Thirty Second Sunday – C

Many people have an instinct that life must continue after death. When someone dies, you often hear people who don’t have any connection with a particular faith say things such as, “She is with her parents” or He is with his wife” or “Now, he is at peace.”  The unspoken belief is that the person continues to exist although no one explains what they mean. Maybe, it’s a sense that the lives of good people should go on.

In Africa, those who die are buried on the family compounds. Traditionally, it was believed that the dead take on a new way of being as spirits. These spirits are watchful over their families and do good things for them. Customary before drinking something, a person pours the first sips on the ground as a libation for the ancestors.

The early Israelites thought the dead took on a shadow-like existence in Sheol. Belief in the Resurrection of the Body gradually developed among the Jews. The Sadducees considered only the oldest five books to be Scripture. They did not accept the Resurrection. The Pharisees believed in the Resurrection of the body, which is found n the later books of the Old Testament.

Today’s first reading is from the Second Book of Maccabees, a later book of the Bible. The Syrians occupied Judea and tried to suppress the Jewish religion with its customs such as not eating pork. The seven brothers and their mother are not afraid to die because they hope in the Resurrection of the Body.

In today’s Gospel, the Sadducees try to trap Jesus by posing a complicated situation which was intended to ridicule the idea of the resurrection of the body. Deuteronomy 25:5 legislated that, if a man died childless, his brother should marry the man’s widow in order to raise up descendants for him. The Sadducees presented a case where a woman who married seven brothers in succession, without any offspring. Whose wife would she be at the resurrection of the body?

Jesus cleverly referred them to a passage in the book of Exodus, one of the books that the Sadducees accepted. God tells Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex 3:6). God spoke in the present not the past. Jesus declares: “God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive for Him” (Lk 20:38).

We may not think of the Resurrection of the body very often. The early Christians were very conscious of the resurrection of the body. Paul refers to it frequently in his letters. An important text is the fifteenth chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians. Both the Apostles’ Creed (late 2nd century) and the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (325-381), proclaimed in the Sunday liturgy, affirm, “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body.”

St. Thomas Aquinas reflects the association of the general resurrection of the body with Christ’s Resurrection:

He chose both to die and to rise. He chose to die to cleanse us from sin… But He chose to rise to free us from death: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. For by a man came death and by a man the resurrection of the dead’ (1 Cor 15:20-21)…

“The effect of the resurrection of Christ in regard to our liberation from the dead we shall achieve at the end of the world, when we shall all rise by the power of Christ…”

“‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again then is our preaching vain and our faith vain’ (1 Cor 15:13-14). It is, then, a necessary tenet of our faith to believe there will be a resurrection of the dead” (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 79).

For Thomas, the soul and body form a composite which is the person. The Catholic faith affirms that the soul is immortal. Thomas asserts that ultimately the soul must be reunited with the body:  “The soul is naturally united to the body… it is the form of the body. It is, then, contrary to the nature of the soul to be without the body… It must once again be united to the body; and this is to rise again (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 79).

Thomas argues that the soul would not have perfect happiness without the body:

Ultimate happiness is the perfection of the happy one. Therefore, anyone to whom some perfection is wanting does not yet have perfect happiness because his desire is not entirely at rest, for every imperfect thing naturally desires to achieve its perfection. But the soul separated from the body is in a way imperfect, as is every part existing outside of the whole, for the soul is necessarily a part of human nature. Therefore, man cannot achieve his ultimate happiness unless the soul be once again united to the body… (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 79).

Thomas recognizes that there is no natural argument for the resurrection of the body. The resurrection depends solely on God’s power: “Since the divine power remains the same even when things are corrupted, it can restore the corrupted to integrity” and “The principle of resurrection is not natural. It is caused by divine power alone… For the Son of God assumed human nature to restore it. Therefore, what is a defect of nature [death] will be restored in all, and so all will return from death to life” (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 81).

In his instruction on the Creed, Thomas considers the effects of belief in the resurrection of the body:

Firstly, it takes away the sorrow which we feel for the departed. It is impossible for one not to grieve over the death of a relative or friend; but the hope that such a one will rise again greatly tempers the pain of parting, as St. Paul says: “And we will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, as others who have no hope” [1 Thes 4:12].

Secondly, it takes away the fear of death. If one does not hope in another and better life after death, then without doubt one is greatly in fear of death and would willingly commit any crime rather than suffer death. But because we believe in another life which will be ours after death, we do not fear death, nor would we do anything wrong through fear of it: “That, through death He might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and might deliver those who through fear of death were all their life subject to bondage” [Hb 2:14].

Thirdly, it makes us watchful and careful to live uprightly. If, however, this life in which we live were all, we would not have this great incentive to live well, for whatever we do would be of little importance, since it would be regulated not by eternity, but by brief, determined time. But we believe that we shall receive eternal rewards in the resurrection for whatsoever we do here. Hence, we are anxious to do good: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Cor 15:19].

Finally, it withdraws us from evil. Just as the hope of reward urges us to do good, so also the fear of punishment, which we believe is reserved for wicked deeds, keeps us from evil: “But they who have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they who have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment” [Jn 5:29].

