King Antiochus started being so ruthless when it came to religion that he earned himself the nickname Antiochus the Madman. He even filled the Jews’ holy temple with his own idols (statues of gods) and forbade them from observing their own holidays and traditions.
Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 502
Reading 1 1 Mc 6:1-13
While he was in Persia, a messenger brought him news that the armies sent into the land of Judah had been put to flight; that Lysias had gone at first with a strong army and been driven back by the children of Israel; that they had grown strong by reason of the arms, men, and abundant possessions taken from the armies they had destroyed; that they had pulled down the Abomination which he had built upon the altar in Jerusalem; and that they had surrounded with high walls both the sanctuary, as it had been before, and his city of Beth-zur.
When the king heard this news, he was struck with fear and very much shaken. Sick with grief because his designs had failed, he took to his bed. There he remained many days, overwhelmed with sorrow, for he knew he was going to die.
So he called in all his Friends and said to them: “Sleep has departed from my eyes, for my heart is sinking with anxiety. I said to myself: ‘Into what tribulation have I come, and in what floods of sorrow am I now! Yet I was kindly and beloved in my rule.’ But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem, when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver that were in it, and for no cause gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed. I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me; and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 9:2-3, 4 and 6, 16 and 19
Gospel Lk 20:27-40
Not too long ago, in a hospital along with a Catholic Priest as he administered the sacrament of the sick to a man near death — a man came up to the priest and said, “Hey Father. Do people really come back from the dead?”
Unperturbed, the priest quietly said, “Ask any recovered alcoholic or drug addict. Many of them are back from the dead.”
As we come to the end of the liturgical year the Church invites us to meditate on the meaning of life. The meaning of life is however understood only in the horizon of death. In turn, death itself is understood in the perspective of eternal life. This is the theme of today’s scripture readings. It is an important consideration because the failure to confront the ultimate realities of life will only make us regret when we reach the end of our life, knowing that we have never lived. Only those who lived well will die well. And those who die well will live forever.
This was the case of the king in the first reading. At the threshold of death, he began to reflect and regret the mistakes and follies of his life. He came to realize the emptiness of riches, power and position. Indeed, he realized that there were more important things than riches and power. In the face of death, what seemed the most important things lost its importance. He acknowledged that he was selfish and evil and that earthly riches do not last beyond this earth. Most of all, he came to realize his human limitations and that he was not God after all. Then, he thought he was so powerful and had no fear of God. He even desecrated the Temple of God and killed the believers. But at the threshold of death, he was powerless. He was only a finite being after all. His personal failures led him to despondency and depression. He ended a disillusioned man, bitter with life and humanity. The experience of the ultimacy of life brought him to reflect on the meaning life.
He appeared to have repented at the end, for he recognized the wrongs he did. We read that he told his friends, “Sleep evades my eyes, and my heart is cowed by anxiety. I have been asking myself how I could have come to such a pitch of distress, so great a flood as that which now engulfs me – I who was so generous and well loved in my heyday. But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem when I seized all the vessels of silver and gold there, and ordered the extermination of the inhabitants of Judah for no reason at all. This, I am convinced, is why these misfortunes have overtaken me, and why I am dying of melancholy in a foreign land.” He knew that the sad state of affairs and the straits he was in was due to his folly, especially in refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of God.
It was God who won the battle at the end. His truth and goodness could not be defeated. As the psalmist declares,”I will rejoice in your salvation, O Lord. Because my enemies are turned back, overthrown and destroyed before you. You rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; their name you blotted out forever and ever. The nations are sunk in the pit they have made; in the snare they set, their foot is caught. For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor shall the hope of the afflicted forever perish.” This text applies to the King, for he was reaping what he sowed. Indeed, how we live determines how we die. If we live without love and reverence for God, we will die reaping the consequences of our pride and follies. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Those who do evil, evil will catch up on them, if not on this earth, surely at their death bed. It will be a tragedy then because there will not be sufficient time for any closure or repentance. It might be too late.
Most of us unfortunately are too distracted by our daily responsibilities and worldly involvements to think of death until we fall ill. Some of us might not even have the opportunity to reflect on death! We can be too concerned with our daily preoccupations, with our work, family affairs, our children, our elderly parents, our relationships, etc, so much so that we live only for today and the immediate future. We drift from one event to another without pausing to wonder what we are doing and why we are doing what we do. We keep on accumulating the treasures of the world. We chase after things valued by the world, namely, power, money, status and pleasure. Life is reduced to that of an animal state. We cannot restrict life to merely a life on this earth. We too must come to an awakening that these things do not matter in view of eternal life and at the threshold of death. Yes, this is our temptation today; to live only for today, without a view of the future and the afterlife.
