32 Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 10, 2019
“Reality TV” is as old as I am. The first televised program identified as “reality TV” is said to have been “Candid Camera” that debuted the same year that I did…1948. Since then, a number of programs have been introduced in a variety of settings. Apparently, viewers enjoy watching supposedly unscripted, ordinary people navigate various situations. Still, and in spite of its popularity, “reality TV” is suspect. Are the viewers actually watching “reality,” or are these situations structured by the producers?
One of the most popular, and at the same time suspect, “reality TV” shows involves so-called mediums delivering messages from beyond the grave to grieving loved ones. People want very much to believe in the authenticity of these programs. Certainly, there is comfort to be had from the assurances that a loved one who has passed on is “ok.” But viewers might also be inclined to place their hope and trust in these kinds of entertainers for selfish reasons.
Death is a thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain that defies those curious to know what is on the other side. Many people are actually terrified by the inevitability of death. What they find most unnerving is the “unknowing.” And so they eagerly place their hope in…of all things…”reality TV.”
While the Holy Spirit definitely acts in mysterious ways, offering a variety of gifts to bring comfort, wisdom, and peace to us earth dwellers, I can’t help but wonder if this vast array of gifts includes a communications network of this sort, to “the other side.” I do know that many bereaved families report special, comforting experiences they have had after a loved one has died. I never doubt the authenticity of these graced moments. After all, God is all loving and merciful. Divine compassion is a very reasonable explanation for whatever it is that brings some relief from the overwhelming sense of loss that comes with death. But, the suggestion that those who have died send messages via a third party…well, I’m not so sure about.
It certainly seems that if anyone would have been entrusted with these kinds of instagrams delivered from the other side of the dark and impenetrable curtain, it would have been Jesus. Yet, today’s Gospel is pretty much the extent of what Jesus had to say on the matter. The Lord’s focus was on teaching us how to live in this world, as if there was nothing separating “here from there” so that when we are called to pass through that thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain, it will be with a sense of eager joy and not terror. As far as what awaits us upon our arrival…well, He left it to us to read between the lines of the Gospel.
Last Sunday, shortly after being hospitalized due to a fall in his home, 95-year-old former President Jimmy Carter reported for duty as a catechist at his church. The lesson he delivered was certainly a brilliant description of how Christians should approach the inevitable reality of death. When he was already in his 90s, Carter’s doctor delivered a very serious diagnosis. Mr. Carter told his Sunday school class that upon hearing the news: “I obviously prayed about it. I didn’t ask God to let me live, but I asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death.”
Actually, all Christians should be “absolutely and completely at ease with death.” Although the earthly Jesus did not have a great deal to say about what awaits us, the Risen Christ showed us what it will be like…what we will be like. After three days in His own grave, The Lord passed back through the thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain, and there was nothing staged or structured about His Easter visits. The Easter experience was entirely convincing to the Apostles and disciples. Any doubts they might have had at first as to the reality of what they were experiencing quickly disappeared. They recognized Him. But at the same time, they saw that He was totally changed. He was GLORIFIED!
Our language cannot even begin to capture what that means. But, the reality of those totally graced moments of Easter are undeniable. His followers were convinced. All fear of death was dispelled, evidenced by the courage and conviction with which they shared the Good News. The pure reality of The Risen Christ left them with a “proper attitude toward death.” They discovered that they were “absolutely and completely at ease with death” to the point that many became martyrs for the sake of the Gospel.
The reality is that God is not God of the dead, but of the living…for God, all are alive! Just exactly what that means is a wonderful surprise that awaits those who do their best to live here and now as Jesus has taught us. Live the Gospel and place your hope in the power of the resurrection. Soon, you will find that you are “absolutely and completely at ease with death,” and no further assurances will be necessary.
Nevertheless, it never hurts to ask for a little extra help. St. Joseph is the Patron saint of the dying. So…let us pray:
Saint Joseph, you gave your last breath in the loving embrace of Jesus and Mary. When the seal of death closes my earthly life, come with Jesus and Mary to aid me. Obtain for me this solace for that hour – to die with their holy arms around me. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I commend my soul, living and dying, into your sacred arms. Amen.