Thursday, November 28, 2013

Suit Up; the End is Near

First Sunday of Advent Year A

A retreat master at one of our seminary annual retreats once shared this gem. After a near death experience, he came out having learnt one important lesson: “Never be caught naked or with your pants down when they come for your dead body!”  The thought of this triggered the memory of some childhood phobias. It was a good reminder to be always sufficiently attired, inside and outside of the privacy of my bedroom. But what happens when the unexpected takes place in the toilet or the bathroom? My fervent prayer to the Lord since then has been, “Lord, I don’t want to die this way!” Of course, the date and manner of my death was beyond my control or foreknowledge, but my prayer remains, “Please Lord, I don’t want to die with my pants down!”

Today, being the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in our Liturgical Calendar, the Church once again proves to be paradoxical and counter-cultural. We speak of the end right at the very beginning, a clear reminder that what sometimes may appear to be the end, such as death, may actually be the beginning. This also helps us to keep in mind that all things come to an end and that our lives are rushing to this climatic moment in the history of salvation. The gospel stresses the suddenness and unexpectedness of this moment. The fundamental message here is the need to be ready at all times. It is futile for Christians to waste time calculating when the Day will arrive. Therefore, you also must always be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. We should always be living with this keen awareness that the End may just be a breath or a heartbeat away.

But, for most people, including Catholics, it really doesn’t feel this way. The End doesn’t seem to be a big deal at all. The challenge for many modern Christians is not fear of martyrdom or persecution. It is the very real danger of getting tired, settling in, growing bored, and giving up on waiting for the Lord, convinced that the day of His coming will never arrive. It is the illusion of immortality. Many Catholics have lost the sense of expectancy or urgency, obscured by the tyranny of the ‘now’ – a culture which feeds our need for instant gratification and which is a stranger to the virtues of waiting, patience and silent endurance. A Jesuit writer once wrote, “The worst danger is not pain or poverty. The worst danger is sleeping through the drama of life, the struggle for life and for community against the forces of death and despair.” In other words, many would be caught with their pants down when the End comes and won’t even know what hit them. It is a world which thinks it is broad awake when it is really sound asleep. That is the greatest tragedy of all!

All of this does not allay or lessen my fear of dying in the buff. Since, Christ’s coming and the End is sudden and unexpected, how would I ever be sure that I’ll be properly dressed for the occasion? The truth is that I can never be certain. This is when the second reading, St Paul’s letter to the Romans, throws necessary light on my predicament. One of the crucial features of Paul’s strategies in all of his exhortations was to generate very strong and potent imageries in the minds of his hearers and readers. Here in this passage, St Paul uses the image of clothing, dressing and nakedness to stress the fundamental duty of every Christian, who is called to live in accordance with their dignity as children of God. My preoccupation with being ‘dressed up’ at the moment of my demise is actually misconceived and a distraction from a graver matter – being ‘dressed’ in Christ – or ‘putting on the armour of Christ’ or being ‘clothed in Christ.’

The clothing metaphor symbolises the identity and character of its wearer and it is hence universally understood that believers are being exhorted to adorn themselves with this identity in the world in which they lived. To put on the Lord Jesus Christ means that the Christian is to be cloaked, clothed, garmented with the character, the disposition, the attitude, the habits and the virtues of Jesus Christ. That is why we are called ‘Christians’ – a Christian is a ‘little Christ’ or ‘Christ-like.’  A Christian is revealed and distinguished by the nature of the “clothing” of honourable and righteous behaviour, which is the “armour of light”, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. To put on Christ means throwing off the putrid and tattered garments of sin and darkness, in order that one may adorn oneself with the sturdy armour of light. It’s putting to the death the old self and putting on the new man that is continually being renewed in knowledge. Therefore, the most important duty as the Day of the Lord draws near is to live as children of the light, beautifully adorned in the robes of Christ, who dispels the darkness of sin and death.