A document of the Congregation for the Faith, Letter on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology (May 17, 1979) cautions against “arbitrary imaginative representations” but affirms:

Christians must firmly hold the two following essential points: on the one hand they must believe in the fundamental continuity, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, between our present life in Christ and the future life (charity is the law of the Kingdom of God and our charity on earth will be the measure of our sharing in God’s glory in heaven); on the other hand they must be clearly aware of the radical break between the present life and the future one, due to the fact that the economy of faith will be replaced by the economy of fullness of life: we shall be with Christ and “we shall see God” (cf. 1 Jn 3:2), and it is in these promises and marvelous mysteries that our hope essentially consists.                                               

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P

A Vida Intellectual – ‘The Intellectual Life’

A Vida Intellectual – ‘The Intellectual Life’

The famous French Dominican philosopher of the early 20th century, Antonin Sertillange, published a work entitled “The Intellectual Life” in which he presented a practical guide to progress in scholarship.  Sertillange held that scholarship is natural.  Human beings have a natural vocation to the intellectual life.  All human beings have a need to develop their intelligence, to engage in study and to search for truth.  In this way they imitate God whose image in the human person includes the intellect.   The intellectual life searches for truth and so leads to God.  The fulfilment of this Christian vocation requires personal commitment to study, time spent in prayer, and participation in community life.

Sertillange held that the intellectual life involves virtue; one must love the truth.  Study that comes from virtue seeks above all union with God.   Virtue turns mere study into genuine pursuit of truth, with the end being the highest truth; God Himself.

Still, the intellectual life has other considerations, as well.  It requires physical health, as well.  As the saying goes, a healthy mind requires a healthy body. The material goods of human nature are important, even though the intellectual goods have priority.  We share with animals physical goods, but it is the intellectual goods that distinguish us.  So when physical goods take priority over intellectual goods, the body becomes an enemy, not a friend, and the human person is diminished, for all physical goods have as their purpose to promote the intellectual goods.  Even sleep has as its purpose the production of ideas.

Intellectual pursuit means focusing on particular ideas, but never one idea to the exclusion of others, lest a certain prejudice develop by which one comes to see reality from a single point of view.   Following the example of St. Thomas Aquinas, the intellectual life requires information from various sources, all in pursuit of the one truth.  The nature of truth is that the search never ends.

Finally, the intellectual life requires us to be efficient in our study.  It is not enough simply to study.  We need the intellectual virtues that help us to understand and retain what we have learned.  Because all the virtues are connected, we need to practice all the virtues if we wish to study well.    Only then may we formulate our own thoughts and cheerfully give to others the fruits of our contemplation.

Br. Danilson Lopes, O.P.

15th November, 2019

Pope St. John Paul II: The faithful Servant of Christ

Pope St. John Paul II: The faithful Servant of Christ

Most people are familiar with today’s saint, Karol Wojtyla, Pope JP II.  Born in Poland in 1920, he died in 2005 at the age of 85, after serving as pope for 27 years, the 2nd longest papacy in history, and the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years.   He was inaugurated pope on this day in 1978.

JP II was beatified 8 years ago in 2011 and canonized a saint 3 years later in 2014.  Both his beatification and canonization took place on Divine Mercy Sunday, the 1st Sunday after Easter.  For his many accomplishments as pope and for his scholarship he is sometimes referred to as John Paul the great.

Karol was the youngest of 3 children.  His sister died before he was born.  His mother died when he was 8.   His older brother died when Karol was 13. 

Karol was athletic.  He played football.  Many of his friends were Jewish.  In fact, his first girlfriend was Jewish.  He performed the mandatory military training, but refused to fire a gun.  He had a talent for languages and eventually became fluent in 12 languages.

During the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany in WW II, he worked as a laborer in the rock quarries where he worked long hard hours and sustained many physical injuries.  In 1941, when he was 21, his father died, leaving him as the only surviving member of his family.

It was after his father’s death that Karol decided to become a priest.  He studied in secret because of the oppressive Nazi occupation.  During his seminary studies he avoided Nazi imprisonment and execution by hiding in basements.  He also helped to prevent many Jews from being sent to Nazi concentration camps where they would certainly be killed.

He was ordained a priest at the age of 26.  He then studied for his doctorate in philosophy at the Dominican university of the Angelicum under the famous Dominican scholar Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange.  During that time Karol visited Padre Pio who predicted that he would be pope.

While teaching at the University of Lublin Karol organized a group of students who regularly met for prayer and philosophical discussions.  The group also went on hiking, biking, skiing and kayaking trips.  All of this while under the repressive regime of soviet communist occupation.

At the age of 34 he earned a 2nd doctorate, a doctorate in theology, in which he wrote about Catholic moral theology based on phenomenology and personalism. 

Karol wrote a great deal of theological and philosophical works, as well as plays and poetry, always presenting Catholic teaching in a way that the modern world could accept it.    

At the age of 38 he was made auxiliary bishop of Krakow, the youngest bishop in Poland.  6 years later he was made the archbishop of Krakow.  He participated in the Vat II and was the main architect of the principal document Gaudium et spes.  

