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Bible Reflections View Comments

Use a Little Imagination!
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 10, 2013
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You may have encountered the term “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” perhaps in a news story about religious skeptics, or on a talk show, or in an online forum. Originally it was conceived by a college student as an objection to the teaching of creationism. It’s been adopted by a much wider group of people as a way of ridiculing belief in an omnipotent but invisible God.

In today’s Gospel, a group of Sadducees approaches Jesus with a question that, to their minds, shows the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife. Will the woman married to seven brothers belong to one, none, or all of them after death?

At the time of Jesus, many people still believed that the only chance people had of living on after death was through children and grandchildren who would carry on their name and bloodline. If a woman’s husband died and left her childless, his brother was expected to marry her and give her children.

Jesus cuts through the knotty puzzle set by his opponents and says, “They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” He says something important here not only about the afterlife but also about marriage and children. Other people are not a way to attain fame, fortune, or immortality. The problem with the question is a failure of imagination. Metaphors can’t be taken to absurd conclusions.

Today’s Scripture readings show us what really matters in life—and in death. Whether it’s a simple belief in eternal punishment or eternal reward or a more imaginative musing on what eternal life in the presence of God will be like, we have a deep sense that we’re more than just bodies that will die and decay.

Because we have a deeply sacramental sensibility, however, we believe that the things of this earth can in fact tell us something about the presence of God. And so we believe that the significant relationships in our lives continue after death, even if we don’t know exactly how that’s possible. We know that images and metaphors will never be exact.

People of faith have an immense capacity to enter into the mystery of things they can’t entirely understand or explain. Those who scoff at the notion of belief, who argue against the existence of God, miss the fact that the center of our relationship with God is not a matter of intellectual proofs or a series of required tests. Our relationship with God calls forth a love that can transform our lives.

The love of God calls us to live in the here-and-now, but also to hold fast to larger truths that make our present lives meaningful. We believe that there are principles worth dying for, ideals that are greater than life itself. In the reading from the Book of Maccabees, the belief in an afterlife so eloquently professed by the mother and her sons gives a nobility to their martyrdom and a purpose to their witness.

We see this kind of faith in something more in the love of Jesus that took him to the cross. We believe love led Jesus to give his life for us, teaching us how to live, how to love, how to die, and how to rise to new life. God is love, and love is stronger than death. If we live our lives and love others with this in mind, we will have here on earth a foretaste of what eternity in God’s presence will be.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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