THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR C
One of the main streets on Staten Island is named for Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest who did service in the United States Navy and died on the battlefield in Vietnam while ministering to Marines. On January 7, 1969 Lieutenant Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. And in 2002 his cause for canonization was accepted by the Congregation for the Saints, so that Father Vincent Capodanno is now publicly recognized as Servant of God. If he is ever canonized, Fr. Capodanno will the first saint to have received the Medal of Honor.
“The Lord is faithful; and he will strengthen you and guard you,” St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians. That fidelity of the Lord to his people, the firm confidence that he will strengthen us and guard us – they lie behind the heroism exhibited by Lt. Capodanno and so many Veterans whom we will salute tomorrow, as well as by the valiant brothers whose story we hear today from the Book of Maccabees.
“Graciously keep from us all adversity, so that unhindered in mind and body alike, we may pursue in freedom of heart the things that are yours,” we prayed at the beginning of this Mass. And the Scripture readings dispose us to reflect on the implications of that God-given freedom.
Freedom from the fear of death is the first result of that freedom of heart. Listen to the language of the brothers facing martyrdom for refusing to violate the food restrictions laid down by Moses in the Torah. Each brother uses progressively stronger statements of his freedom. The fourth brother is most emphatic about his freedom. “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” That is freedom – the freedom Lt.Capodanno enjoyed as he walked from wounded comrade to wounded comrade until his own body, riddled with 27 bullets, surrendered his own spirit into God’s hands.
But it is not just from the fear of death that God’s fidelity and our confidence in him deliver us. We are free from death itself. That is the point of the response Jesus gives to the head game that the Sadducees try to draw him into in the Gospel. Ultimately there is no need for the woman to marry brother after brother so that she can provide the family with immortality through children. Each of the brothers lives. Those deemed worthy of resurrection in the coming age can no longer die, for they are like angels.
Lastly the spirit of freedom we invoke brings us freedom from limited imagination. Jesus’ declaration that in heaven those who attain to the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage strikes a sour note to our ears. Spouses who have grown together so closely in love can only imagine going through eternity without each other as the brother in Maccabees can imagine going through life without his tongue or hands. Yet Jesus does not say that spouses will not be together, united even more closely in love. He simply states that the on-going process of marrying will cease when death and birth are no longer the limiting features of our existence. What Jesus criticizes in the Sadducees is the inability to imagine a life infinitely fuller that the life we are living here on earth. Yes, if life just rumbles on through eternity unchanged, we wind up in the absurd situation they outline. But if life in the resurrection is different if love neither begins or ends, if its range is infinite, embracing all creatures as God’s love embraces them, it will be quite an adventure.
Imagine, John Lennon sang in his most popular ballad; and he then went on to imagine a dull and colorless world with no room for heroism, martyrdom, nobility, self-sacrifice, fidelity, God. Imagine, Jesus challenges us, a world we are free to love with a love that knows no limits. “Almighty God, grant that we may pursue with freedom of heart the things that are yours. Amen”