Fr. Bryan Howard
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 11 November 2018
Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was called, at the time, the Great War and the War to End All Wars. At 5 am in the morning the armistice was signed, and at 11 am, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the fighting ended. The war had left over 16 million dead, almost 10 million soldiers and about 6 million civilians, at the time that was about 1% of the population of the world. The war left all of Europe traumatized, so it’s fitting that today we reflect on the reality of death and on what follows after.
Since tomorrow is Veterans Day, I wanted to start by posing the question, “What would you be willing to die for?” Normally, we protect our lives with more determination than anything else, but there are some things that we value even above our live, and these are the things for which we may be willing to give our lives: family, freedom, homeland, and faith. Those who give their lives for the faith are called martyrs, and they get a one way ticket to heaven, and Jesus even said, “Greater love than this has no man, that he lay down his life for his friend.”
But what happens when we die? Spiritually, death is when the soul separates from the body, which happens when the body can no longer live. After death, the soul is immediately judged by God and either goes to purgatory, heaven, or hell. At the end of time there will be another judgement when purgatory will be closed down and all souls will be divided between heaven and hell, but your individual soul is judged right after you die. Those who die unrepentant for their mortal sins go to hell, because they’ve chosen to separate themselves from the grace of God by how they’ve lived their lives. Those who die in a state of grace, that is, those who strive to follow God in their lives, who repent of their sins, and who love God and neighbor, either go to purgatory or heaven. God is merciful, and forgives the sins of those who repent, but God is also just, and expects us to make up for our sins. If we don’t make up for them here on earth, then we must make up for them in purgatory. Now, purgatory isn’t fun, the Bible describes it as passing through the fire, but it’s also a place of great hope, because once you’re in purgatory you know that you will get to heaven eventually.
However, we believe that death does not mean that we are completely separated from our loved ones; we are still connected through the Holy Spirit and through the grace of baptism. We can still help the souls in purgatory by praying and sacrificing for them, just like we can pray for the living. The saints can help both the living and the souls in purgatory through their prayers, and the souls in purgatory help pray for us once they get to heaven.
Life is a great gift, because as long as we live we can repent and turn back to the Lord. Once we die we’ve lost that opportunity. I asked you before, “What would you be willing to die for?” Just as important is the question, “What do you live for?” That is the question that our Gospel asks us today. Jesus begins by rebuking those who prey on others for their own benefit, saying, “Beware of the scribes…. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” This goes for anyone who takes advantage of those who are most vulnerable or who only live for themselves. Whenever we act out of pride, greed, hate, envy, lust, gluttony, or sloth we are putting ourselves ahead of others and ahead of God.
However, Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t sin,” he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and, “They will know you are my disciples by the love that you have for one another.” The second part of today’s Gospel describes how Jesus watched people making their donations at the Temple, “Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.’” That’s what it means to live a life of heroic virtue. The widow gave all that she had, and we’re called to give all that we have for God and for our neighbor. Just like in war very few soldiers get the opportunity to impact the outcome of a battle by one great heroic act, but it’s the quiet heroism of all the soldiers that makes a difference. So in life the little sacrifices, the small acts of kindness, the daily heroism of doing for one another without counting the cost is what really makes the difference.
If today is your last day and tonight you have to stand before the judgement seat of God, will you be able to make an account of your life? Live every day as if it might be your last, don’t wait to repent, because it might be too late. Start living now with your eyes set on heaven.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.