The Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C – Citizens of Heaven and Earth
Driving south on the Northway (I-87), between exits four and two you can see a tall tree standing like a sentinel over several tombs. This peaceful graveyard, surrounded by a fallow field, appears undisturbed by the pollution and noise of nearby traffic. It is the Socks-Kemp-Reed Cemetery with markers dating to the early 19th century. Even though the deceased laid to rest there are unknown to me, every time I drive by that cemetery I think of life, suffering, death and eternal life.
I have often thought there are at least three kinds of deaths that we can suffer: 1) physical death, 2) being forgotten and 3) the loss of memorials. The destruction of photos, monuments, buildings, burial grounds can leave us with only fading, mental memories of our deceased loved ones.
This weekend follows two commemorative days on our church calendar — All Saints and All Souls. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in a curious but provocative way, combines two groups of people when it asks this question, “What is the church if not the assembly of all the saints? The communion of saints is the church.” (CCC No. 946)
It is an ancient practice in most religions to honor those who have died and to keep their spirits alive in some way. Like many shrines and temples our sanctuaries contain silent reminders of our ancestors — relics, sculptures, icons. These images not only keep us in touch with the saints of yesteryear they prompt in us a desire to be followers of Christ.
In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, (September 23-October 6, 2016, 5a-6a) I noted that, like the gospel, these sacred images call us to a sense of mission — “to tend to the needs of those people living on the fringes of society, those people who are abused and oppressed.” For example, Dorothy Day, written in one of our own icons, whose birthday is, ironically, this coming November 8th, tackled issues of social justice. Today, as we recall those from own our faith community who have died recently we remember what they taught us by their lives.
Our memories of these dear loved ones whisk us to our place in the communion of saints as citizens of the earth. While today’s gospel does raise a question about life after death, we cannot wait that long. We are, after all, still in the race, with our eyes on the prize — the creation of the kin-dom of God here and now. In that regard, as citizens we have the privileged opportunity to cast a vote this coming Tuesday, November 8th. It is an opportunity to connect responsible citizenship with the presence of God. As Christopher Hale (Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good) noted “voting allows us to reimagine the world with God’s eyes.”
The first reading from the Book of Maccabees this morning is a grave reminder that power, prejudice and phobias can cause human beings to do terrible things to one another. The mother and her sons in the passage were tortured, whipped and maltreated just because they were Jews. Many people we know today (refugees, immigrants, prisoners) are also mistreated and oppressed because of their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, status in society.
According to the Rev. William Barber, one of the authors of the Higher Ground Moral Declaration, we want to establish “deep connections between shared religious faith traditions and public policy, rooted in our Constitutions and the moral values of justice, fairness, and the general welfare.”
But how does someone vote when given a choice of candidates, some of whom, nationally and locally, are not entirely in synch with every single moral conviction held by our faith tradition? Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard recently spoke here on responsible citizenship. When in a quandary about casting our ballots, Bishop Hubbard suggested that we vote for the candidate who will do the most good for the common good and the least harm to all.
I began by noting the tranquil cemetery along the Northway. In another part of our country a life and death protest is occurring. Two months ago the ancient sacred burial sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were desecrated by the intrastate natural gas pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners.
Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said “This demolition is devastating. These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors.” Archambault quoted Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota, (New York Times August 24, 2106) “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” That appeal, Chairman Archambault wrote, is as relevant today as it was more than a century ago.
Today you and I remember our deceased loved ones of yesterday who are now citizens of heaven. We also remember our responsibilities as citizens of the earth. And, we vote next week as a practical act of Christian love keeping in mind all the citizens of tomorrow — you, me and our children!