|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Epistle|
Overcoming the Fear of Death
|Ezekiel 17:22-24||2 Corinthians 5:6-10||Mark 4:26-34|
A certain theologian has observed that the high watermark of the Old Testament is Psalm 23:4, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil" whereas that of the New Testament is Philippians 1:23, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ." In the Old Testament, David wanted to stay but was willing to go, whereas in the New Testament, Paul wanted to go but willing to stay. Today's second reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians brings out this unparalleled faith of Paul who says of himself, "We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).
As Christians we believe that dying is going back to our loving Father. If that is so, why then do so many of us have this debilitating fear of death and dying? In our world today, it seems that Christians are more afraid to die than people of other religions around us. Why is this so, since we have such a lofty belief about what happens at death? More importantly, how did Paul overcome his fear of death? Can we learn from Paul to overcome our own fear of death?
First, what is it in our Christian belief that makes us so afraid of dying. As Christians we believe that after death comes judgment. "All of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Uncertainty regarding the outcome of the Last Judgment can arouse a fear of death in the believer. Paul was able to overcome this uncertainty and the fear of death that goes with it. In its place he had developed confidence, confidence to the extent that he could say, "Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). What crucial differences do we see between Paul and the rest of us that enabled him to overcome the fear of death while many of us are still plagued by it. The reading gives us two important clues.
(1) "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Paul was a man who tried to see things in the light of faith, not in the light of how it appeals to the senses. To walk by faith is to evaluate situations and decide on lines of action in light of our faith and not on the basis of popular opinion. The world, for example, sees death as a coming to an end, whereas our faith sees it as a gateway to union with God. It means being "at home with the Lord." Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian; it is putting out the lamp because morning has broken. When we are able to see death as entering into fullness of life with God, entering into the possession of all our heart's desire, then shall we be able to see it as something to look forward to with confidence, not something to be afraid of.
(2) So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him (2 Corinthians 5:9). It is reported of the famous atheist Jean-Paul Sartre that about a month before he died, he mustered courage and said to himself, "I know I shall die in hope." Then, on second thought, he sadly added, "But hope needs a foundation." in this passage we find the practical justification for the eternal hope, the sure confidence, that Paul had. At all times, in every place and in all circumstances, Paul entertained one constant desire, namely, to please God. Paul is so different from some of our Christians today who profess to believe every doctrine and practise every spiritual devotion out there but when it comes to serving God in their fellow human beings they are found wanting. Such Christian believers who rank high in church observances but score low in practical everyday charity in their families and their work places indeed have reason to be afraid of death and judgment. As Jesus told us,"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
Do we want to be like Paul in overcoming the fear of death? Do we want to share his hope and look forward with confidence to the Last Judgment? Then we must decide here and now to be like him in walking by faith and making it our sole and constant desire to please God in all things.
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