Though St Paul obviously intended his clothing metaphor to have a spiritual meaning rather than be seen as a commentary of Christian-compliant dress code, this discussion on clothing oneself with Christ inevitably leads to the discussion of proper dressing for mass. Last week, I mentioned that the Eucharist is regarded as the eschatological meal, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. If you remember the other parable of Christ concerning such a wedding banquet, the anonymous guests who were found to be not properly attired were thrown out into the night. Those of you here who now shudder as the spotlights hits you and as the temperature goes up on the seats you are sitting on, do not have to worry about what’s going to happen next. I’ve not instructed the Ministers of Hospitality to cast you out into the dark. But a word about proper attire needs to be mentioned here.

Many often resort to the usual not too Biblical maxim that ‘God judges our hearts, not our appearances’ as an argument to legitimise sloppy and bad dressing during liturgical services. We rant over the self-righteous Pharisees and anachronistic fashionistas who object to our choice or style of dressing. We claim that it boils down to humility and simplicity. Of course, let’s start off with the last argument – I believe that we can understand and accept that humility is not something we flaunt and wear on our sleeves like a badge. Similarly, the question of appropriate dressing is never about prudishness and fashion styles. It has everything to do with our clothing being a reflection of our identity, thus the metaphor chosen by St Paul. To deny that dressing has anything to do with our proper attitude and reverence for the mass is dishonest and it also rejects the principle of sacramentality which imbues our entire Catholic Theology of worship. Remember the age-old definition of a Sacrament, “Outward sign of inward grace.” The external is always seen as a reflection of the internal. So poor, sloppy dressing merely reflects one’s inner attitude towards the Eucharist – it is one which is impoverished, lazy, contemptuously familiar with the sacred, more self-oriented than God-oriented. It’s about convenience and comfort rather than providing due respect and honour to the one who allowed himself to be stripped of all honour so that he may adorn us with the glory and beauty of God.

And this is finally what is expected of us Christians at all times. Our constant orientation to the sacred, to the Kingdom of God amidst the mundane activities of human life and relationship. The difference between Noah and his neighbours was not that Noah and his family refrained from eating and drinking and marrying. Presumably Noah and his family were doing all those things as well. Even more telling, the difference between the two farmers and the two millers is not the farming and the milling. In each case, both people are doing the exact same thing. The difference lies not in the activity but in the awareness of the broader perspective of the Kingdom of God as one is going about the mundane activities of daily life. The passage is about orientation. Is the eating and drinking, the marrying, the work of tilling a field or grinding grain all there is? Are these tasks and relationships, important and vital as they are, the reason we have been created and given life? The answer of St Paul, the answer of the gospel of Matthew, the answer of the incarnated Christ whom we celebrate in Advent, is an unequivocal “No.” It’s not enough to be just clothed, but it is most necessary to be clothed in Christ.

As we attend to the details of being alive in the company of those who share our air and earth, we must also be alert to what God is doing in our world. We live in hope, a hope in the God who is, in the end, in charge of history. Meanwhile we tend fields and grind wheat, we drink, we go on with our work and play, we marry and of course, we die —but with a heart oriented to God and a mind alert to the incarnate Christ. We may never be certain that we would meet death being fully clothed, but let us for whatever reason be never caught dead without being clothed, dressed, garmented, armoured, dressed in Christ – for He is the only hope of our salvation! Only he can turn our darkness into light!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

Christ the King – Year C

“Le Roi est mort.  Vive le Roi” “The king is dead; long live the king!” You may have heard of this expression which has its origins in the days France still had a monarchy. It was the ancient form of proclaiming the ascension of a new king to the throne, often mrobidly at the deathbed of his predecessor. It speaks of the instantaneous transfer of sovereignty from one monarch to his successor, upon the death of the former. I couldn’t help but notice some spiritual irony in this phrase. Usually they’re talking about two different people the deceased king and the one who is succeeding him on the throne.  But both phrases could be spoken of Jesus, the King of kings. One can further note the irony of juxtaposing ‘life’ with ‘death’.  But we Christians should have no problem appreciating this association. These two themes summarily express the teaching which is at the heart of Christianity, the Paschal Mystery. The King who dies on Good Friday, seemingly defeated by death, rises on Easter Sunday, after having vanquished his foe, His victory announces the resplendent dawn of eternal life!

