11 Nov 2007
“‘They can no longer die for they are like angels...’” (Luke 20:36) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
When my nephew entered the army last year, they severely limited his contacts with his family and friends during boot camp. And I’m sure this is the usual process that any of our veterans here today can attest to from their own experiences. When you enter military life, a clean break with your old ways is probably the most efficient way to begin your new life. Military and civilian expectations are foreign to each other. What worked in one world, will not work in the other. Jesus isn’t so much today offering us a message of separation, but He is telling us that the kingdom of God is radically different than the human society we have created and are accustomed to. Coming into the presence of God is a brand new beginning. Everything needs to be learned all over again. The saying that is considered one of the most authentic of Jesus of Nazareth is absolutely right on the mark: The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Or as Jesus chooses to present it in today’s Gospel, marriage bonds, the bedrock of traditional Jewish society, end and instead we become like the angels.
This past Wednesday and Thursday I enjoyed the opportunity that I look forward to each year. I attended our diocesan clergy retreat at the Genesis Center in Westfield. I have come to know some of the staff and sisters there on a friendly basis since we’ve been going there for so many years now. And this year I told them they need dogs on the premises. If you go to their webpage, there is an icon called staff and creatures. Along with all of the people who run Genesis Center, they list their menagerie of cats and birds. No dogs. We went to the chapel on our first night to sing a litany to Mary. You’re supposed to keep the doors closed so these cats don’t sneak in, but somehow while we were making our way inside these two cats came along with us. The bishop says, “Calvo get those cats out of here.” I’m not touching no cat; I’m not picking one up. I try to shoo them out the door. No luck. Finally another priest gets one out, but we can’t get the second one. We start the litany. The expelled cat is so angry it must have jumped about four feet up into the air, grabbed a hold of the molding around the door window and started clawing and screeching like it was possessed. I’m trying to keep a straight face during the litany, but all I saw was this angry cat-head and flaying claws. This is why I’m a dog person, and this is why I told the nuns they have to start getting dogs onto that staff and creatures icon.
One of the nicest things about Genesis Center, “Genesis” – a place for new beginnings, is how welcoming it is. Facetiously, cat and dog people can even get along together, but seriously, all are welcome in the faith. It’s administered by Roman Catholic nuns, who treat National Catholic clergy with respect, and we all sat in the dining room together with another group from the Presbyterian Church, and there was a Seminarian there from Malawi, which I think is in Africa. Differences became much less important than what bound us together, our faith. And that’s what Jesus is trying to get at in today’s Gospel-message about the end of marriage and becoming like the angels of heaven.
I mentioned a few weeks back that Rev. Killough, a Congregational Minister, and I went to hear Fr. Andrew Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest, speak at UMass. A few days after that we went together to Smith College to listen to a woman Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor. There was a time when such interaction among religious professionals was not possible, not desirable, not even imagined. Likewise, I imagine that today’s Gospel-message sounds foreign and even disturbing when we really think about it. This Gospel is one of the reasons why at weddings we say, “Until death do you part.” Exclusive marriage bonds end at death. This in no way whatsoever implies that a special relationship with a life partner ends at death. What it does imply is that in the kingdom of God the bonds of love that so perfectly define marriage now define our relationship with all the saints. You know for as much as marriage is the exclusive union of two people, there is also the blessed corollary of marriage that it brings complete strangers together now as family, maybe as in-laws, but still as family. I married Sharon, but I got her brother Kevin and his family along with the deal, and Sharon got my sister and her family. We can joke about in-laws, but because of marriage’s condensation of the two shall become one, the opposite actually happens and the size of a family doubles. Likewise, unions that were once unforeseen become possible in Christ. When we join ourselves to Him, we open ourselves to everyone else who has done the same. Differences, again, become less important than the faith we hold in common. We become like angels, says Jesus, children of the one God.
Just the other day, I received a beautiful thank you card from Karen Sullivan, the woman whose family we were helping for several years. The letter was addressed to: “Dear Fr. Randy and the many ministering angels at Holy Name of Jesus.” The letter is posted on the hall bulletin board. She thanks those who helped her for their selflessness and their concern. Karen does not belong to this parish. None of us really knew Karen before her time of need. But we helped her, and open-endedly. We didn’t know for how long she would need our assistance. For this, in her words, she said thank-you to the “ministering angels” of this congregation. Faith did that. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel. Differences that can separate are over-matched by graces that can unite. Both the helper and the helped are changed by the union. The poet Walt Whitman served as a Civil War nurse. “Walt, you’re doing a miracle for those fellows in the hospital,” people would tell him. His response was: “I was doing miracles for myself.”
A life of faith is a brand new beginning. It’s not like the old world. This is what Jesus is trying to tell us today. Where others see giving, we see gain. Where others see separation, we see union. May we continue on toward becoming like the angels of God. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.