Sunday Word

Every body, living or deceased, awaits the resurrection

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, Nov. 10
2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14; Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thes 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:27-38

This summer as I met with a bereaved family to plan the funeral, I heard what so many others have said. Even as they choked back tears, they said, “Father, we want to celebrate her life.”

I get it. They were deeply grieving. They wanted to remember their mother and the good times in her life. A celebration of her life would ease the burden. Friends and family could tell stories, make us laugh and cry, and scroll photos on a video screen.

Funeral prayer cards capture the sentiment. For instance, “Your life was love and labor. Your love for your family true. You did the best for all of us. We will always remember you.” In the celebration of life, it’s about you. But what about God?

Funerals do more than remember the deceased with gratitude. They proclaim our God who suffered, died and rose from the dead that the beloved dead and all of us enjoy the fullness of his own blessed life.

Every Mass, including the funeral Mass, we worship this God. More than a celebration of the deceased’s life, every Mass celebrates the memorial of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The funeral homily, according to Deacon Frank Agnoli in Rites of Passage, weaves three stories: God’s story told through these Scriptures and liturgical texts, the story of this deceased person, and the story of these bereaved persons. (Full disclosure: I am the book’s co-author with Frank).

A eulogy about the deceased is good to hear before Mass when all are gathered and before the introductory rites. It can be given after communion. Words of love are especially fitting at the Vigil or reception.
The consolation we seek in a “celebration of life” limps when compared to God’s promise: In the resurrection, the body itself will share in Christ’s victory over sin and death! “But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise! Awake and sing, you who lie in the dust!” (Is 26:19). From the New Testament, Paul tells us, [the Lord Jesus Christ] “will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil 3:21). “Death is no more than passing from one room into another,” Helen Keller wrote. “But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” Every Sunday in the Nicene creed we profess, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.”

The resurrection of the body has consequences. It gave courage to the seven Jewish martyrs tortured to death. “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him” (1 Mc 7:14). It demands that we treat with respect our own body, “but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1004). In death, the body is not an empty plastic bottle to toss in the ocean, for every body, living or deceased, awaits the resurrection.

A funeral home had a sign in its foyer directing families to “The Celebration of Life for John Smith.” I was friends with the director of the funeral home. “Can you change the sign?” I asked. The next time I visited, the sign pointed the way, “Funeral for John Smith.”

To take to prayer: Pray the Apostles’ creed including “I believe in…the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo. He is the co-author of “Rites of Passage: Preaching Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals” (Liturgical Press).

Encounter Christ by going out on a limb

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, Nov. 3
Wis 11:22-12:2; Ps 145:1-2, 8-11, 13, 14; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10

I used to pick oranges climbing the tree, edging to the end of a limb to reach that bright sun-kissed orange. Emphasis on “used to.” Today, if I tried to be ten years old again, I would end up in the emergency room with a broken arm.

The story of Zacchaeus is for those of us who used to climb trees. Zacchaeus, bigshot customs collector in Jericho, went out on a literal limb. Although the text is not clear whether Zacchaeus or Jesus was “short in stature,” the crowd in either case got in the way. Zacchaeus, disregarding his age and dignity, climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus passing by. In seeking to see who Jesus was, he did not get a broken arm. He got much more.

In the Dr. Seuss chestnut, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the Grinch had stolen the Whoville Christmas lock, stock, and barrel. His heart “two sizes too small” could not bear their happiness. Only, the Who people without any Christmas tree, presents, or Who feast, awoke Christmas morning and celebrated all the same. The Grinch was stunned. He was so stunned that his heart that was two sizes too small grew three sizes too big! Instead of dumping his Santa sled off a snowy cliff, the Grinch returned the Christmas presents to Whoville with much rejoicing.

When Jesus saw Zacchaeus out on the limb, he called, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus scooted down, dignity be damned, and received Jesus with joy. Jesus had known his name. He had invited himself to his house. He had ignored the grumbling crowd and said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house … For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk 19:5, 9-10).

Encountering Christ can happen when you go out on a limb. What might that limb be? Make a good confession and tell the priest those regrets that you have hidden even from yourself. Or, Google the 12-step meeting and show up. How many of your days left on earth do you want to live in shame and isolation? Or, in honor of vocation awareness week, call the vocations director to talk about the idea of priesthood or religious life that won’t go away. Or, clear your schedule and make a retreat. Or, take the Zacchaeus challenge and give half of your wealth to the poor. Where your treasure is, after all, there your heart lies.

“God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us,” St. Augustine observed. Jesus saves us through his death and resurrection. Our part in our salvation is go out on a limb. It is there we meet him.

To take to prayer: What limb is beckoning you?

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo. He is the co-author of “Rites of Passage: Preaching Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals” (Liturgical Press).

Ability of humility

Father Brian Campbell
Sunday, Oct. 27
Sir 35:12-14, 16-18; Ps 34:2-3, 17-19, 23; 2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

October is almost over, can you believe it? With the Fall comes cooling temperatures and the rise of traffic as winter visitors come to Florida for the season. This season lots of things will be making noise for our attention like businesses, shows, sports and politicians. Some of this is good, some of it not so good. There are always going to be a lot of noise makers out there ‘tooting their horn’ to grab our attention. Whatever our horn tooting and external appearances may be, God can see the inner core of our souls. We are reminded this Sunday that God looks past the horn tooting; his attention is given to the lonely, the small and the poor of this world. For the servant at heart God give will great ability in humility.

This week’s Gospel from Luke 18:9-14 Jesus gives the famous Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. This story was “addressed to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else” (Lk. 18:9). During the time of Jesus we hear about the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, all of whom were important religious leaders. Though they had religious disagreements among themselves, they were generally looked up to by the Jewish public.

In this parable the Pharisee attempts to ‘toot his horn’ with God as if to impress God with just how wonderful he is. Not only is the Pharisee’s nose stuck up somewhere in the milky way galaxy but he goes onto compare himself with the rest of humanity and the other person who was praying next to him – the dreaded tax collector. I mean, who likes the IRS? Unlike a Pharisee who was highly regarded in Jewish society, a tax collector was despised by the public for obvious reasons. First they were seen as sell outs to the Roman occupiers in collecting taxes for the empire that conquered their own people of Israel. Second, the tax collector is seen as a cheat. In collecting taxes for the Roman Empire they would line their pockets with a few extra percentage points. Tax collectors made an extra cut from themselves. Despite being seen as despicable, it the tax collector has clear insight about who he is and feels badly about his bad decisions. The tax collector prays “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (vs.13).

Jesus uses the two contrasting figures of the Pharisee and Tax Collector on purpose. No one, including Christians are exempt from the meaning of this parable. Some among us have made a habit of going around making spiritual judgments claiming that some people are “saved” and others are not, that they “are in a state of grace” but “you are not”. Be careful. The “holier than thou” person is a narcissist, like the Pharisee. He or she does not have the ability to face their own faults in the mirror. Instead they gossip about others and put on airs to cover up their inadequacy. Unable to be honest with their true inner self, with God and others, the judgmental narcissist is locked in a prison of their own devices. Jesus makes it clear that despite public appearances it is the most unlikely candidate – the tax collector – who goes home justified in the eyes of God. The reviled tax collector is the one who before God and others has the ability acknowledge his faults – not the faults of everyone else. In his lowly confession the tax collector is set free.

Jesus is telling you and me that if we wish to be his Christian disciples we must humble ourselves before God and others. Those who toot their horns will be overlooked by the Judge of Souls. This week let us ask God to give us the heart of a servant – granting us the freeing ability of humility.

Father Campbell is a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach and parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Parish in Royal Palm Beach.

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