This week is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. We continue to witness the juxtaposition of the themes of ‘life’ and ‘death.’ Each year begins liturgically with birth and ends with death. At the beginning of the liturgical year sits the beautiful Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas, the King is born. Today, being the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we witness the death of the King on the cross. But his death is really the culmination of his ascension to glorious throne of the universe. How could the ugly cross be mistaken for a majestic throne? Over the centuries, the cross as the symbol of our salvation has been fashioned not with a bloody corpus on a piece of ordinary wood but with jewels. Precious gems and gold spoke to the faithful of the victory Jesus had achieved over sin and death and of his reign as king of heaven and earth that had been established on the unlikely throne of the gibbet. Make no mistake that the precious ornamentation is not designed to hide and sanitised the horror of this instrument of torture and execution. The jewel encrusted and gold plated crosses that adorned our worship are meant to reveal and manifest its true meaning.

Today we are invited to stand at the foot of cross and witness this truth. By their portrayals of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, the evangelists, especially Luke and John, underscored the fact that Jesus went to his death, not as a defeated victim but as victorious crown prince, not as the last act of sad dramatic tragedy but as the culminating scenario of a well planned love story. By means of the threefold taunt or mockery that comprises the heart of St Luke’s crucifixion scene, he highlights the saving power of Jesus on the cross. All three taunts provide us with different appellations for Jesus: that of the leaders, “…he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One;” the soldiers, “King of the Jews,” and finally the unrepentant criminal, “… the Christ?” By an ingenious twist of irony, St Luke has organised his narrative so that the enemies of Jesus are his very confessors and the theological interpreters of the saving event of his dying!

The plaque with the charge that hung above his head on the cross becomes the proclamation of his ascension, “This is the King of the Jews!” In Jesus, the charge of his ‘crime’ is a profession of faith and an act of allegiance in the Lord. Finally, in the dialogue with the repentant thief, the only one who recognised Jesus’ royal dignity, we see the final act of affirming his kingship. The good thief asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. He was looking to a future reign, but Jesus handed out the royal pardon immediately. Jesus was king even on the cross, welcoming people into his kingdom and not waiting until he was enthroned in glory. In this way Jesus shows that he is indeed a king, though he reigns from a bloody cross rather than from a majestic throne. In the story of Jesus, kingship is recast. The miracle lies in the fact that God shares the potential hopelessness of the human situation, but does so as king, as the source of our hope and life. Jesus took his wounds to heaven, and there is a place in heaven for our wounds because our king bears his in glory.

In addition to this beautiful message of the King’s solidarity with his subject, the context in of the institution of this feast by Pope Pius XI in 1925 should also be of special significance to us in these tumultuous times. Pope Pius connected the denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism and authoritarianism. Pius XI witnessed humanistic ideologies and socio-economic and political solutions being portrayed as the new means of salvation in the world.  Ultimately, he witnessed a world, and especially governments growing increasingly hostile to religion. Just as the Feast of Corpus Christi was instituted when devotion to the Eucharist was at a low point, the Feast of Christ the King was instituted during a time when reverence for Christ’s and the Church’s authority was waning, when the feast was most needed. This feast is still much needed today as the problems have not vanished, but instead have worsened.

Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects.
  1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
  2.  That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
  3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the power of the state continues to be used to curtail religious freedom, ironically often in the name of religious freedom, that is protecting the rights of those who may feel offended by our beliefs. We are witnessing the intolerance of tolerance. Governments and courts continue to issue laws and rulings that clearly contravene the authority of God and his laws. Authoritarianism often disguises itself as the dictate of the majority. On the other end of the spectrum, individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Modern man has no place for God. Modern man chooses to bow to not one except himself. More than ever, we are in need of this image of Christ the King.

In these difficult times, when our allegiance is being questioned because of our perceived obtuseness in refusing to obey clearly unjust conventions, legal rulings, policies enacted by those in authority, we need to restate once more that our citizenship is in Malaysia remains intact and firm, and we should continue to be patriotic and law-abiding citizens. But nevertheless, as Christians we need to remember and to remind others that our citizenship is also in Heaven. We must remember that we are first and foremost responsible to be law-abiding citizens of heaven and its laws. Government is not an invention of mankind. Governance is created by God. All authority comes not from man, but from God. Thus the laws enacted by such authority cannot be law unless they are in conformity with God’s laws. Christ Our Lord is our King. He is the King of all individuals and all nations. He is the final Judge, the Highest Court of Appeal, and he will ultimately come to Judge the living and the dead. Our duty to God and to our nation must thus be this - to serve the common good according to Christ’s law and not just the interest of some according to man’s dictates. Today, our voices must not just reach the rafters of the Church but must resound to the ends of the earth, Our King is not dead! He is risen! Long Live Christ the King!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is the Sky Falling?

