Marriage & Unmarriage in Heaven

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

I finally did it! I’ve envisioned this for a long, long time, but waited through a few years of formation, building a house, moving, unpacking, settling in, and several more months. Finally, this week, it seemed just about right. After talking with my spiritual director about it, I’ve finally tested publishing a podcast/audio version of my “weekly” reflection (below.) Let’s see if I can keep this up. If you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to the email updates (in the right-hand column) and/or the podcast feed. In future weeks I’ll work on the audio quality, intro music, and more. But to get started, here we go!

Just last week, my wife Suzanne made a joke around our kitchen island with some of our boys… she said, “Since your dad is married to me, his job is to help make sure I go to Heaven… so that I can remind him of all the mistakes he made for all eternity.”

Joking aside, this Sunday’s Gospel uses our idea of marriage as a backdrop for Jesus teaching us a bit about what to expect of the world to come.

Approached by Sadducees, some of His time who didn’t believe in the bodily resurrection, Jesus was asked about a hypothetical scenario rooted in the Jewish law of the time related to marriage. It was a question about a woman who had a succession of lawful marriages after one then another of her husbands had died, and to which of the men she would be married in heaven.

Jesus seizes the opportunity not to focus on their riddle about marriage, but rather to teach about the means to their question – what heaven is like, or even moreso, what heaven is not like.

Jesus takes the opportunity to point out indirectly that marriage in our current existence is a construct at the service of the church and society, but is not replicated in the life hereafter. He teaches emphatically about a life to come after our current life, pointing out that even Moses recognized God of the living, not of the dead. Jesus said, “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God.”

In one fell swoop, Jesus teaches that our earthly states of single or married life don’t follow us into heaven, but serve to help us get there.

Maybe that’s good news to those of us living a single life – we get to go into heaven with that unattached life intact, but we don’t carry with us any of the earthly loneliness that can sometimes come with living a vocation to single life. Our entire focus for eternity is gazing upon and worshipping the awesome reality of the love and power of God.

Maybe that’s good news too, to those of us living a married life – we go to heaven as the individuals that God created us to be. Maybe it’s sad that we won’t be “married” to our spouse for eternity. Or, for some of us, especially with those of us who have a lot of mistakes for our spouse to remind us of for eternity, it might be reassuring to know that maybe we can still love our spouse and loved ones in a new way, but be more focused on our love and worship of God than on dwelling on the wins and losses of our life.

A challenge for us to consider in this new week, as we continue to journey through this month in which we especially reflect upon the last things and those who have gone before us, is how we can continue to support one another in our Christian journeys in order to be among “those who are deemed worthy to attain the coming age.”

Married or single, in this community of faith, how do you support those around you? As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in the second reading, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.” How can you support your spouse, your friend, your neighbor in this journey toward living in the love of God and sharing in the endurance of Christ more fully?

The more we care for our bodies, our relationships, these things in the world that God has given to us, but without becoming attached to them, the more we can be formed in the love of God and formed for the world that is promised to us for eternity. As the brother in the first reading from the second book of Maccabees said today, “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again… with the hope God gives of being raised up by him”

May God give us the grace to live with ever-decreasing attachment to the things of the earth, and ever-greater support of one another in running the Christian race, until that day when, God-willing, we can join together in the praise and worship of God in the world to come, joined with all those who have gone before us in the army of Saints.

A dirty cup of water

I saw something last night that really disturbed me. It didn’t all really click and set in at the time, but as the scene has continued to replay itself in my head over the last day, it pulls at my heart-strings.

At the moment, I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas with two of my sons. We’re spending a few nights here while they compete in the 50th anniversary World Championships of the ATA (American Taekwondo Association.)

Here’s the scene: Last night, we were having a quick bite to eat at a simple, local counter-service establishment. As we were sitting and eating, from across the room, I could see a man come into the restaurant, look at the counter and look around to survey whether anyone was noticing him, and then head to a trash can near the beverage counter. He didn’t look overly suspicious other than the way he came into the restaurant.  He looked tired and sweaty, but his clothes weren’t as rough or dirty as one might expect from a homeless person. But he proceeded to fish around in the trash can, find a plastic cup that wasn’t too dirty, and fill it with water from the soda machine.  He sat for a few minutes, savored the water, refilled the cup a bit more, took another big drink, and then threw the cup away, looked around again, and left the restaurant.

It was a hot day. I’m sure the man, if he was out walking on the streets, was in danger of heat exhaustion or worse. At the very least, he certainly needed a basic essential like water to even continue to survive.