At the age of 47 he became a cardinal, and at the age of 58 was elected the 264th pope.

Despite the many hardships he had to endure, JP II remained faithful to Christ throughout his life.  That is what made him a saint.  He embodied the words of today’s psalmist; “here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”  He proved to be that blessed servant who Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel as constantly on watch for his master.

Today we enjoy his special intercession.  St JP II, pray for us.

Fr. Gregory Maturi, O.P.

How far with the Mission Appeal? The Director of Development reports

How far with the Mission Appeal? The Director of Development reports

The East African Vicariate (EAV) seeks to become a vice province within the next twenty years.  It will require the vicariate to become financially independent.  To this end, the Vicar and his Council recently established a vicariate development office headed by a director of development whose role is to coordinate fund raising for the vicariate.  These experimental efforts involve sending African Dominicans from the vicariate to work in the US during the long break of the academic year.  Those sent combine parochial ministry with fund raising efforts.

The experiment began last Fall when three African Dominicans from the vicariate worked in US parishes for one month.   We extended the program this year to three months. 

Preliminary results show that the program is promising.  The African Dominicans had a wonderful experience working in the US parishes and were able to raise a significant amount of money for the vicariate.   As well, Dominicans from the Province enjoyed working with the African Dominicans, and they hope to continue this cooperation. 

Fr. Greg Maturi, OP, the development director for the vicariate, coordinated these efforts, as well as do some fund raising of his own.  This past Summer he worked in the Tidewater area of southeastern Virginia (Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach).  He also did some fund raising at three of the naval bases there (Little Creek Amphibious Base, Fort Story, and the Norfolk Naval Station), as well as in New York City and in Ohio.  His efforts were very successful both in terms of the money raised and the connections established for future fund raising.  We hope that in the future African Dominicans will be able to serve in these places, as well.

Fr. Greg’s fund raising is Dominican in nature.  It involves going from Church to Church, preaching at Mass and getting to know the people.   Typically it involves spending two weeks in a parish, preaching at Mass for three weekends, as well as the intervening two weeks of daily Masses.  This time frame gives the parishioner’s time to hear him preach, learn about the mission, and get to know him personally.  It also gives the pastor a two week vacation.  After each Mass Fr. Greg offers self-addressed envelopes that people may use to make donations to the Dominican Mission in Kenya.  He invites them to take one home, pray about it and think about, and if they choose to make a donation they can either mail in their donation or bring it to the church.  This method of fund raising has a number of advantages over a one-time collection, and it seems to be more comfortable for the people.  It also allows Dominicans to have an on-going relationship with those who donate.

Asking for money is very humbling but it is part of our life as mendicants.  It requires us to live simply, for we have a fiduciary responsibility to those who give us money to use it frugally.  After all, they made a sacrifice in giving it to us, so we have to make sacrifices in how we use it.  

The Dominican mission in East Africa is a worthy cause, and Americans happily give to it.  They are very generous.  They love their Catholic faith and so wish to see the Church in Africa grow.   Moreover, they benefit from giving, because only when we spend our money in a way that pleases God may it make us happy.

Silver Jubilee: Mass and Thanksgiving

Silver Jubilee: Mass and Thanksgiving

This year Fr. Greg Maturi, OP (1st left) celebrates 25 years of priestly ordination.  He was ordained on 20 March 1994.  He and his three classmates celebrated their anniversary this year on 24 August at the very Church in which they were ordained, namely St Dominic’s in Washington DC.  Fr. Romanus Cessario, OP preached while the Provincial, Fr. Ken Letoile, OP, gave some closing remarks.  41 Dominican priests concelebrated the Mass, and after the Mass a reception took place in the parish hall.

Although being a priest is very rewarding, it is not easy.  A priest encounters may temptations to live a comfortable, convenient and superficial life.  Celibacy presents a great challenge, but equally challenging is living a life of humility and simplicity.  The things of this world are seductive, and priests need to fight the temptation to live in a worldly way.  To this end pope Francis has made it his signature issue to encourage religious priests to live more authentically their vow of poverty.   He even encourages diocesan priests, who do not take a vow of poverty, to live simply and not imitate the habits of a consumeristic and self-centered culture. 

We Dominicans have an advantage in this area in that we have the patrimony of such great saints as St Thomas Aquinas who though a great scholar, lived a humble and simple life.  Perhaps he learned it from his professor, St Albert the Great, who while bishop of Regensburg refused even to ride a horse, so great was his humility and simplicity.  These great scholars realized that what was most important for a priest is living as a humble and simple life.  Most of all we have the example of St Dominic, who himself lived as a humble and simple priest.  We see this truth especially in the inheritence he bequeathed to us:  “have charity for one another, guard humility, and make voluntary poverty your only treasure.”

The great restorer of Dominican life in 19th century France, Henri Lacordaire, best described the priesthood this way:

To live in the midst of the world, without wishing its pleasures;
To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none;
To share all suffering; to penetrate all secrets; to heal all wounds;
To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers;
To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope;
To have a heart of fire for Charity, and a heart of bronze for Chastity;
To teach and to pardon, console and bless always.
My God, what a life; and it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ.