JUNE 14, 2006, HOMILY: MARK 12:18-27
I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, THE GOD OF JACOB. HE IS THE GOD OF THE LIVING, NOT OF THE DEAD. Jesus feels no need to complete his argument here; the conclusion is obvious: since Abraham and the other patriarchs are living still, there is a resurrection. [The Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection, are for that reason very much mistaken for that reason. Our Lord was quite aware that they had not set this question in good faith but tried to trap into some statement that they could use against him. He was too adroit for them, however, and used the occasion to give them a lesson or two in a few words.] What he says about the state of those who live unto God, the children of the resurrection, is of great interest to us, of course. "When people rise from the dead, they neither marry or are given in marriage but live like angels in heaven." [This implies that though the body rises yet it no longer functions according to the physical laws governing nature in this life. When Jesus appeared to his apostles after his own resurrection he ate with them, not because he was hungry and required food for his sustenance, but as a proof that his body is real, truly human.]
We know so very little about the specific features of life after death. The Koran, on the contrary, depicts in explicit detail the heaven promised to faithful followers of Mohamed in highly sensual terms that serve as incentives for suicide terrorists, as one of them explained in a recent interview. Our Lord will have no such crude concepts of life with God. His brief comment describes the heavenly condition of the human person as conformed to that of angels,; the body will be so subject to the spirit that it resembles spiritual creatures in its manner of acting. This statement is also intended to discomfit the Sadducees for they did not believe in the existence of angels.
What we know about angels then takes on an added interest for us. There has been a good deal of effort and ingenuity expended attempting to clarify this obscure issue. Angels are announcers of news from God, messengers. They obey his word and carry out his instructions faithfully. Scripture tells us that there are different kinds of spirits and that angels are but one class. From the context we are justified in interpreting our Lordís use of the word Ďangelí here to refer to the heavenly spirits in general, not only to those charged with delivering a special divine message. What St. John tells us in the Apocalypse is that the spirits in heaven are occupied with the praises of God which is a communal, harmonious worship. It is joyous and resonant with gratitude and wonder at the greatness, goodness and beauty of Him who sits upon the throne and at the Lamb who, though slain, lives before the throne of God. An obvious reference to the glorified, risen Christ.
The Churchís teaching on angels has been very constant and persistent and wholly harmonized with our Lordís words on this occasion. In the Creed we express our belief that God is the creator not only of visible creation, but also of the invisible, that is to say, of the angels. In October we have a feast in honor of all the angels. Our Cistercian Fathers had a strong devotion to the angels and were persuaded that their own office was accompanied by the heavenly liturgy and so required special reverence. But in recent times many deny that there are angels and affirm that belief in them is left-over from a culturally determined myth. In reaction to this denial, in Germany there arose, after Vatican II, a group of priests who took as their special mission the preaching of devotion to the angels. I learned about them shortly after the Council when visiting one of our monasteries in Holland. I was speaking with a young, gifted monk there who played an important role in regional formation with whom I had cooperated at a seminar in that country. He was very liberal in his ways and thought and so I was quite taken back when he asked me early in our conversation: "Do you believe in angels?"- "Of course", I replied, "why do you ask?"- He said that he himself had become convinced that the devil had a strong influence in his country, which, as everyone knows, became very liberal after the Council and very secular. He added that he himself had fallen under that influence, he could now see. One of the indications was that when one of the Ďangel-priestsí visited and spoke to the community about angels he asked himself if he believed in their existence. ĎI was not sure if I did, and so I decided on a test that very night. I had been suffering from some inner trial for some time and could not get free of it, so I made a prayer to my angel saying, "if you exist remove this distressing trial." He added that ĎWhen I awakened the next morning, I was astonished to find myself freed from this oppressive burden and certain that it was gone for good. Ever since I have been convinced that there are indeed evil and good angels. This experience led me to the conviction that I, and many in my country, were under the influence of evil spirits. I have reviewed my way of living and changed."
Our Lord tells us that, like the angels, we shall be occupied in heaven with Godís praises and absorbed with his glory in profound contemplation. May our life here and now already reflect our destiny to be at one with the choirs of Godís faithful spirits surrounding him with grateful thankful praise for his mercy to us.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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