Tuesday, November 04, 2014
Homily - "Why?"
Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.
The most frequent question that people ask me is, “why?” “Why does the Church teach (this or that)?” is up there. But, mainly it’s, “why is God allowing (this or that)?” Why does God allow death or anything bad? We are celebrating All Souls Day, and praying for all those who have died. But, why did God allow them to die? These are all tough questions, and the Church does not claim to have all the answers. But, when it comes to death, tonight’s readings give some help to formulate answers.
My first funeral as a priest was for a baby who was two weeks out of the womb. How do you talk to that family? They are a devout, Catholic family, but they asked, “why?...why is God allowing this, Father?” I listened to them and cried with them. I later responded to them by saying that when I ask why, I look at a crucifix. Why did God allow His own son to die? If we look at why we call the day He died “Good Friday”, we can again arrive at an answer. We call it “Good” because of the good that came out of it: our salvation and redemption, of course. But, and this is what we hear in the readings tonight, resurrection is what comes out of Christ’s death. In other words, we call it Good Friday because of Easter Sunday.
In general, the Church teaches that God allows bad things to happen in order to bring good out of them. In fact, it’s a greater good. Think about Christ’s suffering and death: as bad as it all was, the good that God brought out of it was even greater. That greater good was resurrection. The second reading (Romans 6:3-9) says, “we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him”. In His resurrection, Christ conquered death! He has power over all things, including death. To get a fuller sense of the magnitude of this, imagine if you’re at a funeral. The casket is in the front of the Church, and the person has been dead for 3-4 days. Imagine the person getting out of the casket, and walking around….alive! That is resurrection. That’s what happened with Christ, and I’m sure it freaked the people out like it would freak us out at a funeral. In fact, even more so: no one had ever risen from the dead before Christ. That’s what happened with Him: His body was dead, and then it was alive.
That’s what can happen for us: “if, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him”. And, the Lord says in the Gospel (Jn 6:37-40), “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day”. If we live and die in Christ, we shall rise with Christ. So, God allows death, as bad as it is, so that something greater can come out of it which is resurrection and eternal life. In short, we have to go through death to get to Heaven.
But, what about suffering in this life? Why does God allow that? Every person in this Church is probably thinking that right now about a particular situation in our lives. Again, He is allowing it to bring about a greater good. I count fourteen things in the first reading (Wis 3:1-9) that are good coming out of bad…fourteen “goods”. Granted, half of them refer to life after death. But, listen to some of these things attributed to “the just”…by the way, any reference to a “just man” in the Old Testament is an indirect reference to Christ…He is the just man, and the “just” are those who follow Him. “The souls of the just are in the hand of God (awesome!), and no torment shall touch them…in peace…immortality…worthy…shine…judge nations…understand truth…grace and mercy.” The reading describes that they (we) are “chastised a little…God tried them…as gold in the furnace”. Sometimes, God tests us with suffering. He is trying us, and refining us as gold is refined in the furnace. Two things about this: one, if you are suffering, you being Christ-like. God allowed Christ to suffer because He of His trust and love for him. “God chastises those He loves”, we hear in the Book of Judith. Two, the good things I just mention are immeasurably valuable. You may not want to be like gold in the furnace; you may not want to be made stronger or better through fire or heat (one of the qualities of fire is that it purifies), you may just want to chill and have a normal situation. But, “God’s ways are not our ways”. And, the good that comes out of suffering is profound. We had a speaker at Newman last Tuesday who has suffered much in his life: Vietnam veteran and recent widower, with much suffering in between. He had so much wisdom, it was incredible. He was dropping “knowledge bombs” everywhere. Through his suffering, he has been able to better “understand truth”. If you are suffering, good will come out of it. Trust me.
Finally, tonight is like a funeral Mass for all the faithful who have died. At every funeral Mass, I preach about one of the greatest teachings of the Catholic Church: the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints refers to the interaction between the saints in Heaven and the saints on Earth. It happens at every Mass, including every funeral Mass. In a few minutes, I will consecrate bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . Where there is the Son, there is the Father and the Spirit, and all the angels and saints. The Eucharist is where Heaven and Earth unite. This Church will be like a chamber of Heaven. We won’t see the saints, but we believe that they will be here. Baby Ikesi and all those you know who have died who are among the saints in Heaven will be here. This is where the saints on Earth and in Heaven unite: the Communion of Saints.