Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (5 & 6/11/22)

posted 14 Nov 2022, 01:56 by Parish Office

Around fifteen years ago, I was still at Oscott College, studying for the priesthood, and whilst we were studying moral theology, there was one thing I had difficulty accepting, which was that the way the Church’s moral teaching was presented had been previously affected by a heresy called nominalism. It’s not that everyone taught the heresy instead of the real teaching, but rather that it influenced, and distorted, the way some people presented the faith. I thought to myself, how can this be so? The Church teaches infallibly in matters of faith and morals. Well, skip to the modern day and you can see for yourself that, whilst the Church officially teaches what is right and true, different preachers, theologians, catechists and parents teaching their children, can be affected by the local culture, and that can, at times, lead to distortions.

If we go back to the time of Christ, a similar sort of thing is happening. The group called the Sadducees, who were Jews, but with a certain slant on things, said that there is no resurrection. They believed in a vague idea of souls surviving in the realm of the dead, or “sheol”, but as for resurrection and new life, they were not so sure. In one sense, they were trying to be totally “pure” in their faith. You see, just like in the New Testament we hold the Gospels to be more important than the other books – we sit for the second reading, but we stand for the Gospel – they also held the first five books of the Old Testament to be of greater importance, as did so many other Jews. But they went further, and they were more cautious about some of the later books. If someone were to ask, where in the Old Testament does it say that the dead will rise again, we could look to today’s first reading from 2 Maccabees, which was written around the second century BC, so it was one of the “newest” books in the Old Testament. The Sadducees, trying to be both “pure”, you could say, and clever, ridiculed this belief, and so Our Lord puts them straight. He’s also very clever about it, because, rather taking ages to try to convince them to accept something from a more recent book of the Old Testament, He goes to those first five books of the Old Testament and gets His answer from there. Very clever stuff. So when, perhaps, a Protestant asks you “Where in the Bible do you get so-and-so from”, sometimes the answer may well be, such as in the case of Our Lady’s Assumption, that it isn’t there, but that the Bible isn’t the whole of God’s revelation – we have to look to Sacred Tradition for the rest, and that also helps us to get the interpretation of the Bible right – look in Sacred Tradition and see how the early Christians interpreted the Bible, rather than trying to work it out from scratch. But then there may be other things, such as belief in the Real Presence, where we can use the Scripture that they accept, such as John chapter six, to make our point.

We have just started the month of November, dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. That might raise the question of where we get the doctrine of Purgatory from. It’s not explicit in the Bible, but rather implicit. We need to pull together teaching from different parts of the Scriptures. There is a “spiritual union”, if you like, among the whole human race, so that the sin of Adam and Eve has its repercussions, and Christ, as a human being as well as God, was able to redeem the whole human race. It also means that our personal sins affect, not only us, but the whole Body of Christ, and our wider world. Hence one of the reasons why confession involves confessing to a priest, a representative of the Church, because our sins affect, not only us, but also weaken the whole Church. The bad witness of Catholics, whether laypeople, religious or clergy, has a knock-on effect. But so too does the good witness we give, and the fact that we help each other spiritually. We pray for each other, and the saints pray for us. So we too, also, can help the Holy Souls in Purgatory by praying for them and offering the Mass and our own sufferings for them, to speed up their purification and help them to enter heaven. Then they can pray for us when it’s our turn. Sometimes, we can have a mixed relationship when it comes to sin. Whilst we know that God forbids it, we can still have something of a slight attachment to it, a fondness even, for it, and that needs to be gone if we are to enter heaven. We can’t be joined to God whilst still having a divided heart. St Gregory the Great, indirectly referencing Our Lord in the Gospels, explained Purgatory in this way:

“As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgement, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. [By this he means Purgatory]” (Dial. 4, 39: PL 77. 396; cf. Mt 12:31, referenced in CCC 1031)

So there we have it. There is the official teaching, and the danger of us, living in our own time and culture, of distorting the message. It happened in the past with nominalism, and the Sadducees were corrected for making their own amendments. Today, some Catholics do the same by denying Purgatory. The message of the Lord is that we have to believe everything He teaches; nothing is optional. And one day, all will be made clear.