32nd Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004
First Reading - 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm - Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
Second Reading - 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Gospel - Luke 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her." Jesus said to them, "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out 'Lord', the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and his is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."
In our Gospel today, our Lord reveals to us three fundamental teachings: the truth of the resurrection of the body; the nature of marriage; the charism of celibacy.
The Resurrection of the Body:
The two leading groups of Jewish religious leaders in our Lord's time were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. When we read the Gospels, we observe that our Lord was particularly critical of the Pharisees but is relatively less direct when it comes to the Sadducees. One of the differences between the two groups was that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the body but the Sadducees did not. The Pharisees held that there was life after life here on earth. Our Lord would complete this teaching by revealing to us that at the end of time, our souls will be reunited with our bodies to enjoy heavenly glory or the eternal fires of damnation. It has been suggested by some that one of the reasons why our Lord was particularly stringent with the Pharisees was because He knew that they were closer to Him in thinking, when it came to to the resurrection of the body, while the Sadducees were not. In other words, it seems that those closest to our Lord are the ones He purifies the most. This should be instructive for us. We realize that the closer we come to Jesus, the more He asks of us and the more attuned we become to His way of purifying us and drawing us closer to Him.
The Nature of Marriage:
Marriage is very important to our Lord. Note that Scripture begins with a married couple, Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Scripture ends with the great wedding feast of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation. Christ Himself chose to perform His first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana. St. Paul, in Ephesians 5, continues this theme and reveals that marriage between a man and woman is a sign or a symbol of the cosmic marriage bond between Christ and the Church. Human marriage is only an earthly reality, however. The Gospel today reveals that marriage ends at death because the woman widowed 7 times was free to marry again and again. Widow and widowers don't need annulments to be free to marry again either. That's why the marriage vows state, "Till death do us part." This is also why the Church opposes contraception. God depends on married couples to help create the persons His Son died to redeem. That can only happen on earth, not in heaven. So, in addition to the sanctification of the spouses, the birth of children is the other end of marriage.
The Charism of Celibacy:
This Gospel passage also reveals that in heaven there is no giving or taking in marriage. Celibates live in their bodies NOW, how we all plan to live in heaven. Celibates have been called to forego their natural right to marriage in order to witness to the cosmic realities that await us in the life of the world to come. While it is true that celibacy does free one up to do the work of the Church, celibacy entails far more than that. In its essence, celibacy is a gift given to individuals in the Church in order to be more free to enter into more intimate communion with God. St. Paul notes that the married person is divided between affairs of the family and the affairs of God. The celibate person, on the other hand, is not divided. The celibate person also lives in more perfect imitation of the Lord Jesus, who Himself chose not to marry. For this reason, the Church has defined consecrated celibacy for the sake of the kingdom as an objectively higher state of life. That is not to say that individual celibates are objectively holy, but it is to say that the state of life itself is a state of perfection and is thus objectively higher.
Celibacy is a very counter-cultural way of life in a world that is so saturated with sex. It is often misunderstood. Some think that is is merely a test of endurance or commitment. Others think that it's for those who could not find a spouse - a vocation for the social reject. Celibacy teaches us that love without sex is quite possible.
Finally, we should take note of three common objections to celibacy. We should learn how to defend this gift in the Church and more importantly, to promote it among our youth, who may be called to it. For example, how many of us would actually say, with conviction, that consecrated celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is the most sublime vocation? Here are three common misperceptions about celibacy:
1. How can celibates like priests give marriage preparation and counseling if they have never been married? We can reply to this by saying that we don't expect our sportscasters to have played the sport they are commenting upon in order to be credible and effective. While it is true that experience counts, it isn't everything. In fact, an objective, celibate third-party observer of a marriage can often be more effective in counseling because they don't fall into the trap of transferring their own biases of their marriage into their counsel.
2. If priests could marry, then we wouldn't have pedophilia? This suggests that marriage is a crime-prevention program. Statistics show that married men are 10 times more likely to commit acts of pedophilia when compared to celibates. In fact, if priests were living their celibacy authentically, then perhaps we wouldn't have had these problems. We must assert that celibacy isn't the problem - it's the answer.
3. More men would become priests if they could marry. The Episcopalians were convinced of this over 30 years ago. Today, they have even less vocations to their priesthood. In fact, among the strongest advocates of a celibate priesthood are the wives of Episcopalian priests who became Catholic priests and were dispensed of the discipline of celibacy.
Lastly, we should see that marriage and celibacy are not opposing vocation. In fact, they are very complimentary vocations. Celibates should remind married persons of the fact that human marriage is only an earthly reality, not an end unto itself. Celibates should remind married persons of the importance of complete dedication to God's plan and the discipline needed to live marriage chastely. Married persons should remind celibates of the celibates' need to die to self daily. They should be visible reminders of the heavenly consummation that awaits the Church in the life of the world to come.
Let us pray that many more persons who are called to celibacy will embrace that vocation and from those within that calling, those who are called to the priesthood and religious life will be generous in their response. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was herself celibate and mother, teach us that fruitfulness in the world is derived from both the vocation to marriage and from the vocation to live consecrated celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever!
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