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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11 (1)
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32
November 18, 2018

In two weeks, we will begin a new liturgical year in the church on the First Sunday of Advent but first we draw our current year to an “end.”  With that in mind our readings shift to images of the Second Coming, the end of the ages.

We hear Jesus speak of those days when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” and how we “will see the ‘Son of Man coming in the clouds.’”  In those days, the angels will gather up the elect.  Are you ready?

Scripture tells us that there will be earthquakes, famines, and wars before the Second Coming.  All these have happened.  In the first reading, Daniel speaks of “a time unsurpassed in distress.”  Is this what we see in our world today, shootings, clergy abuse scandal, famine, terrible divisions in the Middle east, and ideological rifts?

There is much evil in the world today.  That’s why we are now saying the St. Michael prayer at the end of Mass.  We are not the only parish in our diocese doing it.  In fact, there are whole dioceses in our nation bringing back the custom of saying the St. Michael prayer together.  We need help against evil.

When the Second Coming happens, “some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”  Where will you spend eternity?   Heaven or Hell?

When will the Second Coming happen?  Jesus provides an answer when he says, “But of that day or hour, no one knows.”  It might be tomorrow.  It might not be for thousand years or more.

If it is tomorrow, or whenever it is, will you be ready?  Of course, even if it doesn’t happen for a thousand years, we will each face our individual death before then.

Death is not something we like to talk about.  Sometimes it is because we fear where we will spend eternity.  Other times, we don’t like to talk about death because we see it as a loss of a loved one.  Our church rituals for a death are designed to bring us comfort by reminding us of eternal life.

Sometimes we think the funeral ritual is all about celebrating the life of the person in this world.  As such, funeral rituals include a time of sharing memories about the person.  We need to share the good memories.

However, as Catholics, the funeral Mass is not centered solely on remembering the person.  Certainly, this is important, but the funeral Mass is to offer the sacrifice of the Mass for our deceased loved one’s welcoming into Heaven.  We believe in faith that sins are forgiving in this world when we confess them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Yet, we still need to be cleansed of the effects of our sins.  The “place” for that is Purgatory.

Purgatory is a good thing.  It is where God “refines” us to make it possible for us to enter Heaven.  We offer the sacrifice in the funeral Mass for our deceased loved one’s time in Purgatory to be swift.

The same is true for our tradition of having Masses said for people who have died.  Offering the Mass intention is not simply a way to honor them.  It is to pray for their time in Purgatory purifies them so they can be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Traditionally, our Catholic funeral rites happen in three parts.  First come the calling hours.  Then, comes the funeral Mass followed by the burial rite.

The calling hours are often seen as a time of saying goodbye, offering our condolences, and sharing memories.  This is an important is an important part of the grieving process.  We can begin the calling hours with prayer.  Here, I think of the line in the Beatitudes, “blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  In expressing our sympathy, we offer the family comfort.

Next comes the funeral Mass.  As I alluded to before, this is not just a time of remembering our loved one.  It is a time to prayer for their welcoming into God’s kingdom.  The sacrifice we offer at the funeral Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus giving his life on the Cross so that our sins are forgiven.  Otherwise, Heaven is not possible for us.  Thus, the funeral Mass is about the hope we have of eternal life.  Life is not ended in eternal life but it is changed.

Then comes the burial.  You may have noticed that at the end of a funeral Mass, there is no blessing.  That’s because our prayers and rituals have not ended.  The burial, where we lay our loved one to their place of rest, is seen as an integral part of our funeral rites.  In taking our loved one to their grave, we are handing them over to God our Father while giving their earthly body a place of dignified rest.

Our Catholic faith used to forbid cremation.  This is because in cultures where cremation has been the normal custom, their beliefs around cremation rejected any idea of “resurrection.”  Now, many people choose cremation for simple space reasons.  Realizing this, our Catholic Church now allows cremation.

However, our faith still calls us to give the cremains a dignified place of burial just as we do for the body where the ashes are kept together.  By together, we should not divide them.  The ashes are what remains of our loved one.  We would not separate the parts of their body out of respect.  We are called to do the same with ashes.

I hope what I have said today helps you have a deeper appreciation of why our funeral rites are the way they are.  Death is not an easy thing to talk about but if we reflect on it, we can share with our family what it is we want at the time of our death and share that with our family so they know and are not burdened with trying to guess what their wishes are.  Also, by understanding our funeral rites a little better, we might be better aware of God’s presence with us when that moment comes.

 

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