06 November 2018

Homily - 4 November 2018 - The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Thirty-first Sunday of the Year (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

This month of November has long been given to the remembrance of the dead, and not simply to their memory, but to the offering of prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. As we feel the temperatures fall and plummet, as the leaves turn fallow and fall to the ground, as the grass brown and the darkness lengthens, we see the slow death of nature and it is only fitting that we consider now our own death.

Saint John of the Cross reminds us that “at the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.”[1] This Jesus makes very clear today with his response to the question of the scribe: “You shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-32). Truly, love is the measure of all things.

When, at long last, the dust from which we were made “returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it,” we will indeed be judged on our love (Ecclesiastes 12:7). We will not be judged so much by what we have done or what we have failed to do, although these things will, of course, matter; what matters most is the depth of our love because love “is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33). To put it plainly, we will be judged according to our imitation of Christ Jesus.

When we stand before the throne of God and render to him an account of our life, “perfect love will make possible entrance into heaven, imperfect love will require purification, and a total lack of love will mean eternal separation from God.”[2] The angels and saints will escort those who have loved with the perfect love of Christ into the glories of heaven; those who have loved, although imperfectly, will begin their purgation to be purged and cleansed of the effects of their sins; and those who have not loved will enter the gates of hell because they have rejected love itself.

Given this criterion of judgment, we might well ask what it means to love. It has been said that, “in the end, in fact, love alone enables us to live, and love is always also suffering: it matures in suffering and provides the strength to suffer for good without taking oneself into account at the actual moment.”[3] The Apostle Saint John reminds us that “in this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). Indeed, in Jesus Christ, “no longer is [love] self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation, and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.”[4]

How very easy – almost too easy - it is for us to praise Jesus with the scribe and say to him: 
Well said, teacher.  You are right in saying ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’  And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices (Mark 12:32-33). 
This man gives the correct answer and in so doing justifies himself; he knows he is to love God and his neighbor, but he does not do so fully; he will not let himself be vulnerable to love. If he did make himself vulnerable to love, he would have recognized Jesus not as a “teacher,” but as the “high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).

Jesus knows the scribe’s lack of love - just as he knows our own - and so he says to him and to us, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). A high compliment, maybe, but if it was, why, then, did “no one [dare] to ask him any more questions” (Mark 12:34)? The scribe felt a gentle rebuke in Jesus’ words, because “to say ‘you are not far from’ suggests that the scribe was still at some distance from the reign of God.”[5]

Inasmuch as we fail to love, we are far from the kingdom of God because love is the measure to the Kingdom of God. How readily do we humble ourselves to accept the love of God that we do not deserve? How readily do we return his love? How readily do we show to others the love that Jesus lavishes upon us? 
Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives. Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether.[6] 
Now, then, we return to our initial thought from Saint John of the Cross: “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” 

We know that we have not always loved perfectly as the Lord commands us. We grow jealous, we lie, steal, and cheat; we grow angry and irritated at one another; we judge and condemn those who are one with us in Christ. In short, we fail to keep the supreme command of love and we fall into sin. And when we come to the end of our earthly life and suffer death, we will stand before him who is Love itself.

We can be sure of this, that “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”[7]

We know, too, as we read in Sacred Scripture, that “it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (II Maccabees 12:46). This is why we visit the graves of our loved ones in November and why we continue to pray for them, confident in the power of intercessory prayer. The Church has always commended “almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” because, as Saint John Chrysostom asks, “If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation?  Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”[8]

Said Saint Ambrose so many centuries ago: “We have loved [them] in life. Let us not forget [them] in death.” Let us, then, continue our love for our beloved dead – and for all the dead. Let us continue to offering our sufferings out of love for them, asking the Lord to make them “perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:28) and welcome them swiftly into his Kingdom of “refreshment, light, and peace” (Roman Canon). Then, together with them around the throne of God, we will cry out with the angels and all the saints: “I love you, Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:2)! Amen.

[1] Saint John of the Cross, Dichos, no. 64.
[2] United States Catechism for Adults, 153.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Clergy of Aosta, 25 July 2005.
[4] Ibid., Deus caritas est, 6.
[5] Pseudo-Jerome, Commentary on Mark.
[6] Pope Saint John XXIII, Homily at the Canonization of Saint Martin de Porres.
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030.
[8] Ibid., 1032. Saint John Chrysostom, Homily in I Corinthians 41:5.

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