Thirty Third Ordinary Sunday Year C

Mention the story of Chicken Little, the classic tale of rumour, paranoia, and infectious mass hysteria, and you would most likely be reminded of the constant refrain of the various characters therein, ‘The sky is falling!” Set against this extremely alarmist outlook of the ‘end’, is the other more sedated worldview that perceives any preoccupation with the end of the world as irrational. Thus, T. S. Eliot, at the conclusion of his 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men,” wrote, “This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang but a whimper.” That’s a far cry from the cosmic crisis depicted in the apocalyptic genre of books and films, which is often crammed full of bangs, computer-generated crashes, explosions, earthquakes, and floods, including invading aliens or mythological gods bent on destroying humanity.

Curiosity about the end of the world abounds. For some, the Lord’s return marking the End times evokes eager and joyful anticipation. But for most others, it spells dread and fear.  I guess the difference in attitude takes a lifetime to acquire, a lifetime of preparation, and a lifetime of faithfulness. The passing of a millennium, wars and natural disasters are commonly interpreted as signs of approaching apocalypse; future famines and ecological crises are often promoted as hastening the same. But are we really living in the end times? Is it only a myth generated by brainless cult leaders poised to create mass hysteria? And what, exactly, does the Catholic Church teach about the end of the world?

A cursory reading of the New Testament gives the impression of two distinct and seemingly opposing positions. On the one hand, there is the resolute rejection of asking for signs and predicting the end based on empirical evidence of history. In this line of thought, the Second Coming of Christ or the End of the World resists all efforts at dating. The only answer to the request for signs and to every attempt to make Christ’s coming a matter of empirical description is the rejection of the question itself and its replacement with the challenge, “Be watchful!” “Be vigilant!” Date-setting is not an option for followers of Christ.

But there is also another line of biblical thought, often found in apocalyptic literature that asserts that there are signs announcing Christ’s coming and a vigilant Christian should be wise enough to pay attention to these. How do we understand and reconcile these two seemingly opposing lines? We can do so only in the light of the divine human nature of Christ. On the one hand, we have Christ who is also God, who is the goal of history, who transcends time and thus cannot be measured by it. On the other hand, Christ is also the man, a subject of time and through his coming, the invisible God has been made visible and thus signs of his presence are discernible.

Our gospel passage naturally brings together both lines of thought. This pericope begins with Jesus prophesying the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. This begs the further question which is placed on the lips of the disciples, “when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?” Jesus first provides an important caution that they should not be deceived by false prophets who either present themselves as messiahs or postulate the date of the apocalyptic event. “Refuse to join them … do not be frightened.” But then, Jesus proceeds to enumerate the signs, “Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” This followed by a slew of persecutions.

As dramatic and frightening as these cataclysmic signs may be, the signs here and mentioned elsewhere in scriptures, at any rate, do not permit a dating of the End. Social revolutions, political upheavals, religious persecutions, cataclysmic disasters are not confined to any age. The truth of the matter is that you would find these signs in every age of human history. They do, however, relate the End to history – but by compelling every age to be seen literally as ‘the End’, and thus the call for constant vigilance and watchfulness. They indicate that the time of the End is ever present, that the world never ceases to touch that ‘wholly other’ world, and so time is no longer measured as ‘chronos’ (chronogically measured according to clocks, calenders and sun dials), but has also become ‘chairos’, the critical moment of decision, because by Christ coming, everyone is now compelled to make a choice, to choose him or to reject him, one can never remain neutral. Our neutrality already betrays a rejection.

