32nd Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Father Patrick S. Brennan
The English poet John Keats died in Rome in 1821, and he was buried in the Protestant Cemetery. One can visit his grave today, along with that of Shelley—two great English Romantic poets, both buried in Rome. What is remarkable about Keats’ grave is that the tombstone does not contain his name. At Keats’ request, his tombstone has only this famous epitaph: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Written in water, and now forever gone.
Not many of us would like to be buried in an unmarked grave. It is important to us, and to our families, that our names and memories continue. That is the rationale behind the story in our Gospel today—a fascinating story about a woman who, in this life, is married to seven brothers. At the time of Jesus, this was called "Levirate marriage"—if a man dies, leaving behind a wife and no children, she is to marry her husband’s brother in order to bear a son who can carry on the family name; and so on. The question then is "to whom is this woman married at the Resurrection?"
The Sadducees—a particular group in Judaism who don’t believe in the resurrection—pose the question to Jesus. They wanted to show the absurdity of resurrection. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did believe in a type of resurrection; and Jesus, of course, also argues for Resurrection—but he does so in a new way, a way that looks ahead to Christianity and life in the Kingdom.
Jesus says that "the children of this age—today, in life—marry and remarry." One reason for marriage is to have children and to have one’s name remembered, from one generation to the next.
But in the next life, things are different. Sometimes we imagine heaven to be just a supersized version of earth. Things are the same, but only bigger, etc. But Jesus didn’t promise a better world; he promised us a new world, a new creation.
In this new creation, there is one major difference in comparison with our lives today: there is no death. And because there is no death, there is no need to perpetuate one’s name or our species itself. Thus, Jesus says, "those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage."
Does this mean that spouses will not be together in heaven? St. Thomas Aquinas says that departed souls retain their identity and individuality. But how that relates to earthly marriage . . . well, we just don’t know.
But we can be assured that we will be happy and fulfilled. Jesus affirms that something more than the intimacy of marriage awaits us. In this life, love is exclusive—a man and a woman for life. But in heaven, love is inclusive—we love as God loves, a love that includes the Beatific Vision (the vision of God) and all people.
During this month of November we remember those who have gone before us. My last two articles in the Bulletin have been about the "afterlife" and what we might expect. Still, it is difficult to paint a clear picture.
But we affirm, with Jesus, that everything will be new—a new creation beyond time and space. With St. Paul, we scan say that "at present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; but then, face to face. At present I know partially; then, I shall know fully."
The love of God, and the love of neighbor, completely fulfilled.