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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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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