Death and Taxes (or Elections)
The theme of this week’s readings is the resurrection of the dead. It is quite apropos for a Sunday that falls between All Souls Day and Election Day.
We all know the terrible pain of loss. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose brother was killed in the First World War and who helped lead Christian resistance to the Nazis before he himself was captured and put to death, wrote these powerful words: “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation; for the gap—as long as it remains unfilled—preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other even at the cost of pain.”
Hope is the prevailing virtue, “good hope through his grace.” The reading from Second Maccabees reminds me of a story from one of my students. Her friend is a refugee from Iraq whose family attempted to flee the violence only to be taken hostage. The captors announced that for their freedom one of them would have to die. The grandfather immediately stepped forward and was shot dead. His family was then allowed to cross the border. We can imagine that, like the mother and the seven sons in the reading, this grandfather was proclaiming a love stronger than death and a hope that no militant could destroy. I can imagine him saying, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
This last part of the reading must not be dismissed. Death is not only an opportunity for us to exercise the virtue of hope, but it is also a stark reminder of the Judgement. Jesus speaks about “those who are deemed worthy to attain to
the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead.” Who are these people? Our faith tells us that we are among them only by God’s grace. In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made worthy (CCC #1987-95). Even those who
are saved outside of explicit membership in the Church (i.e. outside of sacramental Baptism) are saved nonetheless only by Christ through a baptism of desire that implicitly links them to the Church (CCC #1260). We know from Christ that there is a danger of not being deemed worthy though. Who are these people? They are dead, incapable of love and communion through their own decision to reject Life and Love Itself, which is God. This is the state of mortal sin (CCC #1855-61). Jesus affirmed that God “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Now, let me turn our attention to the election Tuesday. This, too, is an occasion for hope. God who raises the dead is supreme over every earthly government. Good Catholic women and men are supporting various candidates. I am not speaking of those who make decisions without regard to their faith; I mean Catholics who take the responsibility to form their conscience seriously and who prayerfully come to their best prudential judgment regarding how to apply the moral norms of our faith to the concrete circumstances of a very difficult election. These people, following their conscience, arrive at different places. It appears even our priests and bishops are divided when it comes to the concrete decisions, even though they are united in faith. We are not speaking of one righteous opinion (vote), therefore, and another that is a mortal sin. Such reductionism is not Catholic, nor is it charitable to accuse anyone of such.
We are not all-knowing. God alone is wise and omniscient; and God reigns supreme. Our faith demands that we trust
in Divine Providence, that mysterious way in which God, without violating our freedom, nonetheless guides the whole creation towards its ultimate purpose, which is the Reign of God. This is the source of our hope. With this in
mind, no matter how the election turns out, let us join one another in charity and continue to be united in our common faith. We may think the choice of president is abominable, or we may rejoice in victory, but either way, God reigns over all. This is why the woman and her seven sons were willing to endure torture and death by an earthly king. Their hope was in the King of Heaven and Earth. Ours should be too.