Life, Faith and Love Are Stronger than Death

The following blog post is a reflection that Sister Jean Anne Zappa gave at our Mass of Remembrance on Sunday, November 10, 2019.

Image https://voice.ons.org/

32nd Sunday Ordinary Time
Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; II Thessalonians 2;16-3:5; Luke 20: 27-28

Last year, on October 27, I was in Pittsburgh visiting my family. That morning we just found out that a mass shooting was taking place in real time at a Jewish synagogue while three different congregations were at worship. We were only a mile away from the synagogue as this was happening.

Shock and terror hit not only that neighborhood but the entire city because this neighborhood was one of the most diverse and friendliest neighborhoods in the city. After all, this is where Mr. Rogers had lived too.

Later, we heard that 11 worshippers were killed and six were seriously wounded. My sister knew three of the victims. It was announced that a prayer service would be held the next day. However, a teenager was interviewed and said, “We cannot wait till tomorrow. We need to be together in prayer and hope and faith in the midst of these people dying for their faith.” That evening, 3,000 people showed up in the pouring rain across from where the shooting happened. They prayed for hope, peace forgiveness and reconciliation.

As I prayed over todays readings, this experience came to me. In Maccabees, you hear a family being tortured and killed for their faith, not unlike what happened in Pittsburgh or the Baptist church in Charlottesville; or the mosque in New Zealand; or where there are so many religious wars of people dying for their faith. 

The author of Maccabees was not a careful historian, but had the gift of presenting many stories of personal faith that would help others in similar times of persecution and martyrdom. The brothers in Maccabees died for their faith as they professed obedience to the Law and belief in the resurrection of the body. In praising their fidelity, the book describes an afterlife with God for those who live a just life.

In the gospel, a controversy ensues between Jesus and the Sadducees, who try to trick him about relationships in the afterlife. Of course, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter and teaches them that the resurrected life is for everyone right now within the community who are faithful in relationships. Do not be over anxious about the final coming. Live now to the fullest, embrace relationships, be faithful here and now—then, at the end, you will know that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and of all of us, for God is the God of the living, not the dead.

So, Maccabees was written to help families who were struggling with persecution and who lost loved ones, to have faith and to assure them of a new life. Jesus reminds us that fidelity in relationships are important, so that we may enjoy God’s presence and each other now as well as on the other side of this life more than we could imagine. Remember, in the preface for the Mass of the dead we say life has not ended, but has changed.

St Paul got it right for the Thessalonians. God has loved us and given us encouragement and hope to strengthen us in deed and word, now. The Lord is faithful, God will strengthen us as we direct our hearts to love of God and Christ and each other.

We gather today to remember our loved ones who died. Our relatives and friends who touched our lives, whose relationships we cherished and shared so much, folks who may have suffered a long time or died suddenly. We miss them dearly because we had a deep relationship with them. We may slowly learn to live with their absence, but we will never forget them because we never forget love.

This is the hope and the new life Jesus promises us in the gospel. Embracing to live the present in relationship with others is a glimpse of the continued life with God. Forever.

The movie Coco tells the tradition of the Mexican celebration of the day of the dead, not unlike our all soul’s day celebration. It is a time to remember the loved ones who died, to reunite with the spirit of the ancestors. In the movie if the dead are not remembered, if the living do not believe they are alive in a new way, they have what they call “a final death.” At the end of the movie, the character Miguel says we never forget; because we are in relationship with them, we are all family. Through Jesus and our faith and hope we know there is no final death but life eternal that begins here on earth.

Father Ronald Rolheiser in his book, The Cross and Resurrection, said, “Love triumphs over hate, peace over chaos, fidelity over despair, life over death, good over evil.”

Back to the synagogue shooting—the next day, all across Pittsburgh there were already banners and t-shirts that said, “stronger than hate.” A few weeks ago, at the one-year remembrance gathering, the rabbi who was wounded in the shooting said, “We are still here, faithful to the Torah, still praying, still remembering, still doing acts of mercy, love and devotion, still people of faith.”

So, my friends—life, faith and love are stronger than death, we are stronger because we are people of faith, because of God’s fidelity and our relationships with God, our deceased and each other. We are stronger than death.

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