04 November 2016

'And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush . . .' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Moses before the Burning Bush, Domenico Fetti, 1613-14
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus(.) [and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man  shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;  then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.  Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’]
Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’
Fr William Spicer (1949 - 2009)

Seven years ago a Columban colleague of mine, Fr Willie Spicer, died suddenly in Ireland at the age of 59. And in a very real sense he preached at his own funeral. The homilist, Columban Fr Michael Scully, a very close friend of Father Willie because of their many years in Japan, told a remarkable story of how central the Resurrection was in the late priest's preaching at funerals and of how a man was led to the faith by this. Here is part of the homily of Father Scully. I have highlighted some passages.

Over that period of eight or nine years Willie and I enjoyed a game of golf together on a regular basis even though we lived quite far apart. Willie was pastor at the Church in Chigasaki City in the Diocese of Yokohama; I was assigned to a church in the Archdiocese of Tokyo about 80 miles away from where Willie lived. Sometimes before our game of golf I would stay overnight at Willie’s house.
On one of those occasions I noticed a painting which I had not seen before on the wall of his living-room. So, I asked him where he got the painting. ‘There is a story behind that’ was his answer. I would like to tell that story as Willie told it to me. These are his words: ‘About a year ago I did a funeral Mass here in Chigasaki Church. And, as usual, during the homily I emphasized that death was not the end of everything; and then went on to talk of Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead’. At this point, Willie paused and turned towards me: ‘I think it is meaningless’ he said, ‘to preach a homily at a wake or funeral Mass if we don’t make some mention of the resurrection of Christ and our own hope in the resurrection. Isn’t that what our Christian faith is all about? It’s because of that faith that we are on mission!’

Those words of Willie were for my benefit, but, needless to say, I was in complete agreement with what he said. However, Willie’s story did not end there. ‘You know’, he said ‘after that funeral Mass an elderly man approached me and said to me “Today was the first time I ever heard a talk like the talk you gave at the Mass. Until now, I had never heard of the resurrection of the dead – and somehow, it makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to hear that homily. If I had a chance I’d like to study the Catholic faith. Do you know if there’s a Catholic Church close to where I live?” And Willie continued, ‘That was about a year ago – something that I did not know at that time was that that man was an artist who lived about a hundred miles away. That painting came from him to me as an expression of thanks – thanks for my homily at the funeral Mass, but also as an expression of profound gratitude for the fact that he was studying the Catholic faith, and in hoping to be baptized in the not too distant future in a church close to where he lives’.

I have told this story because I believe that if Willie Spicer had a chance to speak to us today, he would say to us: ‘It’s all right to feel sad and to grieve on this occasion. I would feel the same way if I were in your place. But, don’t be carried away by sadness and grief. Today’s sadness and grief cannot compare with the joy and the happiness and the glory that will be ours if we but believe that the God who loves us, loves us so much that He gave His only Son for us’

The Resurrection, Passignano, 1600-25
Pinacoteca, Vatican [Web Gallery of Art]

Today's First Reading and the Gospel - they are always related by a common theme - look at the Resurrection. In the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers in the Second Book of Maccabees the fourth brother When he was near death, he said, ‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life! (2 Maccabees 7:14). 

The Gospel also has a story of seven brothers, in a situation put to Jesus by some Sadducees, a group that didn't believe in the resurrection, that strains credulity. This gives Jesus the opportunity to teach about the resurrection: And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park, Ireland

I don't go along with the idea that seems to have crept in in recent years of a funeral Mass being 'a celebration of the life' of the deceased. There certainly is a place for celebrating a person's life during the wake or, in the Philippines, during the novena held  in the home of the one who has died or when the family and other mourners gather to eat after the burial. Rather I see the funeral Mass as an occasion above all to pray that the one who has died will share fully in the life that God desires for everyone,

Preface I for the Dead puts it this way:

In him [Christ] the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, 
that those saddened by the certainty of dying 
might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come. 
Indeed for your faithful, Lord, 
life is changed not ended, 
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, 
an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.

Father Willie Spicer emphasised that belief in the Resurrection and the hope it gives when preaching at funerals. In Japan probably at every funeral Mass he celebrated there were people present who weren't Christians. To them he was proclaiming the central truth of our Christian faith. In the case of the artist he spoke about  that proclamation of our faith and of the hope of the resurrection spoke to his heart and led him to Jesus the Risen Lord.

In November we remember and pray for the dead in a special way. The readings in this Sunday's Mass can lead us to reflect on the reality that one day each of us will be remembered and prayed for by others. May the Collect for the first of the three Masses on The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, 2 November, help us in this:

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord, 
and, as our faith in your Son, 
raised from the dead, is deepened, 
so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants 
also find new strength.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

Antiphona ad Communionem        
Communion Antiphon Cf. Ps 22 [23]:1-2
Dóminus regit me, et nihil mihi déerit;
The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want
in loco páscuae ibi me collocávit,
Fresh and Green are the pastures where he gives me repose,
super aquam refectiónis educávit me.
near restful waters he leads me.

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