Sunday, November 6, 2016

Out of This World

By the time this appears online, I should be on my way to my annual retreat--spending it this year with the Sisters of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, NY.  I'll be there all week, so no homily next Sunday.

 Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

In advertizing, a good slogan, a good jingle, doesn’t only tell you something about the product; it’s also makes what your selling enticing, appealing, attractive, and in a way that’s pretty hard to forget.  To prove my point… What’s “good to the last drop?”  Maxwell House.  Who “brings good things to light?”  General Electric.  Who answered the question, “Where’s the beef?”  Wendy’s!

It’s clear this Sunday that Jesus didn’t have a degree in marketing, since the slogan which practically emerges from the gospel reading we’ve just heard goes something like: “Follow me to heaven…and when we get there, there’ll be no sex!”

When the Sadducees pose their ridiculous question to Jesus, he responds by pointing out that, while in this life people marry and remarry, in the resurrection of the dead it will not be so.  And since Jesus teaches us elsewhere that, by God’s design, the rightful place of sex is within marriage, then there will be no marital relations in heaven.

This is not because sex is bad, of course—quite the opposite, actually.  God invented it when he told our first parents, “Be fruitful and multiply!”  God looked upon what he made, upon the two become one flesh, and saw that it was good.

Rather, it’s because, in heaven, sex is completely surpassed.

Human beings are made male and female primarily for purposes of reproduction.  We’ve tried hard to separate making love from making babies, but in God’s plan they are intrinsically united.  Reproduction is nature’s way of outwitting death—by replacing life that was lost.  But when death has been definitively defeated in the resurrection, there remains no need to reproduce.

Not only won’t we need it; we won’t desire it.  Our hearts are made for something far greater than pleasure; they’re made for intimacy: to enter into union, into communion, with another; to love and to be loved.  In heaven, our intimacy with God and, in God, with one another will be so total, so complete, that sex would be redundant.

Why do I bring all this up?  Certainly not to be crass or controversial…but because in looking at this seemingly odd example, we see a much bigger principle at play.

As a priest, I attend more funerals than most people.  And when people face the loss of a loved one, they naturally speculate quite a bit about heaven.  I’ve noticed a pattern in those speculations.  When most people talk about eternal life in heaven, it sounds quite a lot like mortal life here on earth—souped up, of course, and never ending, but essentially a continuation of what we already know.  In our imagining, anyway, we make heaven look an awful lot like earth.  And if there isn’t really much difference between them, what encouragement do we have to live any differently than everybody else?

But that gets things exactly backwards!  Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be about making earth look more like heaven?  Isn’t that one of the things we pray for each time we say the Lord’s Prayer?  You see, heaven far surpasses all we know in this world.  Even blessings like marriage and family are but reflections of what awaits us there.  In heaven, all our needs will be met and all our desires fulfilled—perfectly and endlessly—when we know love without limit.  And when we recognize this, and get a small taste of heaven here on earth, then we can face death courageously at the hands of the wicked as did the seven sons and their mother in the Second Book of Maccabees.  Then we can live as did St. Paul, with confidence and endurance in the face of any adversity.  Then our lives become a far better slogan for the faith: “Follow me to heaven—it’s out of this world!”

In this month when we prayerfully remember the faithful departed, may this truth renew our hope.  At the start of this week when we consider God’s call in each of our lives, may it strengthen us to persevere in taking up our place in his plan.  During this season when we review our stewardship of the Lord’s many blessings, may we do our part, with all the resources at our disposal, to make earth more and more like heaven.

Acknowledgements to J. David Franks and Peter Kreeft

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