As we near the end of the Church’s calendar, the liturgical readings deal more and more with eschatological themes (death, judgment, heaven and hell). Even the feasts we celebrate in this closing month (All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Christ the King) take on the same tenor.
Thus, today’s readings speak of the said themes and the doctrine of the resurrection, in particular. The first reading tells the story of the heroic sons of an equally heroic mother who readily submit themselves to horrific torture and eventual death in the hands of the evil king “with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” No amount of suffering can break their faith in God and their confidence in his promise that they will find life beyond death.
In the gospel, the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, present Jesus with a case meant clearly to entrap him. Their question on whose wife would the childless woman be in the afterlife after having had seven husbands, does not only ridicule the belief in the resurrection. It also trivializes “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, [who] is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
Jesus does not dignify the Sadducees’ question. He simply states that the afterlife is no mere extension of this present life. It is a totally different state of being where the children of God “are like angels and can no longer die.” Hence, there will be no need any more to marry and have children.
The greatest proof of the resurrection is, of course, the Risen Christ himself. The resurrection of Jesus is, in fact, the basis of our whole Christian faith and hope. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain… if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” (1 Cor 15:14,19)
It is good that the Church gives us an opportunity through the liturgy to reflect on the end times, but importantly on our own end. To be aware of our own mortality is salutary for it makes us become more realistic about life and helps us to focus on what truly matters. “Lord, make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Ps 19:12)
Meditating on death is helpful not only for the old who know they only have little left of their years, but for everyone because death does not respect age or status. The majority of those who died in the Halloween tragedy in Seoul were teen-agers. Likewise, many of those who perished on the bridge that collapsed in India were children and even babies.
“Begin with the end in mind.” When we know and pursue the purpose of our life, we will never be lost. Why did God give me life? What is his plan? What is his will? It would be good to find time and think of such questions at this time of the year.
Last week, I was invited together with some of our office personnel to view an old classic musicale, “Good-bye, Mr. Chips.” It tells the story of an English school teacher who spent his life teaching in an all-boys boarding school. He married but became an early widower, and he died childless.
On his deathbed, he overheard the younger professors lamenting, “Poor old chap – must have lived a lonely life, all by himself… Pity, he never had children.” To which, he muttered to himself, “Yes – umph – I have, thousands of ‘em… and all boys.” He then started to make the roll call of his students alphabetically until he was finally asleep.
His life, made up of daily routine, was ordinary, maybe even boring to some. But it was a full life which changed countless others lives that he patiently molded through the years. His was a life beautifully captured in the theme song of the movie. Here are the first and third stanzas of the song.
In the morning of my life, I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life, when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.
And to fill the world with love… my whole life through.
In the evening of my life, I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life, when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only God can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?