells us something about the God who loves us now. If you are worried about someone you love who is making a mess of their life—a son or daughter on drugs, a close friend making disastrous decisions—remember the God of the resurrection. God made the person you love and God will never turn away from that person. God will find a way to transform him or her either now or on the last day. If you are going through a divorce or ending a deep relationship, remember the God of the resurrection. God placed the love and commitment that you expressed in your marriage or your relationship in your heart. God will never waste that love or commitment but will find a way to transform it, either now or on the last day. If you have lost someone you love in death, remember the God of the resurrection. God gave life to your parent or grandparent or friend who has died and that God will never abandon that person. That God will not only keep their soul safe, but will raise them up bodily so that you can again see them and embrace them on the last day.
We believe in the resurrection. But, more importantly, we believe in the God of the resurrection. God that will never forget or abandon anything that God has made. We believe in a God that will transform all that is wasted and broken and deadened in our world and raise it up bodily to share eternal joy forever.