Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What are you willing to live for?

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C

If you were arrested for being a Christian,
would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Deacon John William McMullen

This past summer our family went to a wedding Mass in a church where there was no air-conditioning. The church was sweltering hot – so hot that I had to remove my suit jacket. Many of the other men also removed their jackets as well. And when it came time for the gospel reading, when I went to stand up, my shirt was stuck to the hot wooden pew – as were the other men's shirts – and it was so hot that the varnish on the pews had become gooey and stuck to our shirts. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mass and I love to sing, but even I must admit that this wedding mass was a grueling experience given the extreme heat.
But then I thought what a small problem to have compared to being persecuted or suffering death for our faith!
Imagine being arrested for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
When we consider all that the saints and martyrs before us sacrificed and risked to practice their faith, we must admit that ours is a comfortable Christianity. Most of us can openly go to  church any Saturday or Sunday that we want.  Yet many skip church if the Mass conflicts with a sporting event or concert. 
Those who have gone before us were willing to give everything, including their lives, for the sake of the gospel!
Why were they willing to lay down their lives for Christ?
What is it that gave them hope that their deaths would not be the end?
Imagine a world where it is illegal to be a Catholic or Christian. Imagine that it was illegal to go to Mass. Imagine it being illegal to gather for community worship.
Unfortunately, we do not have to imagine this. It is happening right now in parts of the world.
Many of our brothers and sisters in the faith have risked their lives to fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending Mass today! And it seems every weekend a different set of Catholics has been attacked and put to death in Pakistan, Egypt, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mauritania, Mali, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, or other parts of the world.
In North Korea Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered; subject to public execution. 70,000 Christians are believed to be incarcerated in various prison camps in North Korea, veritable concentration camps.
And off the coast of the Red Sea in the Eritrean Desert there is a Military Prison camp where the authorities use the metal shipping containers to hold prisoners.
100,000,000 Christians today face interrogation, arrest, torture or even murder because of their faith.

Others face public executions by hangings, firing squads, torture, beatings, whippings, beheadings, stoning to death.* (The Global War on Christians by John Allen).

It is stories like these cause each of us to question ourselves: Would I be willing to die for my faith in Jesus Christ?
Therefore while our brother and sister Christians risk their lives to worship as a community on Sunday, what is our excuse?
For some it’s too much to drive an extra five minutes to Mass
Others have to shop on the weekends.
Still others have sporting events on the weekend.
Or Sunday is their only day to sleep in.
Others are more honest. One person flat out told me:  I really don’t have time for it anymore.
On any given Sunday only about 30% of all Catholics in the U.S. will go to Mass. 
This is astonishing, especially when we look to our ancestors in the faith who were willing to suffer martyrdom – in order to give witness to their faith – and the number of Christians being persecuted and being martyred today. Ours is a faith that millions are and have been willing to die for. 
The religious persecution of today is similar to what the Jewish people were experiencing in today’s first reading from Second Maccabees. A family of the Jewish faithful are being tortured to death for their belief in the Lord God, but the Jews died for their faith rather than disobeying God’s Commandments.
And despite the fact that they were suffering injustice, they believed that they would rise again.
Then in today’s gospel, the Sadducees – who did not believe in the existence of the human soul or the resurrection of the dead – come to Jesus and engage him in a ridiculous argument.
The Sadducees had a “what you see is what you get” mentality; they believed that this earthly existence is all there is, all that matters.
So in a very real way, the belief in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting clashes with the belief that this life is all there is.
“You’re born, you live, then you die.” Isn’t that what many people say today?
But Jesus points to the age to come, of the resurrected life.
So what is this resurrection of the dead that we believe in, that we profess every Sunday?
I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Do we really look forward to this?
Our fervent hope as Catholic Christians is that we will rise on the last day when Christ will come again.
Our Baptism unites us with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ; and so in a mysterious way we already participate in the heavenly life. Our eternal life begins at our baptism!
And at the Second Coming of Christ, our bodies will be raised in a way that goes beyond our imagination and understanding. Our resurrected bodies will be made incorrupt and they will be rejoined to our souls. All people, the good and the evil, will be raised from the dead on the last day. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the voice of the Son of Man] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:29).
St. John of the Cross said that before the believer is really ready to undertake the spiritual journey he or she must be “deeply struck by the shortness of life…and the need for profound repentance from sin and wholehearted surrender to God” (The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 1;1).
The reality of death gives an urgency to our lives.
So then how should we live—especially in the face of persecution and the threat of death?
“…Our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies: so our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection” (CCC 997).
The second century theologian Tertullian wrote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
What is it that gave them hope that their deaths would not be the end?
It was and is because of the hope in the Resurrection of the Dead, the resurrection of Jesus Christ; this is what gave them the courage to risk their lives, to die for their faith and this is what gives us the courage to live for Christ.
If we were to die for our friendship with Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict us?
Or would we abandon Him as soon as we learn that the church doesn’t have air-conditioning?

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