2 Macc 7:1-14; Lk 20:27-38
Today our nation observes Remembrance Sunday, and pauses to honour those who died in the wars of the past century.
For us, as Catholics, this is a good moment to recall how our FAITH helps us face death.
Our first reading, from 2 Maccabees, described ancient Jews (our forefathers in the faith) who faced death with incredible bravery, and did so BECAUSE of what they believed: their conviction of life after death.
We only had a short passage from Maccabees today, but it was an important era in Jewish history:
It was after the Exile: the Jews had been purified of their nation’s sin and restored to the Promised Land:
They had the land, they had God’s holy city of Jerusalem.
Most important, they again had the Temple in Jerusalem, to be able to worship the one true God who had made Himself known to their ancestors (like Moses).
Then, however, they were tested:
Their land was conquered by the Greeks. The Greeks forbade them to worship as God had decreed, and demanded that they disobey God’s laws, like eating pig flesh, as we heard in that text.
When we read this part of the Bible we can see that although God allowed them to be tested with persecution, He also strengthened them, strengthened them with a PROMISE:
In the two books of Maccabees God’s promise of life after death, of a final RESURRECTION of the body, is more clearly revealed that anywhere else in the Old Testament.
The promise of the resurrection enabled them to have hope, and enabled them to be brave -the bravery of these soldiers, and martyrs, is incredible.
For us, as Catholics in this month of November, there is a very important aspect of this:
The Maccabees PRAYED for their dead, they offered SACRIFICES in the Temple for them.
This is the Old Testament Biblical foundation for our Catholic practice today, especially in November, of praying for the dead (see more about this here).
We pray for the dead for three reasons.
First, very simply, we pray for mercy in the judgement.
We all depend on the mercy of God while we live,
and it is for that mercy that we pray for our deceased.
Second, we pray to help the dead through the passage of purgatory.
Heaven, the New Testament is clear, is a place of PERFECTION.
We, however, pretty much all of us, die still imperfect, still in our sins.
We must CHANGE before we are ready for heaven.
We must be purged of our sins, and so this place is called ‘Purgatory’.
Change, as we know in this world, is not easy.
It’s not easy to change the body, when we diet, or when we exercise.
Change is painful.
Change in Purgatory is filled with hope and JOY, because those there know they will eventually be going to heaven, and they delight to be GETTING READY for it.
But, it is still painful.
-that’s why our prayers are so important.
Countless visions given by God to the saints confirm our Catholic doctrine, namely,
That our prayers can bring COMFORT to those in purgatory -so this is the second thing that we pray for them,
And, that our prayers can SPEED this process -so this is the third thing we pray for the dead.
In summary, today our nation pauses and thinks of death.
We, as Catholics, have a particular way of doing this, a way that is filled with hope for the future, and action (in the act of praying) for those who have died.