Whom Must We Be?
Today’s first reading is rather historic. In fact, it comes from the Book of Daniel during the 6th Century B.C. We read here one of the early predictions of a key doctrine of our faith, the bodily resurrection of the dead as well as the suggestion of both Heaven and Hell. In these two passages, we see the powerful understanding of the foundation of the ministry of Jesus: The salvation of souls to Heaven.
Notice, even though I cited two ultimate destinations, Daniel describes three types of persons: Those who resurrect to life, those who resurrect to disgrace and those who shine like firmament. Which ones are we called to be?
Let’s look more closely at this:
You have heard the teachings that good people go to Heaven, bad people go to Hell. That teaching is ubiquitous in our world. We see it as a premise in our culture and in and out of religious circles. We see it in movies, we use the concept every day in our language and stories. The problem is that it is not Catholic teaching. Tell me where in the Gospels Jesus says that good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell. It is not there. In fact, those who go to Heaven or Hell are defined not in behavior but rather in manifestation of love. In other words, those who love God and neighbor. By the way, not God or neighbor, but God AND neighbor.
Those who resurrect to everlasting disgrace, according to Jesus, at most actually will appear to love either God or neighbor but not both. We know of the parable of the rich man, who disregarded the pauper Lazarus. He probably appeared to be faithful, after all, he called Abraham his father. But he was not faithful in fact, and never found salvation.
On the other hand, we saw the young Jewish man who asked Jesus which was the greatest of all commandments and applauded Jesus when he answered correctly. It was to him, the Lord said, he was not far from the kingdom. Again, there is no mention of his behavior.
Jesus embraces or rejects those in light of how much they love God and Neighbor.
So those who resurrect to everlasting disgrace are the wicked who reject God and by doing so act for their own selfish gain. They were real people then and they are real people now.
Those who resurrect to everlasting life are those who choose to love God and neighbor. It is them that we must imitate, but we are not called to be them alone.
What is the third group? Those filled with insight who lead others to justice. This is why I said that the whole concept of good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell is incorrect. Clearly those who refuse to love God and neighbor have no chance nor even desire for Heaven. Those who choose to love God and neighbor want nothing more to do God’s will in celebration of the others.
But we receive the calling to be the third group, those with insight. Our calling invites us to grow in the wisdom of God and to act upon it. This is what it means to be like Jesus. The Son of God is the embodiment of God’s mind, His wisdom. We allow that wisdom to transform us in mind and heart so we can act on it day and night. That way not only does God call us to love Him and neighbor, but also to seek the wisdom so that we can be prophets to our neighbors, to channel a sense of the love, mercy, justice and holiness of God.
For example, at your Baptism the priest prayed over you that you may open your ears to hear God’s word and your lips to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the father. The point of being Catholic is not simply to do good, it is to grow in wisdom and in that wisdom, we then live in grateful response to God’s grace in our life. Christ call us in our Baptism to be prophets to this world by the way we live our lives.
What makes it more important is that those in our world who reject God outright and choose to build a world based on the idea that there is no God, that Jesus never lived and the resurrection never happened, may also seek to build the world on the false idea that humans are capable of building utopia. It is the wise person with insight will understand that idea will work on paper, but not in reality.
Think back to the first Jurassic Park movie. Remember when Dr. Malcolm warns about chaos theory? He warns that Jurassic Park works on paper, but in reality something will go wrong that will undermine the whole operation. What goes wrong is human passion.
The people who raise to their disgrace in Daniel’s vision lived with a false understanding of themselves and of their world. The people who raise to life are those who lived out a true understanding of themselves as children of God and of their world. Those who have insight are the ones who comprehend the difference and strived to live by that growing insight,which is Christ.
We are not called just to do good things. We rather learn a profound understanding of the work of Jesus Christ, of the presence of God in the world and of the wisdom that comes from God. It leads us to understand that world to deep and profound levels. Putting it simply, we have a mission to operate in this world while have an idea of what one priest once explained, of what happens behind the curtain. St. John Cassian taught the importance study of our faith so that we may be whom we are called to be.
Where does this wisdom shine strongest? When things are going wrong. For example: Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies. We only know who are enemies are when they make our lives difficult. Are there enemies in your life? Do you pray for them?
What do we remember most about the prophets? Their words when things go wrong. Hence, why our role is to persevere in prayer and love especially when things go wrong. Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah had times in their lives that were so difficult all three of them wished to die. Daniel at this time was a slave captured in the fall of Babylon. Yet they persevered and became great prophets. Have you had times so difficult that you felt you could not continue? Your perseverance even screaming to God in pray in your pain empowers you as a prophet of God just by not giving up.
This is a wisdom that comes from our union with God and cannot be learned anywhere else, even at a certain local university within a stone’s throw from here.
This understanding becomes the whole mission statement of Jesus’ ministry. To bring salvation to the world to those who seek to do God’s will. To open those who seek it to know the profound wisdom of God and to act upon it through their relationship with Christ and His Church.
We know of great examples of those saints who became so enlightened and we know examples of even descendants of the apostles who unless they change will resurrect to eternal shame.
The greater we grow closer to Christ by being people of prayer and frequenting the sacraments, the greater we become those with insight. In fact, I notice that we need a confessional in this Church, it is essential and anyone who would want to help me find one or build one it would be appreciated. It is because it is through the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist that we grow in that insight.
Daniel’s prophecy asks us: which do we choose to be? The answer to that question lies in seeking to deepen our relationship with Christ through prayer, action and the sacraments. The fruit of that is to grow in eternal wisdom.
Please feel free to share this homily with others. If you have questions or comments please come to discuss them at St. Anthony parish 43 Holton St. in Allston. Weekend Masses in English are Saturday afternoon at 4:00 and Sunday Morning at 10:00.Brazilian Portuguese Sundays at 8:00am and 7:00pm.
Photo: The Last Judgement by Edward Burne-Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons