HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’” (Luke 20:38)

BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC


HOMILY: Luke 20:27-38

Some years back, I stood with other Holy Cross community members at our cemetery on the campus of Stonehill College for the burial of a beloved deceased. As we prayed together in burying our brother, I happened to notice a stone whose chiseled lettering marked the grave of Br. James Madigan—the very man who stood next to me at the burial site. While his birth year was chiseled beneath his name, the year of his death was blank.

In conversation with Jim soon afterwards, he laughed when questioned about the grave stone. As he related, it was simply a case of good stewardship. “I’m the one who takes care of grave-digging and ordering the grave markers,” he told me. “I’ve noticed that prices seem to be going up every time I have to make arrangements, so I got my own stone now rather than later when it’ll cost more. When I die, it’ll be a lot cheaper just to have someone chisel a four-digit year in the blank space below my name than to buy the whole stone.”

November, month of crispy leaves and frosting winds, has traditionally been a time for Christians to remember the dead. Beginning with the celebration of the feasts of All Saints and then All Souls, around us nature sighs in tiredness, winter’s sleep welcomed. Yet rather than being a mournful month for the apparent loss of life, November is clothed in its own glory. Colorful falling leaves and the earthward drifting of the season’s first snow, both directing our attention downward to dark earth where they take rest, only echo the laughter of Br. Jim Madigan as he stands beside his own grave in our community cemetery. For November and for Jim, death is only an illusion.

The gospel passage we hear this day emphasizes the same point when Jesus states clearly of his father, “He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20:38) Following a lively debate with some Sadducees, members of a Jewish sect who deny the reality of resurrection, Jesus asserts that resurrected life is very different from earthly life, so different that marriage is not a heavenly concern at all. In the life to come, there is no taking of a spouse, for all will find their true soul mate in the intimacy of God’s embrace. While human relationships on earth may come close to a heavenly bond, they cannot substitute for the real thing. And with that assertion, the Sadducees walk away, amazed at the wisdom of Jesus but also perplexed at his answer. No doubt the words of Jesus did not convince them of the reality of resurrection, but for the disciples standing with him that day, it surely left a puzzling question: what, then, is death like? And without a doubt, we Christians who stand with Jesus centuries later look up into the bright, crisp November sky and ask the same question. We profess belief in the life to come and often sense a deep yearning for it, yet overshadowing our faith are very human feelings of fear and anxiety.

Br. Jim Madigan’s laughter in the Holy Cross Community Cemetery attests to a deep faith in the resurrection of the dead as also does the calendar month of November, crispy leaves and frosting winds conspiring with the feasts of All Saints and then All Souls to remind us that, though nature sighs in tiredness, awaiting winter’s welcomed sleep, it’s not the end but the beginning.

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