Fr Adrian's Homily
Year A 2020
Fr Adrian Farrelly
Reflection Fr Adrian
In the seven year seminary program of formation to be a priest we studied many subjects. One that fascinated me was called the last things – heaven, hell, death and judgment. I can still see and hear one the lecturers, Fr Bernard Wallace, who later was the bishop of Rockhampton, standing in front of us and musing: if I died tonight, all they (the seminary authorities) would say was: who will teach dogma tomorrow?
The subject came to mind with the words penned by the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus. His name was Jesus Ben Sira, or Sirach. Sirach lived and worked in Jerusalem about 190 years before Jesus was born. The words he penned were: “remember the last things, and stop hating.” He goes on to say: “remember dissolution and death, and live by the commandments.” His words reveal he was very much aware of the connection between the lives we live here and now and the continuation of our existence after death.
On reflection, the elements of the seminary subject would be better presented as death, judgement, heaven and hell. That presents them in chronological order.
Suffering and death have always been the stuff of deep reflection. Oftentimes as I have presided at funeral liturgies I have posed the question: where has she or he gone? For some this is a question that is easily answered – they have gone nowhere. They no longer exist. After death comes annihilation.
For those who do not hold such a position, and I suppose most of you listening to me now, see those who have left us through death continuing to exist in some way. So the question stands: where have they gone? What are they experiencing?
The seminary subject gives two possibilities – heaven or hell.
For today we can leave to one side the teaching of the church on Purgatory, post death purifying. What I will say about Purgatory is that it has everything to do with heaven and nothing, I repeat nothing, to do with hell.
I can hear some say there is a fourth possibility: limbo. Trying not to be distracted from the aim of this reflection and homily let me say that limbo, a place of natural happiness, was never official teaching of the church. Limbo was a pastoral response to parents grieving over the death of a child before the little one was baptised. Church teaching was that baptism was essential for salvation, for being at one with God after death. What do you say to grieving parents who ask where the little unbaptised one has gone? No baptism, no heaven. Your little one has gone to hell.
Such a response is unthinkable. A place of natural happiness is not seeing God face-to-face but it is not the torments of hell. Today, the response in the teaching of the church is that the little one is entrusted to the mercy of God.
To come back on track. The church teaching on why God created us is easily stated: to know, love and serve God here on earth and to be happy with God forever in heaven. Knowing, loving and serving God can be done consciously or unconsciously. God wants us to respond generously and compassionately to anyone in need. Those in need are the neighbours we are commanded to love. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned – this prepares us to see the face of God after death.
After death there is judgement. The teaching of Jesus articulated in the teaching of the church leaves us in no doubt about this. God has no favourites. The divine will is that when this life ends we shall see the father face-to-face. We will be happy with God forever in heaven.
In many places Jesus speaks of people missing out - the rich man who had no concerns for the poor man Lazarus at his gate, those who showed compassion to others and those who neglected to do that, do your best to enter by the narrow gate. God has not created us to be thrown away into some cosmic incinerator. God has created us to come to the fullness of life which is achieved by living in the divine presence. To miss out on this is a hellish experience.
Entry into heaven, to open the door to see God face-to-face, is achieved by what we do or not do to the people who are part of our life here and now. To fail to enter heaven, to not see God face-to-face, is also achieved by our actions here and now. Whenever I think about these things I am always struck by the awesome power that God has given us. I have the power to turn my back on God. God continues to love me but I have the power to reject that love and refuse to cooperate with it. If there is anyone in hell, they are not there because God sent them. They would be there because their choices rendered them incapable responding to the divine love offered them.
In Christ great love is offered freely to us. Let us receive it with joy and use it well. In this way we find happiness now and in the life to come.