Study: What comes to mind when you think of Heaven? Have you or someone you know ever had a near-death experience? How does thinking of Heaven shape how you live your life?
Pray: Is there something that is keeping you away from God? Take time to pray and consider receiving the Sacrament of Confession.
Serve: Are there any tasks that you have neglected that would cause hardship to others if you died suddenly? What steps can you take to make sure that you are ready when the Lord calls you home?
Both the 1st Reading and the Gospel point to the resurrection of the dead. In the Second Book of Maccabees we hear how those who are tortured for their faith find hope in the resurrection to eternal life, and in the Gospel of Luke Jesus teaches the Sadducees that the dead will rise.
To talk about heaven is not some sort of “pie in the sky” thinking. We look to this world – where we experience birth, life and death – as a pilgrim progress. We are travelers passing through, confident that there is more to the journey when death comes our way.
This understanding of the resurrection of the dead is thus both a consolation and a challenge. As a consolation we have hope! We seek to love and know the Lord in this life so that we are prepared to be with him forever in heaven. Life on earth leads to the eternal; we find that our longings in this world point toward a fulfillment that comes in the next chapter of our story.
Yet the challenge is also real. Will we be prepared at the hour of our death? Will we look upon the face of Jesus with love, or will shame, fear, sin and vice drive us away? For in the end all will be fully known: either we will run to the Lord to seek his mercy for our sins, or we will run away because we see our sins as insurmountable obstacles.
The Church Fathers used the image of Holy Fire as a fitting example. When we are called from this life we will stand before the burning fire of God’s love. The elect will draw near to this fire for warmth (and very possibly) a cleansing that burns away all impurities. The damned will simply burn up…unable to receive the mercy and grace. Why? Because they did not acknowledge their sins and accept God’s mercy and forgiveness during their journey on earth.
As we head toward the end of the Liturgical Year and the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, I invite all of us to ponder life, death and resurrection – seeking the Lord’s saving grace in this life so that we are prepared to meet Jesus Christ in the eternal life to come.
The Last Judgment, Michelangelo, 1536-1541, Sistine Chapel, Rome. Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis.