As sparks through stubble

Let’s live the best live we can, realizing it’s only temporary

sparks

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if to others, indeed, they seem punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their judgment they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble;
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with the elect.
Wisdom 3:1-9

I had the opportunity recently to celebrate the life of a dear friend, a consecrated religious who passed away at the age of 92 after serving 72 years in the Marianist religious order. I was honored to proclaim that reading from Wisdom at his funeral Mass.

This reading beautifully summarizes the vast difference between the way the world views mortality and the way that God views it. The world views death as an affliction that results in utter destruction. For God, death is a gateway to a new life of love, peace, grace, and mercy.

As I was preparing to proclaim the reading, a phrase jumped out at me: “as sparks through stubble.” Rather than the conventional view of the dead as rotting, decaying corpses, the author of Wisdom sees those who have gone before us as full of life and power, darting about, judging nations, ruling over peoples.

This view also challenges the popular perception of our current life as the be-all and end-all, and that the end of this life is to be dreaded, feared, and put off as long as possible.

This perception was reinforced by a recent scientific discovery that would significantly extend human lifespans, perhaps indefinitely. Around the time of my friend’s funeral, I was following an online conversation about this discovery. Most of the commenters on this thread didn’t think much of the discovery. Some Christians, in particular, reaffirmed their belief that this life is only temporary, leading to something better. Why prolong our time here? That led one gadfly to comment that it seemed as if the Christians, in professing this view, were rejecting the beauty of God’s creation here on Earth.

It’s an interesting point. In my case, I love my family, my friends, and the wonderful world that God has provided for us. But I have no delusion that these things are permanent. We’re all pilgrims on a journey, traveling to an eternal home that God has prepared for us.

That gives me great comfort, particularly as I think about my friends, family members, and teachers who have died in the past year.

At the same time, it gives me great hope that God has a place prepared for those of us still here.

But do my everyday actions reflect this hope? If I’m on a journey, how do I live my life? Do I travel lightly, live simply, and not sweat the small stuff, knowing that it’s not permanent? This reading from Wisdom reminds me that I’m called to live as a pilgrim, not as a permanent resident, in this life.

Let us pray for the grace to recognize our lives on this earth as transitory and to live our lives accordingly. Let’s also continue to pray for our beloved dead and ask their prayers for those of us still on the journey.

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There’s still time

Lent’s not over yet!

As we transition from Lent into the celebrations of the Triduum on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, let’s take a few minutes to reflect on our Lenten commitments. How did we do?

Lent is a time for turning back to God. Did we use our practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to grow in our faith and draw closer to the Lord? Did we sometimes slip up in our commitments? Did we abandon them in the first week?

No matter how much we’ve stumbled, we’re in good company. The daily readings for Holy Week focus our attention on Peter and Judas. Peter denied Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus. So what’s the difference between these two? In their crimes, not so much. The difference is in their response. Peter repented and received forgiveness. Judas despaired and died in his sin.

What’s our response when we sin or don’t live up to our commitments? Do we try to ignore it and muddle through, even though we know deep down that we’ve done wrong? Or do we own up to what we’ve done (or failed to do) and seek forgiveness?

Jesus offers forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and there’s still time to take advantage of this before Lent’s over. Most parishes offer additional opportunities for confession on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Consider going to confession as a way to finish Lent strong and begin the Easter season even stronger.