DYING TO LIVE!
HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C).
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
On May 31, 2009, an Air France flight 447 nose-dived into the Atlantic Ocean killing all the 228 people on board. The ill-fated Airbus A330 left Rio de Janeiro by 7:29 pm on its way to Paris but was hit by a thunderstorm over the Atlantic while the chief pilot was having a nap. It was two years after the incidence that Marines found the debris of the plane.
According to the Vanity Fair magazine, the cockpit recording shows that there was last minute rumble in the cockpit as the chief pilot emerges from where he was taking a nap but late enough to undo what the junior pilot erroneous did to save the situation. Facing the icy ocean, one of the pilot exclaims: “F..k we ‘re dead!” What a way and manner to die and with such a careless prefix!
Have you ever being to a morgue (or mortuary) before. I mean going into the facility where corpses have storage corners? A visit to a morgue could move a conscious mind to think deeper about the meaning of life and the reality of death. A visit to the morgue could prod us to question our daily struggle for survival and depth of the words of the Preacher’s poem on vanity (Ecclesiastes 4:4-8).
Today’s liturgy invites us to reflect on death which is a facility that is open to all of us. Beyond death, however, we are encouraged to focus on life after death. The First Reading (2ND Mac.7:1-2.9-14), tells us about the devout and faithful Maccabean family. Seven brothers, with their mother, were arrested, tortured with whips and were compelled by a heathen king, under the threat of death, to violate God’s law by eating pork meat. They, however, would prefer to die to commit the abominable act. They disclosed their willingness to face death by their conviction about life after death. The following are some of the responses from four of them that support their faith in dying to live:
“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
“You accursed fiend; you are depriving us of this present life, but the king of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for His laws we are dying.”
“It is from Heaven I received these (my tongue) for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him, I hope to receive them again.”
“It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
All the seven brothers and their mother chose to die in order to live instead of living to sin. Thus the summary of their submissions is: “we are ready to die because we shall live eternally.”
The Gospel Reading (Luke 20:27-38), tells us about a Sadducees who comes to Jesus Christ to ask a question about resurrection after death. The Sadducees are opposed to the resurrection, and this Sadducee may have come with his members to make a mockery of the resurrection before Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and life (John 11:25). To strengthen his viewpoint, the Sadducee in question made use of a narrative that resembles the story of the seven brothers in the First Reading. In his incredible story, the seven brothers married a wife successively as each dies. He wants our Lord to declare whose wife the woman would be at the time of resurrection.
Looking at the instance and the question of the Sadducee one can see a very clear demonstration of ignorance. We may however not blame the Sadducees so much because their sect did not care to know the nature and manner of the resurrection. In fact, their concern is the affairs of the present life not about life after death; just like many still do today.
It is very instructive to discover that many people are afraid of death. This fear is unreasonable because it would never make it not to happen when it should. Dying well should be a primary concern for Christians not just death as a facility that is open to everyone. Dying well means dying in God or being at peace with God at the moment of one’s death. Furthermore, dying in God or being at peace with God at one’s death assures one of living after dying because there is life after death as well as death after death; the second death (Rev. 2:11).
We have all around us fashion houses, fast food outlets, big and small shops and malls, beauty houses and other places that provide daily needs. People move in and out of these locations to attend to the body that is subject to death at an undefined moment.However, we all can agree that the soul does not receive similar attention. We are often late to Church for Mass and other spiritual activities, and we are also often in haste to leave the Church because we don’t want our time to be wasted. By who? May be God, the giver of the time we don’t wish to waste.
When was the last time you had a good confession? When was the last time you received our Lord Jesus Christ in a most worthy manner in the Eucharist? Do you still have a functional bible and rosary? When was the last time you had a quite time with God? When was the last time you had a spiritual direction with a priest or one dedicated to the care of your soul?
We pay attention to the recommendation of doctors, physicians, pharmacists, technicians, cosmetologists, dieticians, physical trainers, academic professors and advisors, financial advisors, attorneys and so many others. But most of us find it unusual to get spiritual advising; often we think that it is for the sick, old and dying, but death does not always wait till we get ill or old.
Summarily, we give so much attention to our material needs and give less attention to our spiritual needs. The bitter truth is that our spiritual needs will finally emerge to be more important than our material needs; we cannot run away from that eternal truth after death.
One question that we must each ask ourselves today is: “What is it in this life that is worth dying for?” Many people have gone to their graves for useless and base things in life. Many have died for the sake of one addiction and habit or another. Some have died out of unholy association and friendship, others for the love of money, and others still to be socially or politically relevant. It is not about dying; it is all about dying well; dying at peace with God. Often people tell you they are doing the wrong thing to avoid suffering. But my dear friend, It is better to suffer here for a while than to suffer eternally in the hereafter!
Life is worthless without God (John 15:5). For us to find meaning in life, we must first of all find God (Matt.6:33). In some deep introspection, I have come to see that we have nothing at the end of the day. When we die, this body goes underground and decays; imagine what happened to those 288 aboard Air France. Our souls, which is the most important part of us would go back to God for direction as to where to spend eternity. On earth, our material possessions are taken up by family, friends or even people we never imagined.
Friends, the ideal goal of our presence in this life is to gain eternity hereafter, and that should form our focus in the manner of the seven brothers in the First Reading. Missing heaven is the real death. We should, therefore, be ready to die for the sake of that eternal bliss. Like the second brother said, the King of the world will raise us up to live forever.
Many of us still live our lives as if there is no life after dying in the same manner as the Maccabean King, his subjects, and the Sadducees of Jesus’ time. We need to understand that we have but little time here on earth. The life we have today is a privilege and an opportunity for us to prepare ourselves for befitting eternity; that is the resurrection to life. The senseless pleasures of this world cannot secure eternal life for us. Why waste your life and your time on things that will finally diminish you instead of what will bring you to eternal glory?
We rely on the grace of God, as St. Paul prays in the Second Reading (2 Thess.2:16-3:5), for us to receive strength and encouragement in every good deed and word. It will surely be unprofitable for us lose our souls to damnation in hell after gaining the world (Mark 8:36). May we continue to make the right choices because they would determine our life after dying, or our death after dying.
May God direct you to chose to live after dying. Have a graceful Sunday and a blessed week!