Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C


Joseph L. Farrell, O.S.A.
Vicar General
Curia Generalizia Agostiniana
Rome, Italy

2 Macc 7:1-2,9-14
Ps 17:1,5-6,8,15
2 Thess 2:16–3:5
Lk 20:27-38

The experience of moving to a new home can be traumatic for many people. Perhaps, however, the trauma does not necessarily come from the “moving to” experience. Rather, it is the “moving from” which can be the cause for stress, anxiety and sadness. Yes, there is quite often an angst that accompanies entering into what is basically unknown. Questions come to our consciousness regarding the unfamiliarity of the newness ahead: “Will I know anyone in my new neighborhood?” “Will the kids at school like me”? “Will I get along with my new neighbors?”

There is, however, an even deeper angst that surfaces when we have established ourselves in comfortable places and then are about to be “uprooted,” and move onto a different and unfamiliar place. We ask ourselves, “Will anything be the same…will there be anything familiar to what I am leaving behind?” Letting go of what we have and with what we are familiar is a difficult task. It requires and demands faith, a profound trust. It requires surrender to allow ourselves to enter into the uncontrollable and unexpected. Indeed, releasing the present situation to an unknown future can be frightening.

The moving involved in real estate is one example. The reality of death is an even more radical example of that moving process, that passing on, and this season of autumn offers us visual reminders of that in nature and in the changing of the leaves on the trees. Our liturgical remembrance of the saints and of the souls of the dead in the month of November is another reminder of the transitional nature of life and death. And our lectionary readings this Sunday remind us, once again, of the finiteness of this life on earth, but also of the “passing on” to another life.

The re-telling of the martyrdom of the mother and seven sons in the second book of Maccabees demonstrates the early Jewish belief in a resurrection of the just from the dead. The seven brothers faced the imminent death of their mortal bodies with inspirational courage because of their belief in the transitional nature of their earthly lives and the everlasting reward of the resurrection. They believed that there is something so much more than the physical part of their existence and bravely offered their bodies to the tortures awaiting those who would not renounce their faith in the One God of their ancestry. The example they offered to each other and continued to offer the martyrs who were inspired by their heroism is a lesson on letting go in order to pass on.

Our gospel account this weekend presents the reader with the conflict between Jesus and the Sadducees who, we are reminded, are those who do not believe in the resurrection. They are not inspired by the details of the martyrdom of the Maccabees. The Sadducees do not believe that there is any passing on…life simply ends. When Jesus is challenged by their example of the woman who is married and widowed by seven brothers, Jesus is quick in reminding the Sadducees that God is the God of the living and not of the dead, “for to him all are alive.” All are alive in God…both here and in the here-after. What a great reminder for all of us to ponder. For God, “all are alive.”

The “trick question” of the marriage of seven brothers no longer makes sense in the bigger picture of life everlasting. Being alive after passing on is a reassuring promise which brings surety to our doubts and disbelief. We receive this surety through the inspiring words of Jesus which become affirmed in the writings of St. Paul. We heard from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians this weekend, “the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you.” We can allow that strength and assurance of the faithfulness of the Lord to inspire us to lead good lives here on earth as a response to the love which is given to us. The good works we do in this life are a response to our faith and the reassuring promise of what is on the other side of our “passing on.” St. Paul’s prayer is that God, “who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, [may] encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” The good deeds and words, our response to the love of God in our lives and our faith in the resurrection allow us to face with courage the inevitability of the passing of our earthly lives.

As we recognize the changing of the seasons and the life/death cycle of the natural world, let us bring to mind again our faith in the divine presence in us and our belief in the resurrection and in the promise of God’s steadfast presence in our lives, both here and after. It is that steadfast presence we celebrate in this Eucharistic celebration. It brings us to this sacrificial celebration of God’s complete love for humanity. As we continue in this celebration, let us also be reminded of the words of St. Augustine who called to the attention of his congregation in North Africa the following assurance of God’s presence in the midst of life’s transient moments: “Nobody can call back yesterday; today has tomorrow hard on its heels, to make it pass on. In this small space of time let us live good lives, in order to go to him, from whom there is no passing on. Even now while we are talking, we are of course passing on. The words run on, they fly from the mouth; so too our actions, so too our honors, so too our misfortunes, so too this good fortune of ours. It’s all passing on, passing by, transient. But let us not panic; the word of the Lord abides for ever” (Sermon 301).