November 4, 2016

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church presents as the first reading a section from the Second Book of Maccabees.

Maccabees, First or Second, rarely appears as a reading at Mass.

These books date from a period only two centuries before Christ. They rose from a very dark period in the history of God’s people.

After the death of Alexander the Great, who had conquered much of the present-day Middle East, his generals scrambled to succeed him. One of them, Ptolomy, became the pharaoh of Egypt and was an ancestor of Cleopatra.

Another of them, Seleucus, became king of Syria.

A successor of Seleucus, Antiochus IV, believed himself to be divine. He demanded that his subjects, including the Jews, worship him. Anyone who refused this demand paid dearly.

These two books of Maccabees lionized these pious Jewish martyrs, who refused to forsake the one God of Israel.

This weekend’s reading describes quite vividly the penalty Antiochus IV reserved for those who denied that he was a god.

Heroism, therefore, is one lesson. Another is about the after-life. The reading mentions the after-life as a reward for holy living on Earth. The nature of life after death had not been well defined in the more ancient Hebrew writings. Thus, Maccabees expands the notion.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians provides the second reading. This work, too, was written when times were hard for true believers, but Christians in this case. Paul is challenging but encouraging. Regardless of whatever may lie ahead, he insists that disciples must hold firm to their bond with the Lord. Times may be bad, even terrifying, but they will pass. God, and those devoted to God, will be victorious!

St. Luke’s Gospel, the source of the last reading, continues the theme of the after-life. Its message is clear. Those persons faithful to God in this life will live with him, triumphantly and eternally, in the next life.

This reading also says that the ways of God are beyond our experience and our understanding.

We are humans, nothing less but nothing more. We are nothing less in that we can decide to live so as to receive as God’s gift eternal life itself. We are nothing more in that we need God.

Reflection

War has tormented every generation of Americans since the Revolutionary War. Americans died in the War of 1812, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the continuing war against terrorism.

In a sense, then, catastrophe and death fill our own history, just as such horror was part of Hebrew history.

For us, and even as we fight our personal wars, with whatever foes assail us, it is easy to be discouraged.

The readings teach us, and they console and inspire us.

They teach us that human sin, turning away from God, can bring upon people enormous injury and destruction.

If we follow God, we will find the better way to life, harmony and wholeness.

Even so, life on Earth, although we must endeavor to make it good and productive, is not the end in itself. As the bishops at the Second Vatican Council saw it, earthly life is a pilgrimage. All humans move from birth to death. Everyone dies.

True believers move not to death, but they pass death as a milestone on their way to eternal life.

These readings also remind us that the allurements that so often drive humans to hurt themselves and others inevitably will pass away. God will endure. His goodness will triumph.

Only God in the heavenly kingdom will survive and will do so in everlasting glory. This kingdom awaits our entry—if we choose to enter it. The gates are open. †

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