Torch Commentary from the Dominicans
Torch provides a Catholic homily each week by Dominican friars; past homilies can be found on their site here
Beyond the Horizon
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Fr Matthew Jarvis contemplates the end of death, and our Christian hope in the life of the world to come.
A few years ago, a Dominican priest reassured me that he found leading funerals much less problematic than weddings. Whereas the minister can be treated as incidental to a happy couple’s ‘big day’, at a funeral he is considered indispensable. The mourners at a funeral look to the minister for hope: ‘At least he believes in the resurrection,' they might think, while struggling with their own flickering faith.
The horror of death lies in its termination of something good, a loved one’s life or our own. Death as a dead end – that’s what we fear. No light at the end of the tunnel. Just...the end.
All of this sharpens the question for the minister, of course. What do I truly believe? In today’s gospel, the Sadducees argue against the possibility of resurrection (they had a strong case that the Books of Moses were hardly explicit on this point). Aren’t many of us Sadducees underneath, when push comes to shove? If I were in the shoes of the Maccabean brothers, I suspect I would much rather eat the pork than be tortured to death!
The Maccabean brothers behave radically differently. Their words testify to an unshakable faith that death is not the end: 'you may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again for ever.’ The whole story is highly edifying, if also fairly gruesome. The narrative is skilfully woven to contrast the inhumanity of the torturers with the superhuman virtue of the martyrs. Each brother successively makes a more profound statement of faith: we would die rather than sin (v. 2), God will raise us up (v. 9), God will restore our flesh (v. 11), while the wicked will be punished (v. 14). It’s an upward spiral of faith in the justice of God who will not let death be the end. As St Paul will say, 'the Lord is faithful, and he will give you strength and guard you from the evil one’ (2 Thess 3:3); that is, he will guard your soul from evil, while your body he will restore in the next life.
Death may appear to be the end, but these faithful witness claim they can see beyond. The great Dominican preacher, Fr Bede Jarrett, wrote a prayer in time of grief, saying: 'life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.’
Could we go further, then, and see in death some kind of advantage? The horizon is a helpful boundary to our vision. The frame of a painting can highlight the beauty and value of what is contained within. St Ambrose recalls that ‘death was not of God’s fashioning’ (Wis 1:13) but goes on to argue that God gave us death as a 'remedy’ for our sinful and pitiful condition: ‘Deathlessness is no blessing but only a weariness if grace does not transfigure it.’
We can start to become reconciled to our mortality when we learn to see death as a new beginning, not merely an end. This is the faith of the saints. St Thomas More, the day before his martyrdom, wrote to his daughter Margaret Roper, praying that ‘we maie merily meete in heaven’.
But there’s a final caveat. The afterlife should not be imagined merely as a continuation of this earthly existence. Grace transfigures us: our mortal bodies will be changed into glorious ‘spiritual bodies’, perfectly alive and imperishable (1 Cor 15:42ff). So, marriage is only ‘til death do us part’ not because it will be abolished in heaven, but because it will be perfected and fulfilled beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Heaven, after all, is the wedding feast of the Lamb of God. The spiritual union of all mankind in God is a sort of heavenly marriage to everyone, a pure communion of love. As St John Chrysostom wrote to a young widow, 'For this is only a bodily kind of intercourse, but then there will be a union of soul with soul more perfect, and of a far more delightful and far nobler kind.’
You might argue that Our Lord should have said to the Sadducees, ‘Yes, she will be wife to all seven in heaven!' But that would be too easily misunderstood in an earthly and limited way. Hence the sober realism of the Irish Dominican friar who, hearing a brother dreaming piously about sheltering with the other Dominicans under Our Lady’s mantle in heaven, retorted: ‘Well, my vows are only until death!’
Such a radical relativisation of the things of this life depends on having confidence in the resurrection, the ultimate beginning of a life in which, if Donne is right, there are 'no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity’.
BISHOP ROBERT BARRON
Bishop Robert Barron is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He is also the founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire, which reaches millions of people by utilizing the tools of new media to draw people into or back to the Catholic Faith.
The feast that most readily comes to mind when the word "Presentation" is used, is the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. However, this is not the feast we keep on the 21 November. That feast deals with the presentation of His mother Mary in the Temple by her parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple is not recorded anywhere in the Gospels, although it is entirely logical to accept that it did happen. The event is mentioned in a number of apocryphal writings: the Proto-evangel of James, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary are three examples. In the last named, it was stated that Joachim and Anna faithful to a vow they had made, presented the child Mary in the Temple when she was three years old; that the child herself mounted the Temple steps, and that she made her vow of virginity on this occasion.
Following the law it was a Jewish custom that the Hebrew firstborn male children were presented in the Temple. This induced pious Jewish parents to observe the same religious rite with regard to their other specially favoured children, some of whom were educated and lodged in the precincts of the Temple. There they were instructed in the Holy Scriptures, especially in the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, and were taught to pray earnestly to God. Some of the children went on to attend the priests and Levites in the sacred ministry. The girls were also trained to perform household duties. It has been the tradition of the Church from an early period that Our Lady shared this privilege of being educated in the precincts of the Temple, and the institution of the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary seems to have settled the question in the minds of Catholics who followed the saying "The Law of Prayer is the Law of Faith". The great Doctors of the Church have insisted that she made a reference to her vow of virginity, when she said to The Angel Gabriel "I know not man".
The Temple, the House of her Heavenly Father, was a fitting place for the future Mother of God to be brought up. There she could learn to serve and love Him so well. By its detachment from the world, life in the Temple prepared her each day, more and more, to pronounce her perfect "Yes" to the Divine Will. It is interesting to see how the Presentation of Our Lady is reflected in The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) 25 “At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation,31 which you have prepared for all people.32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations and he is the glory of your people Israel!”33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
The feast itself seems to have been kept in the Eastern Church before it became popular in the West. The first known mention of the feast of the Presentation of Mary comes in a document from Constantinople dated 1166. The feast spread, and by 1371 was celebrated in the Papal court of Pope Gregory XI at Avignon. He was the last of the Avignon popes and brought the papacy back to Rome. One hundred years later at the beginning of his reign, Pope Sixtus IV O.S.F. introduced the office of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in 1585 Pope Sixtus V OSF extended the feast of the presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the whole church. The church has never specified the age at which Mary was presented in the Temple, nor when she made her vow of virginity. The 21st November is not the day that the Church would have us believe that Mary was presented in the Temple. The Divine Office in an introduction to the feast tells us a little about the choice of the 21st November. "On this day, which was the dedication in the year 543 of the Church of Our Lady near to the Temple in Jerusalem, together with the Christians of the Eastern Rites we celebrate that dedication which Mary made to God from her very childhood under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who filled her with grace at the Immaculate Conception.
When we honour the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the feast day of her Presentation in the Temple, let's remember that she is the Patron of this Tabernacle of St. Francis, and that she has shown us, even as a child, her complete dedication to God. How well we would fill our vocation of victim souls of substitution if we followed her example. On the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, we celebrate the fact that Our Lady’s parents brought her to the Temple at the age of three and handed her over to live there for a long period as a consecrated virgin where she might exclusively contemplate God. There is a special beauty to this feast since it highlights the fact that Our Lady was chosen even before time began. She is called the root of Jesse (Isaiah, 11:1) from which Our Lord Jesus Christ would be born.
Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
TABERNACLE OF ST FRANCIS - ARCHIVE