By: Fr. James Gross
We’re coming to the point in Luke’s Gospel where several groups are confronting Jesus openly and trying to trap him in his speech. The Sadducees were a subset of the Jewish nation. Many of them were rich and upper-class people who collaborated with the Romans and held onto a minimal portion of the Jewish faith. They didn’t follow very closely the teachings of the prophets, or accept that there were angels, evil spirits, or an afterlife. They restricted themselves to the Law of Moses, and concluded that God’s rewards and punishments only happened here in this life.
So they concocted this bizarre case of a woman marrying seven brothers, even though they knew how outlandish it was. They wanted to use it to mock Jesus and discredit him. By the way, I wonder how the sixth and seventh brothers would have felt when their turn came. “Listen, Sally, I care about you, really I do, but I think I’ll go become a monk for about 40 years.” Maybe by that point she would have told them, “You might want to reconsider. People think that I’m poisoning my husbands’ soup.”
Jesus’ answer is masterful because he breaks through their fallacy without diminishing the marriage covenant. Husbands and wives take part in a holy vocation. Only God can undo their “I dos”. But Jesus is the Divine Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride. His bond of love with us is an everlasting covenant, and brings the fruit of peace.
It’s not like the first brother is waiting up in heaven to punch the other ones’ lights out. (What do you think you were doing with my girl?) All of us in heaven will be like brothers and sisters, giving of ourselves so as to receive a gift. There will be no room for jealousy or envy.
While we’re on the subject of marriage, we clergy have an obligation to tell you about the importance of our civic duty in the upcoming election. Some of you have voted early; others haven’t voted yet. Regardless, we’ve been entrusted with the ability to have our say according to the values that Jesus and His Church teach us, and we must not take this for granted.
First of all, we do not endorse specific candidates or parties. Besides, those things come and go. What we do is state the non-negotiable issues which every Catholic and person of good will must defend. I will mention three that are highest on the list: the freedom to participate in the covenant of Holy Matrimony as God has instituted it, the defense of people’s religious liberty in the public square, and particularly the protection and preservation of human life in every stage.
Let me give you a quick example that I heard another priest use recently. We can legitimately disagree about the need for a program like affirmative action on college campuses. But suppose a candidate for president or governor promoted a policy that would make it legal for someone to kill a person of color if that person created a hardship for them getting the education they desired. How many of you would be comfortable voting for that candidate? I’m guessing we would recoil in horror at the very thought of it. Whether that endangered person is old, young, disabled, or not yet born makes no difference whatsoever.
Fr. Courtright and I have the exact same advice for you this weekend. It is our duty as pastoral ministers to inform you that your soul will be in grave danger if you vote for a candidate or party that are committed to intrinsic evils such as expanding abortion on demand, especially if you present yourself for Holy Communion after casting such a vote with the full knowledge of what you’re doing.
Maybe you find that statement offensive. Let’s be honest; I have all sorts of Facebook friends who do. My challenge is to ask those of you why you feel that way. Is it because we do not care about your spiritual well-being? Is it because you’re convinced that what you hear at Mass has to conform to your own opinions? Is it because Jesus is no longer relevant or behind the times? Is it because your priest is stubborn and won’t “get with the program?”
At our ordination, the Bishop invited each of us forward, handed us a Book of the Gospels, and instructed us, “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” The gospel reminds us that when a shepherd exposes his sheep to the wolves, it’s as though he weren’t with them at all. Our responsibility as clergy is to the Holy Trinity, and God’s expectations of us are clear. If you have concerns about what I’ve said, please speak with me. We can be civilized and engage in dialogue because, after this Wednesday, we’ll still be neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lastly, the love of Christ spurs us on to stand strong in our commitment of faith, even when we face persecution. The siblings who were martyred in today’s first reading, along with their brave mother, demonstrate the valor that comes with life in the Holy Spirit. Every century, and indeed every generation, has its martyrs, and still does. The word martyr literally means “witness.” Like someone testifying at a trial, the martyr declares the whole truth of his or her love for Christ, despite the ridicule or detraction of their enemies.
There are degrees of martyrdom that all of us have the occasion to face, even if we do not give our lives or shed our blood. This community, and the outpouring of love among us, is living proof that we need not go it alone. We draw strength not only from Christ but from each other, too. I pray that every one of us here will feel comfortable telling one another, “You can call on me when times get tough and when you need encouragement, because we are walking with the Lord together.”
February 12, 2017
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