November 10, 2013
A little girl was talking to herCatholic teacherin aCatholic schoolabout whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though they were very large mammals their throat was very small.
The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was impossible. The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah."
The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?" The little girl replied, "Then you ask him."
During the last 12 months, there were 68 funerals in our parish. And we are in November, the month we set aside to pray for the dead. Maybe we should take a moment to reflect on the afterlife. What do we expect in the afterlife? One day a golfer (A Catholic Bishop) joked, “If there is no golf course in heaven, I don’t want to go there!”
Both the first and third readings of this weekend focus on the topic of life after death. It is quite clear from our own experience that people do not reap rewards of their efforts in this life: very often the just person seems to suffer, while the evil one seems to get more out of life than he has put into it. It is inconceivable that a just God would tolerate this situation. It is of the essence of the Christian faith that life does not end with the grave. Yet it is extremely difficult to picture what life after death will be like. Basically the problem is that we can describe the after-life only with the concepts and language which we have built up in our own space-time framework.
The scriptures, too, are subject to the same limitation. They use many different images which give us some glimpse into a world which is quite outside the scope of our imagination: to be with the Lord forever is the reward of living and dying in Christ (1 Thes. 4 :16 f.); our 'lowly bodies' will be transformed into the likeness of the glorious body of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3 :21); every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, and there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain 'for theformer things will have passed away' (Rev. 21 :4). Christians live in hope of enjoying eternal communion with God, but this crown of life (Rev. 2 :10) will be given only to those who have been faithful unto death.
Besides these descriptions and promises in the Bible, we still don’t know exactly what is the afterlife about. Maybe one of the reasons why God does not tell us clearly is illustrated by the story of a boy sitting down to a bowl of spinach when there’s a chocolate cake at the end of the table. He’s going to have a rough time eating that spinach when his eyes are on the cake. And if the Lord had explained everything to us about what’s ours to come, I think we’d have a rough time with our spinach down here.
For Christians, then, death is not loss, but gain (Phil. 1:21), and it ought to be met with hopeful expectation rather than with sad resignation. This living in hope of a better future life is no 'pie in-the-sky' distracting us from involvement in the present life. St. Luke speaks of 'those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead' (20 :35), and we are adjudged worthy only if we share the sufferings of Christ and reproduce in our own lives the pattern of his death (Phil. 3 :10). Be prepared and be ready. God bless you all.