Homily — 32nd Sunday OT C November 11, 2007

Homily — 32nd Sunday OT C                November 11, 2007

Recently I was preparing an engaged couple for marriage, and in the course of my preparation I happened to refer in passing to this Old Testament passage in today’s Gospel, where it say that if an Israelite man died leaving a wife but no child, his brother must marry the wife of his deceased brother.   And the woman engaged to married said to me “That’s not still a rule is it?” And she looked at her fiance and said “I could never marry your brother!”

We believe as Christians that the law of marrying your dead brother’s wife and the law of not eating pork were temporary laws God gave the Israelites to set them apart from other nations in preparation for the coming of Christ.   Now that Jesus has come, those laws and others such as circumcision, keeping Saturday as a day of rest, and the laws of animal sacrifice — what are technically called Ceremonial Precepts — are all abolished.

But while the coming of Jesus did away with those old Temporary Laws of God, His coming brought a new and Eternal Law that will never pass away:  the Law of Resurrection from the Dead.

In a way, the Sadducees Jesus was arguing with were right in denying their was a Resurrection, because up until Jesus came there wasn’t any kind of afterlife worth writing back to earth about.

But with Christ’s Dead and Resurrection, God’s unchanging law is that every human being, you and I included, after dying in this life will rise again, body and soul, on the last day, to be judged according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil (as St. Paul puts it).

In the month of November, the Church exhorts us to reflect more deeply on the four last things:  Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.  Reflecting on Death Judgment Heaven and Hell is probably like reflecting on what it would  be like to be married to your brother in law or sister in law — we don’t want to go there.   But while meditating on what it would be like to be married to your brother in law is probably not going to help us get to heaven, meditating on the four last things definitely will.

This weekend I thought I’d focus in on one article of the Apostles Creed, where we say “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body” — Carnis Resurrectionem in Latin, literally the Resurrection of the Flesh.   We don’t just believe in the Resurrection of our Souls, but of our bodies as well.  This very body I have will reunite with my soul on the last day and remain together forever.  As Job says, In my flesh I shall see God.   And since this is our firm belief, a dogma of our faith, the Church has always held the bodies of the dead to be sacred.

This month is actually the 10th anniversary of the indult given to the Church in the US permitting cremation.   It would be good to take a look at this document to find out how the Church views this practice.

The Catholic Church for the first 1,997 years, and the Jews before them, allowed cremation only in very exceptional circumstances such as during times of plague.   There were a number of reasons for this prohibition.  One reason was that cremation has been viewed by some religions and groups as a denial of the resurrection of the body.  This is especially so when people want their remains sprinkled into the wind, as if their soul was finally “free” from the “prison” of their body.

Sprinkling of ashes is still forbidden by the Church, and a Catholic cannot be given a Catholic Funeral if the ashes are later on going to be sprinkled and not buried, because a Catholic Funeral is by definition a “Mass of Christian Burial.”

In the introduction to the Norms regarding Cremation, the Bishops write that “Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites.” (No. 413, emphasis mine)

The document continues by saying:  “The body of a deceased Catholic Christian is also the body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the Bread of Life. Thus, the Church’s reverence for the sacredness of the human body grows out of a reverence and concern, both natural and supernatural, for the human person.  The body of the deceased brings forcefully to mind the Church’s conviction that the human body is in Christ a temple of the Holy Spirit and is destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead.

“This conviction in faith finds its expression in . . . .  the care traditionally taken to prepare the bodies of the deceased for a burial that befits their dignity, in expectation of their final resurrection in the Lord.”

Part of that preparation of course should include having a suitable burial place, preferably a Catholic cemetery or mausoleum where Masses will be said for those buried there for years and years to come.
As we celebrate this Eucharist, may Jesus give us a firm faith in Carnis Resurrectionem, the Resurrection of the Body.   The Faith that we will one day feel the tender embrace of Jesus and Mary, hugging us and kissing us; the Faith that one day we will see again with our eyes, and embrace again with our arms, our loved ones who have gone before us in Christ; the faith to one day say as the brother did in the first reading from the book of Macabees, right before he died:  It was from the LORD that I received (this body of mine). . . .(and) from Him I hope to receive (it) again.

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