Sunday, November 10, 2013

God Will Perfect Us in the End: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, given at Holy Rosary Church, Portland, OR

Nov 10th, 2013

Dominica XXXII Per Annum, Anno C

During this month of November, we have the opportunity to meditate upon the Four Last Things of man: Death, Judgment, Heaven (which includes Purgatory), and Hell. These four last things comprise the science of Eschatology which is the branch of theology concentrating on the Last Things. Within this science we look at the Eschatology of Man as an individual and the Eschatology of the Human Race as a whole. For the individual we consider Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. For the Human Race as a whole, we consider 1) the Last Day, 2) the Resurrection of the Flesh, and 3) the Final Judgment, followed by 4) the End of the World.

Today, we look in particular at the Resurrection of the Flesh. This is a belief that predates the Incarnation of the Lord. The seven holy brothers were willing to lay down their lives in martyrdom because of their belief in the Resurrection. Whatever they sacrificed now they would receive back then. These seven brothers and their mother are named among the Maccabæan Martyrs in the Roman Martyrology. The Church declares them to be saints and even celebrates their feast day on August 1st each year. The Maccabæan Martyrs represent the group which we come to know later as the Pharisees. They are the strict observers of the Law. These martyrs chose death over eating swine which was unclean and forbidden by the Law.

The Pharisees were opposed to the Sadducees who were the aristocratic and priestly class among the Jews. In the time of the Maccabees, there were Jews who mingled with the pagan Greek culture in order to fit in. The First Book of the Maccabees tells us that these made “an alliance (covenant) with the Gentiles” (1 Macc 1:12). “Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Greek custom. They covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing” (vv. 15-16). This is the same attitude that we find among the Sadducees who seem to be the spiritual heirs of those who became defiled in the Maccabæan era. The Sadducees were the aristocratic and priestly class in the time of our Lord, but they were known for their corruption due to their alliance with the pagan Roman rulers. They were not strict observers of the faith.

It is all the more disturbing then, to hear their tone of voice as they mock Jesus by asking Him about the Resurrection, about which, we are told, they do not believe. “Teacher…at the Resurrection, whose wife will that woman be?” Our Blessed Lord answers in a profound way:

The children of this world marry and are given in marriage: But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives. Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that the dead rise again, Moses also shewed, at the bush, when he called the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him. (Luke 20:34-38 {Douay Rheims})

He answered in a profound way and He knew to whom He was speaking. The Sadducees did not believe in the Resurrection. Neither did they believe in angels. But they did believe in the teachings of Moses. Our Blessed Lord counters their mockery by not only teaching seriously about the Resurrection, but also of angels, all the while presenting the words of Moses as evidence in the debate.

The Sadducees are left pondering the meaning of His words. There is marriage to consider. Also they must consider the state of the human soul as it is related to the angelic soul. Finally, they are faced with the fact that according to Moses, whom they revere, even the dead are alive to God. Therefore, when the Lord speaks about being accounted worthy of that world, he opposes it to this world and its ways. The Sadducees have given in to this world and its ways and are now faced with pondering that world of the Resurrection and its ways.

We too are faced with the same. In this month of November, we prepare now for Advent by meditating regularly upon the Four Last Things. As we consider the Spiritual Life of each individual man, it is a prelude to the Four Last Things. The spiritual life calls us to pursue Christian Perfection. By Christian Perfection I am not referring to perfectionism. Perfection refers to completion. When something is perfected, that means that it is complete and unchangeable. It is set. It is what it is. When we look back upon the lives of our dearly departed, we can identify that some reached a state of holiness at death, while others died not having sought perfection in any way. Perhaps a man’s life will have been a mess. After he dies, his life is complete and unchangeable. It is perfect, and therefore we can say that his life was a perfect mess. It will be unchangeable at that point and therefore perfect in what it is, regardless of how perfect or imperfect he was in his behaviors.

If perfection means completion, then let us meditate upon completion in the eyes of God. Our completion comes after death. First our souls will be purified. Then for a time we will be like the angels, existing as pure spirit, but that is not our completion. We are not angels, nor will we ever be. Our flesh must be brought back to life, glorified and reunited with our souls. That is our true and final perfection. Now is the time for us to be thinking about the resurrection. The Day of Resurrection will be the same day as the Second Coming of Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Henceforward, there will come to be a new heavens and a new earth. We should all wish to be accounted worthy of that world.

We must ask the question then about marriage. Our Lord brings up the topic of marriage in its relation to the afterlife. He says: “The children of this world marry and are given in marriage: But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives” (vv. 34-35). Here we have to be very careful, because our Lord also blessed matrimony as a sacrament of the new covenant. Matrimony is holy and certainly does not exclude one from the Resurrection. In fact, holy matrimony is directed toward the heavenly life. But marriage must be ordered in a holy way.

Every soul is espoused to God. We are to love God first. Our goal should be union with God in the beatific vision of heaven. We get there by one of two ways: either we have a mediated spousal relationship to God in this life, or an immediate spousal relationship to God in this life. Both are directed toward perfect union with God in heaven. The mediated spousal relationship is lived out through the sacrament of matrimony. In this sacrament, both husband and wife are given to mediate God’s love to each other preparing to hand the other over to God at the end of life. Marriage ends with death. So you see this gives a deeper meaning to our Lord’s words: “The children of this world marry and are given in marriage: But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives.” There is no marriage in heaven other than the perfect union between God and the individual soul.

So in this life, marriage is a mediated relationship between the individual and God through the sacrament; through the husband or wife. But God must come first. The marriage is not just between this man and this woman. It is a marriage between these two united and God. God is the true spouse of every sacramental marriage. The danger we sometimes see is when the relationship becomes so focused on this man and this woman toward one another that God is given no place in their married life. Dietrich Von Hildebrand calls that kind of marriage one of idolatry. There is no reason for such a marriage because neither spouse is concerned with the eternal salvation of the other. They are really only concerned with themselves. Heaven will not be a reward for such a person because they have placed their desires in this world. They do not desire God or heaven. Their desire is the flesh and not the spirit. Marriage is ordered towards God and towards heaven. It must be a mediated relationship between God and each spouse through the other spouse.
On the other hand, a person can live out this life in an immediate spousal relationship with God and the Church in religious life or the priesthood, through virginity and/or perpetual continence. Here, God’s love is not mediated through another person, it is immediate. In the end, both vocations are meant to lead the individual to a perfect union with God in heaven.
Perfection is not achieved until that perfect union with God. Christian perfection is our goal. We seek to live out the spiritual life here in this world in the pursuit of Christian perfection. So you recall the man or woman with a perfect mess of a life lived here. Once it is over, it is unchangeable and therefore ‘perfect’ in what it was––which was imperfect. That is where God takes over.

When we are done with this life, we are taken up into the hands of God. If we were married in this life, our spouse hands us over to God. If we were priests or religious, God takes us up directly to Himself. Whatever our life was at that point, it is nevertheless ‘perfect’ in its unchangeability. But though ‘perfect’ it has not yet been perfected. God will perfect us in the end. We will be accounted worthy if we have set our hearts on God and the things of heaven. That is how we must live. Let us vouchsafe to live today in this world as to be accounted worthy of that world to come. 

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