I suppose that I was partially in amazement and partially in awe, but mainly just struck with wondering about him and his situation, that I didn’t jump into action to see if there was anything else I could do for him. (Ironic, at the World Expo of an organization whose motto is, “Always take action.”) I suppose that I also didn’t want to embarrass him or call attention to him because of how he had entered the restaurant and the way the whole scene had played out.

Like I said, though, that scene has continued to replay in my mind over the last day.

In this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we will hear Jesus tell the parable of the Good Samaritan to the scholar of the law who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

In the parable, both a priest and a Levite come upon a man along the road who had been robbed, beaten, and left half-dead. Both saw him but passed by on the opposite side of the road, avoiding him and avoiding stepping in to help.

It took a Samaritan man, an outsider – an alien, to come along and take action.

The Samaritan man not only stepped in to provide immediate help, cleaning and bandaging his wounds and giving immediate aid, but then also took him to an inn, cared for him further, and arranged for the innkeeper to continue to care for him. He went so far as to say that he’d come back by to check and ensure that the stranger had been cared for.

This parable begs me to question how I had treated this “neighbor” with the dirty cup of water. Certainly not in the way that I hope and pray that I would. I can try to excuse it because of the way that it played out, and because I was focused on my sons, or other things. But I can also pray that I might find a better way to help in the situation next time.

Today, on our walk from the hotel to the tournament at the convention center, along the same little stretch of street – on the same block or the next block down from where we were last night, I saw an entirely different scene.  Another restaurant had put out a 5-gallon cooler of water and some cups for those passing by. There, I realized, was a modern-day “Samaritan” in the form of a business owner doing a good deed in the neighborhood.  It would be just as easy to ignore those on the street, to avoid the liability, or the cost, or whatever else. But here was a business owner who was choosing to take a simple step to make a difference for those who might need a simple drink of water.

“Who is my neighbor?”

What a great question to ponder. And what a great challenge to see and serve our neighbor in need… perhaps even more so in our modern society when it’s so easy for someone to slip through the door, steal some essential water in a dirty cup, and go otherwise unseen or ignored.

God, please grant me the grace to see my neighbor in need, to pass on his side of the road, and to help in the ways I’m able.

Christ’s Body: Change From the Outside

The Bread of Life & the Church's present scandal

I woke this morning to the sounds of the crickets finishing their evening chorus to the rising sun, and I laid in bed for a few minutes starting my conversation with God for the day. As I did so, the words of the Act of Contrition started to flow through my mind.

“And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment.”

I couldn’t help but continue to think about all of my own sins of my life and how I was truly sorry for them and wanted God’s grace to continue to get better, but also how tied to those sins was a just punishment. I prayed that someday, someone would have the sense to continue to pray for my soul after death as, hopefully, I underwent my own purification in Purgatory before going to be with God for eternity in Heaven.

Then, of course, my mind couldn’t help but turn to the current scandal facing the Church because of so many men in power who also sinned, and who also didn’t do the right thing when the situation called for it. The ongoing, renewed, and even bigger than imagined scandal of abuse of minors, covering it up, fostering and allowing an environment of sexual immorality – all of it is so terrible and heinous and unimaginable.  I detest all these sins by members of our own body, members of Christ’s body.

The Homeless Man & The Body of Christ

Homeless girl sleeping on a bench in the night mysterious atmosphere

The other morning, I took our dog on our usual walk down the street and around the park. While in the park, we came across an older lady from our church who I’ve seen around town from time to time, collecting and bagging up aluminum cans and plastic bottles. She was at it again that morning in the park, pulling a couple of bottles out of one of the trash cans and putting them into the bag she was carrying.

From time to time in the past, when I had seen her doing this, I had briefly wondered why she did it – it never seemed like she needed to try to recycle them for the money, but I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. The other morning when I saw her doing it again, though, it made me wonder…

The power of Christ’s blood

From the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop

Crucifixion_woodcutFrom the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish,” commanded Moses, “and sprinkle its blood on your doors.” If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

“There flowed from his side water and blood.” Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolised baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit,” and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

-Second Reading in the Office of Readings (Liturgy of the Hours), Good Friday

The Triduum

The three holiest days of the church year.

Tonight, the table hosts a meal.
Tomorrow, the cross provides a place of execution.
Saturday, the tomb becomes a holding place for a man’s body,
a place of sorrow and of wondering.

But then, the table, the cross, and the bodies of men
become altars on which the daily sacrifices of life are
united to the eternal sacrifice of Christ the High Priest.

God renews His eternal “Yes” to mankind.
“It is very good.”
“I make all things new.”

The end leads back to the beginning.
The beginning of these three days is tied to their end.
The three days in one.
The pivotal day of eternity.