Even in his own age, St Paul encountered members of Christian communities who read the signs incorrectly and as a result of that, made the incorrect response. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, some of the community, prompted by erroneous ideas about the coming of Christ, had opted for a kind of retirement. Because of the idleness of some of its members, the rest of the community was burdened financially. They had become a social nuisance. Paul admonished these people and reminded them that if they were truly believed that the End was at hand, they should be inspired by loving altruism rather than by lazy selfishness. Rather than to be distracted by trying to look for signs and give all kinds of strange unearthly interpretations to them, Christians should always be concerned with the task of the advancement of the gospel. The End Times stresses the urgency of this task. 
For us Catholics, the Last Days have already begun. The World is coming to an end! It started with the first coming of Christ at his Incarnation. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb 1:1-2). It was the Incarnation, the entrance of God into time and space, which ushered in the end times and the last days.  The heart of this teaching is Jesus’ proclamation that he was establishing the Kingdom of God. This everlasting kingdom was realised through his death, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven. At The End, the return of Christ in glory will fully reveal and manifest the Kingdom.

In fact, Christ himself is the Kingdom. He calls out for all men to enter into his divine life, which on earth is found in his Mystical Body. This is the work of divine restoration. Thus, the last days are all about a new creation and a new people, chosen by Jesus Christ and growing within history. Therefore, “by gazing on the risen Christ,” wrote Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Christianity knew that a most significant coming had already taken place. It no longer proclaimed a pure theology of hope, living from mere expectation of the future, but pointed to a ‘now’ in which the promise had already become present. Such a present was, of course, itself hope, for it bears the future within itself.”

So, unlike popular imagery of the End Times, Catholics do not need to hit the panic button and run helter skelter for cover whilst crying, ‘the sky is falling! The sky is falling!’ Indeed, we await the Second of Christ with great anticipation and we ritually celebrate it whenever we gather for the Eucharist, the “eschatological sacrament.” All of the sacraments have an eschatological character and purpose—that is, they are oriented to our eternal communion with God. This is especially true of the Eucharist, for it is the “pledge of glory” and “an anticipation of the heavenly glory”. For us, anticipation and readiness need not turn into despair, fear, or the error of date setting. For us, it means being focused on being true children of God. To do so calls for us faithfulness, perseverance and endurance

“The doctrine of the Second Coming has failed, so far as we are concerned”, wrote C. S. Lewis, “if it does not make us realise that at every moment of every year in our lives (the) question ‘What if this present were the world’s last night?’ is equally relevant.” This life will end one way or another, to be followed by judgment and the revelation of who we have become and who we really are. For all who are alive today, the ‘End’ can just be a heartbeat and a single breath away. For some, the ‘End’ may come through an unforeseen death, for others the result of persecution, and still others the result of catastrophe. But for all, the advice was and remains the same. Confident hope, joyful anticipation and patient endurance spell not merely survival but victory and salvation.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

We cannot live without the resurrection

Thirty Second Ordinary Sunday Year C

On his first trip outside the province of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI made known to the world the powerful message left by the martyrs of Abitene. In the year 304, a group of Christians from the town of Abitine in North Africa gathered on Sunday, in defiance of orders from Emperor Diocletian, for the celebration of Mass.  They were “caught” and promptly hauled into court.  When asked why they disobeyed, one of the worshippers, Emeritus, gave this simple and profound answer: “Sine Dominico non possumus(We cannot live without Sunday). Emeritus and 48 others eventually died martyrs’ deaths because they simply could not live without Sunday, without the Eucharist. They died knowing that death was not the worst thing that could happen to them. A worst thing would be a death without the resurrection.

The term ‘dominicum’ has a triple meaning. First, it indicates the Lord’s Day, Sunday. Secondly, it points to the occasion for the celebration of the Mass. This group of Christians possessed the deep conviction that Sunday Mass is a constitutive element of one’s Christian identity and that there is no Christian life without Sunday and without the Eucharist. Lastly, and this is the point we hope to consider this Sunday is the content of the Lord’s Day – it was the day Christians commemorated the resurrection of Christ. Sunday is the day Christians throughout the whole world declare unabashedly their faith in the resurrection, “Jesus is Risen”. This disarmingly simple statement and all that it implies has radically altered the course of human events and inspired thousands of Christians to go to their death, rather than to renounce their faith in the one who promises them eternal life. For Christ’s rising has become the pledge of our own rising and his strength has become our strength.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is calling us to remember that God’s care is not limited to this world, and that the successes and failures of this age are not ultimate. He is calling us to remember that we are not children of this age, but of the resurrection. And Jesus himself and his resurrection are our guarantee that God can overcome all things, even death. In the gospel we are introduced to a group called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy among the Jews by whom the political life of the people was largely controlled from the time of Alexander the Great onwards. The Sadducees were disenchanted with the traditions of the Pharisees, they rejected the extended canon of Scriptures, the concept of the resurrection of the dead, and the existence of angels and spirits, and they leaned heavily on the role of the responsibility of man. The belief in resurrection or the rejection of this doctrine, therefore, became the signature difference between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees thought of the kingdom in terms of the present, not in terms of the future. The kingdom to them (especially since they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead) is now.

