Homily for August 29, Monday of the XXII week in Ordinary time, year I
When I’m driving or cleaning my room, I like to listen to radio programs from NPR or the Vatican. One of my favorite NPR programs is “This American Life”. In a segment of one episode on “superpowers”, originally aired back in 2001, one of the reporters asked adults an interesting question: If you could have the power either to fly or to be invisible, which one would you choose? It may seem like an odd question to ask adults, but apparently, your answer to that question says a lot about your personality – whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, a show-off or shy, and things like that. They analyzed all of that in depth on the show. I don’t care what a psychoanalist would say, but for me it’s a no-brainer: I’d choose to be able to fly. The view would be spectacular and it would make it so much easier to get from one place to another! Apparently that’s the most common choice for men, whereas more women would prefer to be invisible.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that we are to take St. Paul too literally when, in the first reading, he makes it sound like we will fly when Christ comes on Judgement Day, when we will be “caught up together with [those who have risen from the dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This is more likely symbolic.
When Christ comes at the end of the world, everyone who has been saved will be freed from the limitations and bonds of earthly suffering and weakness; hence the image of being lifted up off the earth. The reference to the clouds is also more than a forecast for the second coming; clouds in the Bible are quite often signs of the presence of God. For example, in the Old Testament a cloud descended on the tent of the Ark of the Covenant when Moses went to speak with God, and in the New Testament, the apostles were surrounded by a cloud when Jesus revealed His divinity to them at the Transfiguration. St. Paul’s point is that on that day, the dead and the living will both share equally in the new life of the resurrection, with the full joy of the presence of God and of each other.
It is this assurance that gives the martyrs a real super power, much greater than flight or invisibility: the courage to suffer torture and death to bear witness to their faith. In the Gospel reading, we see St. John the Baptist suffer martyrdom at the hands of Herod’s executioners, at the request of Herodias’ daughter. John knew that his outspoken defense of morality could get him into trouble, but he knew that he had a mission from God that he had to fulfill. Herod could not take anything from John that God could not and would not restore. By losing his life on earth for the sake of God’s Word, John won the guarantee of his eventual resurrection and glory. May God give each of us this true “super power” of courage and faith, so that we too will be faithful to God’s will in or lives, and rise with St. John and all the other saints to enjoy the freedom and joy of heaven on the last day.