Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5
Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher of Ephesus, recognized that “the cosmos speaks in patterns.” There is indeed a kind of rhythm to life that continues to repeat itself. When a misfortune befalls us, we expect another to soon follow as we wait for the second shoe to fall; we expect misfortunes to come in pairs. We notice the deaths of people in our lives seem to come in threes, another pattern. The spinning direction of water as it drains from a basin is also the same circular pattern of hurricanes as well as of galaxies. All spin in the same direction.
Consider, too, how the number 12 gives shape to so many aspects of our lives. There are 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a clock, 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 days of Christmas. The American jury consists of 12 citizens chosen at random; there are 12 steps in recovery programs; and 12 successive strikes make for a perfect game in bowling. Our faith history is founded upon the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus. Finally, consider the fact that one more than 12 is thought to be unlucky. The number 12 does seem to have been etched into our psyches. It would seem that Heraclitus was on to something.
This weekend, the first and third readings from sacred Scripture attest to faith in the resurrection. During the time of the Maccabean revolt, the Greeks ruled the land of Israel and required the Hebrews to eat pork in violation of God’s law. The reading tells of a mother who is forced to watch the martyrdom of her seven sons, who refused to eat the pork, each of them believing that life awaited them beyond physical death. The Gospel recounts the give and take between Jesus and the Sadducees who deny that there is a resurrection. In the end, Jesus asserts that in the last days the dead will rise because in God all are alive.
Life unfolding out of death is a pattern that we discover to be true throughout much of life, a hint to the resurrection of Jesus in which all believers are destined to share. The pattern is found in the rhythms of nature. We refer to the dying light of day that eventually gives birth to a new light and a new day. We watch as the season of autumn surrenders the bounty of its growth and fruitfulness, a kind of dying only to find new birth in the spring. We see how seeds surrender to the explosive power of giving birth to something new.
That same pattern we recognize in our own lives. Having lost a job, we find something more energizing and fruitful than the one we lost. The end of one love, painful as it might be, opens us to new love and new joys previously unknown. Parenting demands a surrender of independence and freedom, yet another form of dying, but will open a person to the treasures of nurturing family life. Always, however, there needs to be an openness to the unexpected, a surrendering of our inclination to decide for ourselves what we want the new life to look like.
A few years ago, the TV program “60 Minutes” reported the story of a 40-year-old architect who lost his eyesight, something devastating for anyone but all the more so for one whose profession is design and drafting. The story told of his grieving and his coping with the need to learn how to live life with new and different skills. Eventually, he came to realize how his sense of hearing had become more acute and how it became an advantage in designing spaces and structures. That heightened sense became so valuable that others began to seek him out as they designed new structures. At one point in the interview, the architect was asked if he would go back to having his eyesight, if that were possible. The architect paused, thought, and then said he was not sure, so satisfying had this new heightened sense become to him. So often in life, deaths of one kind or another will become doorways to new and unexpected life.
Karl Rahner was a German priest and theologian of the mid-1900s. He once commented that one of the tasks of life is to learn how to die well. In other words, when we see how so very often the daily dying in our lives become doorways to new life, then we will be more ready to accept our final death and journey into eternal life. Not only that, but our own faith in the resurrection will be strengthened and renewed.
When have you seen in your life that dying has been a doorway to new life?
How often has that new life been different than what you expected?