So if the things and ambitions of this world do not last, what is it that lasts? It is relationships. Indeed, there is nothing more important in life than relationships. One can be successful in many ways. We can be successful in work. We can be somebody in society. We might be looked up to by many people, and are popular and well known. We might own a beautiful house, drive a dream car and have all the luxuries in life. But without love, our life is really empty. Without someone whom we can share our soul, our feelings, our aspirations and our real self, then we would be living an impoverished life. Such a life is not worth living at all. That is why a man without relationship with God, like King Antiochus, lives a deficient life. Marriage, as the gospel suggests, is a beautiful gift of God to humanity.
But is this true? We know that many beautiful relationships, whether in married life or with friends, have to come to an end. So what hope is there that relationships last and matter most? This precisely is what the Sadducees in the gospel were disputing when they brought up the example of a woman who had seven husbands in her earthly life. This seems to be the way most people see life as well. When we attend funeral wakes, the eulogies we hear mostly speak about how the dead have impacted lives and how memories of them will remain with their loved ones for the rest of their lives. But we seldom hear anyone speak of how the dead will continue to live in God and with the communion of saints! We mourn that the relationship has come to an end. On the contrary, this relationship is now taken to a higher level. Death is not the end of our relationship with our departed ones. Rather, we are now closer to each other in spirit and we will see each other face to face again at the resurrection. For us, waiting to be with the Lord so that we can be with them might appear to take a long time. But as St Peter quips: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”(2 Pt 3:8) The psalmist also expressed the same sentiments when he prayed, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”(Ps 90:4)
This is where the gospel brings us to another level. Jesus assures us that the relationships in this world continue in the next life, albeit in a new and inclusive way. That is to say, in heaven we love inclusively and each person’s happiness is that of all. Thus the Sadducees’ objection is not valid, for earthly marriage and earthly ties are not absolute but a foreshadowing of what heaven is like. When we are in heaven, we live as the communion of saints, living for, in, with and by each other. In heaven our love for our brothers and sisters would be complete and total, without reservation, because we will be all in all through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Hence, it is not enough to live for the future but from the future. This is what Christian hope is all about, a hope founded on the promises fulfilled already in Christ. For the God we believe in is a living God. This is what Jesus reminds us when He quoted the text from Moses “he calls the Lord 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 men are in fact alive.”
God is the living God also because of Jesus’ resurrection. Our faith that relationships will continue, although in a fuller way and complete manner, is rooted in the promise given to us in Christ’s death and resurrection; that life continues in a transformed manner. The resurrection of the body implies that the earthly body which was used for inter-communication and the means by which we love and do good, will be resurrected and thus relationships do not cease after our life on earth but in fact continues in a richer and deeper dimension in the next life.
How then can we live this life of communion? By living from the future of what has been revealed to us in Christ! What is the future if not the fact that eternal life consists of our union with God. He is our fulfillment and our joy. Eternal life is the perfection of our desire and this desire is for God. Only He can satisfy man’s craving. In the words of Augustine, ‘You have made us, O Lord, for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’ Indeed, if we find ourselves too attached to this world and to human relationships, it indicates that we have still not realized that God alone can satisfy all our desires. But for those who have had a foretaste of His presence and love, especially in the Eucharist and in prayer, we will find ourselves secure in Him and confident even in the face of trials and difficulties, for our joy is not found in things and achievements but in our union with Him.
Only because of our union with God, can we also find joyful relationships with the blessed in heaven. For if God is our security and fulfillment and love, then our love for others in heaven will be unconditional, pure, selfless and inclusive, since we do not possess each other but we are always living for and in each other, in union with the love we have received from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Thus, it is fitting that we end the liturgical calendar with the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King, knowing that coming under His Lordship, we will return to the Father, for Jesus will hand over the kingdom to His Father when God will be all in all. “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”(1 Cor 15:28) Truly, our whole vocation is a call to a deeper communion with God in the Holy Trinity, for God, being alive, is not alone but three. Flowing from this fellowship with Him, our mission and desire is to bring others into fellowship with Him so that we all can be in communion with each other in the community of the saints in heaven where love continues without end.
A surprising number of spiritual people started out on the wrong side of the law and everything else. Many even had a “near death experience” that was instrumental in their “conversion” and a new way of life…..
Art: Penitent Mary Magdalene by Nicolas Régnier, Palace on the Water, Warsaw
Thomas Merton: You should want to be a saint.
You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.
Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard.
But many of us are challenged to do more….
One of our favorite stories of Thomas Merton is here: