If we are to fully understand the impact of the first and third readings for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we have to place them in the context of the spiritual poverty of today’s world. As we look at the underlying forces of the present age, we understand the explosive power of these two readings.
It’s been said that the predominant sin of the Western world today is sloth, which isn’t the same as laziness. St. Thomas defines sloth as “sorrow for spiritual good.” Many people today experience such a profound sorrow that acquiring spiritual good requires modifying their appetite for possessions, pleasures, power and self-will.
Why do some people drop out of Sunday Mass attendance? They don’t want to be reminded that spiritual joy comes from modifying their appetites for the goods of this world. They will engage in frenetic activity to keep them from thinking about the future.
Today’s greatest enablers of distraction are electronic media. This addiction is fueled by sorrow about spiritual goods, and the effort it takes to experience spiritual joy in practicing the virtues of the spiritual life.
People addicted to frenetic activity find quiet time unbearable. A person once said to me: “Why do we have quiet time after Holy Communion, because that is down time.” Quiet time is dangerous to the person who wants to continue to run from God.
The first and third readings speak powerfully about the exquisite joy that motivates those who believe in an afterlife with our God in heaven.
The first reading tells us of the Jewish mother and seven sons who were willing to undergo torture and death for the sake of their beliefs. Throughout these tortures, the mother encourages her sons to die rather than give up the faith. The brothers also encourage one another. Addressing the torturers, one of the brothers courageously says: “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
These brave brothers were focused on the next world, and were glad to sacrifice everything in this world, including life, so that they might attain their reward in the next life.
Jesus addresses the same issue in the Gospel. The Sadducees did not believe in the next life. They used their false belief to mock belief in the next life. Quoting Moses, they said to Jesus: “If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.” They went on to ask, if this happens multiple times, whose wife will that woman be.
Jesus answered that in the coming age there will be no marrying, nor will there be any birthing or dying. “They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”
He continues: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”
So how can we help those who have drifted away from church attendance and the spiritual life? Begin with St. Paul in the second reading: “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through His grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”
For starters, keep living the faith you have been living. This should include among other things fidelity to the Mass and sacraments, above all Sunday Mass attendance. It should also include daily prayer, either the Rosary or reflections on the Scriptures, or both. This is a most powerful witness to others. They will see Jesus in your face; they will hear Him in your voice; and they will see Him in your actions. They are observing you every time they see you. Your good actions bother their consciences. Seeing your spiritual joy, which is a participation in the life of God, has a profound effect on them.
Secondly, pray for them daily. As you intercede for them, visualize Jesus reaching out to them through others. This is powerful! Remember when the four men brought the paralytic to Jesus? “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Rise up and walk!’”
Finally, befriend them. Get involved with them socially. If they have problems, they may confide in you. Offer them hope and your prayers for their intentions. If they have great sorrow in their lives, console them with your friendship and prayers.
These people are not bad, but lost and adrift in the cares and concerns of this world. They need hope and encouragement. They need someone to help bring the spark back into their lives.
If appropriate, share a time in your life when your spirits were low, and life seemed so demanding. What helped you then? Did someone reach out to you? Did someone share some helpful Scriptures with you? Did you rediscover your fire in a parish renewal weekend or a retreat?
Know that Jesus will reward you with great joy in helping Him to bring others back to Him. Take these thoughts to prayer, and then, “Do whatever He tells you.”