Audio Homily here:
How do we want to die? I think we’ll be hearing that question more frequently after our current elections are over. “End of life” decisions are going to be part of the political agenda in the future. In our society we’ll be facing a range of questions about death and dying..
Let’s think about the term “end of life” first. If we listen to our first reading from the Book of Maccabees, the seven brothers who are put to death for defying their Greek conquerors and keeping their Jewish faith don’t see death as an end of life. “You are depriving us of this present life,” one of the brothers says, “but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”
The seven brothers see this life as given to them by God, who is master of life and death. Life doesn’t end. We are in God’s hands from the beginning. It’s for God to decide when we die, but God promises life beyond death. It’s for us to remain faithful as long as we live.
We hear in today’s gospel people denying that there’s life after death and trying to bait Jesus with what they think are absurd circumstances. Jesus tells the Sadducees that life beyond this life is not the same as here on earth. A heavenly life is beyond what we can imagine.
So denying life beyond death isn’t new. Today we can hear the same denial of eternal life, the life that Jesus promises and shows us in his resurrection. One of the signs of that denial may be, I think, the increasing number of suicides, even among young people. We can see this life as our only life, and when circumstances become seemingly intolerable and seemingly hopeless, some unfortunately end their earthly lives. But we leave them to God’s mercy.
Today death often goes unmentioned. We don’t want to talk about it. We just want to think about life. But death is an important part of life.
There was a passage in a popular book some years ago by Carlos Castenada about an old Indian, Don Juan, and a young sophisticated scientist from the northeast, walking together in the desert in the southwest. The two are world’s apart in the way they think.
As I recall it, the old Indian says to the young man, “Did you see the White Eagle circling over your shoulder?”
“ Yes, I see it,” the young man replies.
“That’s your death, keep an eye on it.”
“That’s a morbid thought,” the young man says, “We don’t think about that any more.”
“You should,” Don Juan says, “Keep an eye on your death. It will keep you from being small-minded.”
The young man’s describing the way a lot of people look at life today. We don’t want to think about death. We’re thinking more about extending life here on earth, through better diet, better heath care, better exercise; we don’t like to think of a life ending in death.
But we should keep death in mind. Death is the door to another life. By ignoring it we can limit ourselves to a life too small, too self-centered, too brief. We need to see life as God sees it. Life is not ended in death, it’s changed.
So death is not something to be ignored; it is one of the two most important moments in life. That’s why we say in the Hail Mary. “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”