An elderly woman in the oncology ward of the hospital had asked for the priest to bring Holy Communion. On her bedside table there lay a pair of Rosary beads and a book of prayers; around her neck hung a small golden crucifix on a chain. We chatted for a few minutes before I gave Communion. She told me of some of her circumstances. Finally, by way of conclusion I pointed to heaven and said, ‘Well, we can look forward to perfect health when we reach there.’ She responded, ‘I don’t think so.’
After several years as a chaplain I was no longer shocked; other patients in similar situations had told me the same thing in different ways.
- ‘I don’t believe that.’
- ‘Do you think so?’
- ‘When you die you die.’
- ‘I wish that were true.’
At first I consoled myself with the thought that these poor, suffering people were only struggling with their faith in a dark moment of their life. Though this was certainly true for some I have now realised, like St Paul did two thousand years ago, that there are indeed Catholics who really don’t accept the teaching on the Resurrection! Can you believe it? I always thought this was the hallmark of atheism.
With some exasperation and incredulity St Paul said to the Corinthians: Now if Christ raised from the dead is what has been preached, how can some of you be saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1Cor 15:12)
What possible sense can the Christian Faith make if there is no resurrection? Why did this woman want Holy Communion brought to her in hospital if she didn’t believe in the Resurrection?
I reminded her ‘But that’s our Faith; we have a wonderful future to look forward to.’ St Paul would have said: If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless. [And so is your receiving Holy Communion!] If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people. (1Cor 15:19)
But enough of that! Let’s move on to the readings of today, both of which forcefully affirm the truth of the resurrection.
The first reading from 2Maccabees presents us with seven Hebrew boys and their mother who are asked by the king to eat pig’s flesh, which is totally against the Law. Each stubbornly refuses - We are prepared to die rather than break the Law of our ancestors - and each is sentenced to a cruel death. As each one dies he asserts his faith not only in God’s promise of life beyond the grave, but also in a bodily resurrection.
'Inhuman fiend,’ says the second son to the king, ‘you may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again for ever.’
The third son willingly offers his hands to be cut off saying: It was heaven that gave me these limbs; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.
Likewise the fourth son, to the astonishment of the onlookers, declares: Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men's hands, yet relying on God's promise that we shall be raised up by him… .
In this refusal to sin against God, even at the cost of their lives, is contained a number of truths which lie at the heart of the Catholic Faith.
In The Gospel of Life Pope John Paul states: Certainly the life of the body in its earthly state is not an absolute good for the believer, especially as he may be asked to give up his life for a greater good.
This must be the starting point for the Christian – the life of the body in its earthly state is not an absolute good – and so we must be ready to sacrifice this lesser good (our life) for a higher good (God’s law).
In The Splendour of Life the Pope says: It is an honour characteristic of Christians to obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29) and to accept even martyrdom as a consequence.
Obedience to God must be a higher good than our human life. Another rather obvious lesson in all this is the same one we learned last week – faith has little meaning unless we practise it.
John Paul II also wrote a Letter to Children in which he told them: How can we fail to be reminded, for example, of holy boys and girls who lived in the first centuries and are still known and venerated throughout the Church? Saint Agnes, who lived in Rome; Saint Agatha, who was martyred in Sicily; Saint Tarcisius, a boy who is rightly called the "martyr of the Eucharist" because he preferred to die rather than give up Jesus, whom he was carrying under the appearance of bread.
The Gospel today restates the reality of life after death. Jesus instructs the proud Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, that if God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob they must be living, even though they have died. Otherwise, God would be God of the dead, and this is unthinkable.
So, how about you? Do you believe in the resurrection? What are you prepared to sacrifice for this belief? Your life?
And I guess you would want to ask me the same questions.