Seen in this light, we can understand the hypocrisy behind the Sadducees’ hypothetical question of the one bride and the seven brothers. This is not a search for the truth. The Sadducees do not expect, indeed, do not want, an answer. They were asking Jesus about something they didn’t believe. Indeed, they were seeking to establish their premise that belief in a resurrection from the dead is both unbiblical and impractical. They hope to stump Jesus, and thus to demonstrate how “foolish” ideas of a resurrection from the dead are. If Jesus, the most noted teacher alive, could be stumped by their question, then He would become (reluctantly) an endorsement for their view. But it would be they who would be stumped.

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducee’s hypothetical scenario is direct and devastating. He speaks of two ages, “this age” and “that age,” which are very different from each other. The kingdom of God will be very different from the way things are now. I recall the words of Pope Benedict, “We could regard the Resurrection as something akin to a radical evolutionary leap, in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence.” There will be no death, there will be no bearing of children, and there will be no marriage. Thus, the theoretical problem posed by the Sadducees is erroneous and non-existent. Resurrection will pose no problem for husbands and wives. Marriage is for now, but not for heaven.

The message of this week’s readings is an important reminder of the central importance of the belief in the resurrection. It is truly a pity and ironic that most people do not feel this way. The degree to which we believe in the resurrection of the dead will determine the way we presently live. If we are assured of our own resurrection, we will boldly stand for Christ, neither fearing man, nor death. If we are certain of a future life in God’s kingdom, entered into by means of resurrection, then we will look at this life very differently. We will be encouraged to lay up treasures in heaven, rather than to hoard wealth on earth. The commands of our Lord to “sell our possessions, and to give to the poor” can now be seen as God’s gracious imperatives, designed to stimulate in us a hunger for heaven.

The resurrection also throws new light on our present sufferings. The resurrection reminds us that death is not the end of everything. For those who believe in the resurrection, death wields no finality. Faith in the resurrection allows us to see our sufferings as temporary. Faith in the resurrection gives us hope in order to bear the pains, disappointments, hurts, and sufferings which we experience throughout life. Faith in the resurrection allows us to see that God promises us life and not death.

There is one other important point that we shouldn’t miss in this passage. Admittedly marriage is not the primary point of teaching here but Jesus did reveal something important about our understanding of marriage, although there simply isn’t time and space to develop this topic fully. Marriage was instituted by God from the very beginning as his ideal plan for humans to live in community in this age but Jesus here reveals that marriage will not last in its present form in the age to come. This is important because it means that there must be a specific purpose for marriage in this age beyond two people coming together to form a union for eternity. St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians reveals that there is a purpose for marriage that stretches beyond marriage itself. He says distinctly that that marriage is a great mystery that teaches human beings about the truth of the relationship between Christ and his Church. The institution of marriage is not something designed to make humans happy but it is the context in which we can develop the holiness that God calls us to have as his people and to learn about the reconciliation between God and his people. Thus in a sacramental marriage between two baptised individuals, marriage is no longer just divinely instituted human institution – marriage is a means and path to salvation.

In spite of whatever we experience in this life, in spite of all the difficulties we may encounter, we live with the hope of the resurrection. This hope is what St. Paul is speaking about in the second reading: “the Lord is faithful, and he will give you strength and guard you from the evil one.” Whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, whenever we gather on the Lord’s Day to celebrate the commemorative meal of our salvation, we should call to mind the words of the martyrs of Abitene, Sine dominico non possumus”, “We cannot live without Sunday, without the hope of the resurrection!” Because Christ who died for us now lives, death no longer wields the final blow; death has become the passage to fuller life.