“Let us sing Alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security.” ~ Saint Augustine
In today’s 1st Reading (1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12), we bid farewell to King David while at the same time looking in on what would be his parting words to his son Solomon.
“I am going the way of all flesh,” says David, a nod to his understanding and acceptance of his own mortality. With Ash Wednesday a mere 30 days away, we too will soon be reminded that “we are from dust, and to dust we shall return“ as the ashen soot encrusted on our priests’ midnight black thumbs make the sign of the cross on our collective foreheads, marking us as children of God the Father and Mary our Mother, Jesus our beloved Brother and Savior.
“Take courage and be a man,” David implores Solomon, and “keep the mandate of the Lord, your God, following his ways and observing his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees as they are written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in whatever you do, wherever you turn.” Sage advice for the soon-to-be-King of Israel for sure, but equally valuable for your everyday disciple of Christ who aspires to one day enter the Kingdom of Heaven. David then quotes the promise the Lord made to him, saying “if your sons so conduct themselves that they remain faithful to me with their whole heart and with their whole soul, you shall always have someone of your line on the throne of Israel.”
Our Gospel today (Mark 6:7-13) tells the story of Jesus commissioning the 12 Apostles. Flawed individuals yes, but they were shining examples of men who took courage and acted like men. They remained faithful to Jesus with their whole heart and with their whole soul.
It would hardly seem a coincidence that the Catholic Church today celebrates the Memorial of Saint Blaise, the heroic Bishop and Martyr who is largely known as the Patron Saint of those who are afflicted with throat ailments. Last year when these readings were proclaimed they fell on the Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and his 26 companions, all of whom were martyred, crucified on a hill now known as the “Holy Mountain” overlooking Nagasaki, Japan in the year 1597. Among them were priests, brothers, and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits, and members of the Secular Franciscan Order. There were catechists, doctors, simple artisans, and servants, old men and innocent children, all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his Church. Statistics tell us that there are nearly 2 million Christians in Japan today. How many would there be without these 27 brave disciples, all of whom took courage ~ enormous courage ~ and remained faithful to Jesus with their whole heart and whole soul? “After Christ's example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.” These were the final words spoken by Saint Paul Miki.
Scripture tells us that the good we do will be remembered for thousands of years. The bad but a few. The martyrs of our church show us that there is value to suffering, “fruitful rain“ as Saint Paul Miki calls it.
The act of suicide, alarmingly on the rise in this country and worldwide, is arguably every bit as complex and difficult to understand as it is tragic. Although we should never presume to understand the anguish that anyone who would resort to such an intrinsically disordered act was going through, it would appear to be an act bourne out of an inability to understand the value in suffering, the virtue to be gained in carrying one’s cross. The martyrs of our Church knew that martyrdom was not the end; to the contrary, it was the beginning.
The other day while listening to Matthew Kelly’s CD “Resisting Happiness,” he began to list the habits of lukewarm Catholics. Many of the habits he listed were of course what you might expect; a mediocre prayer life, a lack of generosity, particularly towards the poor, rarely if ever partaking of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But there was one item on Kelly’s list they got my attention:
Lukewarm Catholics rarely think of Heaven.
Imagine how different our perspective would be if we took 5 minutes every day, whether it be in Eucharistic Adoration, arriving at Mass 5 minutes earlier, or even setting our alarm clock 5 minutes earlier in the morning, just contemplating heaven, letting our imaginations run wild. Rest assured, you won’t get bored and your visions and images will be limited only by the scope of your imagination, for as Saint Paul teaches us “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
What if we prayed for a greater desire and hunger for heaven, for us and for all of our loved ones, family, friends, and enemies? For an increase in our hope for heaven? On the topic of hope in the context of the heavenly glory that awaits,, I leave you with a quote from Saint Josemaria Escriva who urges us, in the moment of temptation, anxiety or anguish, to “Think of the love that awaits you in heaven: foster the virtue of hope.”
“Lord, I confess I don’t often long for heaven. I’m a creature of this world and crave worldly things, not heavenly ones. I ask you would grow a desire in me for heaven. Help me not be satisfied with the things of this world, but long for closeness with you and the perfection of eternity in your presence. Lord, thank you for the hope of heaven and the joy we will have when we get there.” ~ Amen.