1 November 2021
Modern technology has revolutionised our lives. But even if you can see your front door via a satellite in outer space, you cannot find the address of heaven.
How should we face death?
There are two things in life you cannot control: birth and death. We want to be in control, but life isn’t that way. We need to realise that death may come at any time. My father went to hospital with heart palpitations and was told he needed to be confined. He said he wasn’t ready – he would go home and return after fifteen days; but before fifteen days he passed away. Two years ago, three people I knew died in the same week. There are things we don’t want to talk about, but one day they’ll happen. Death will come whether we like it or not, but Christians should learn how to die a victorious death. We may not know heaven or what happens after death; many people don’t believe in an “afterlife”, and do everything they can to enjoy life because it’s the only life they have. But Christian faith doesn’t say that – we believe in the resurrection of the dead. Either we’re Christian or we’re not; either we believe it or we don’t: Jesus will raise us from the dead. We don’t know where heaven is, but Jesus faced death and was resurrected from the dead. He said, “Where I go, one day you will be.” If we follow Jesus, He knows where heaven is.
Some people don’t believe in God, but I’d rather believe in Him. Christianity has taught me absolutely nothing that has made my life bad; everything it has taught me has made my life better. If there’s no God, but I believe there is, I don’t lose anything. But if in this life I don’t believe, and then at the end I find God exists, I’m in big trouble. My catholic faith has taught me nothing wrong – everything is to lift up human dignity. I’ve realised that life can be burdensome without God. Didn’t Jesus say, “Come to Me, you who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”? He offers Himself to us to help us in our struggles, trials and temptations. Life is more difficult away from God than closer to Him.
Today we consider the great history of the Feast of All Saints. After the Lord’s Ascension, the disciples gathered in an upper room, received the gift of the Holy Spirit and started to proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t, “Come to our church, because it’s fun and there’s food and drink and our priest is good- looking”. It’s what Peter preached at Pentecost: Jesus was crucified; He was and is God and King, the Saviour of the world; and He resurrected from the dead. Jesus faced death and was resurrected, and that same resurrection is promised to those who follow Him. That’s the Catholic faith. God doesn’t want us to be hopeless – Christians are people of hope, which even death cannot take away. You cannot raise yourself from the dead – there’s no hope outside God, but only in Jesus Christ.
The cost and the reward of faith
The disciples preached that Jesus was resurrected, and those who followed were called Christians. The Jews regarded them a sect, known as The Way, and a threat to Judaism. Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire: it was unstoppable. In spite of persecution, God caused the Church to grow.
In AD 64, under Nero’s rule, there was a fire in Rome. The Emperor blamed the Christians for bringing bad luck. Christians were arrested, not for any crime but for believing in Jesus Christ. They were imprisoned and forced to sacrifice to pagan gods. Those who didn’t were martyred: fed to lions, burned alive, boiled in oil or flayed alive. That’s our heritage. They paid a great price for their faith; in comparison, we today have paid very little. This persecution was widespread and continued under succeeding emperors until Christianity became a religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine.
Christians commemorated those who gave their lives for the faith by celebrating the Eucharist on their tombs. Marble on churches’ altars represents the tomb of Christ. When the martyrs became so many, they combined them in the Feast of All Saints: there were more than 365, and they wanted to celebrate all their lives to honour their sacrifice and their faith.
We honour those who enjoy the vision of God in heaven. Many of us ask, “Where is God? God, are You there? Are You listening to me? Are You really alive?” Those who’ve gone before us are gazing at His beauty and His love and the face of Jesus every day. They’re so fixated with the face of Jesus, which is so beautiful and so filled with love and grace that you don’t want to take your eyes off Him. They died having chosen friendship with God rather than with the world; they loved God more than themselves. They behold His everlasting glory – multitudes of men and women from all ages and walks of life who, while they lived on earth, followed Christ, paid the ultimate price of dying for their faith, and were rewarded with eternal life. Among them may be some of your relatives and friends. They chose to be poor in spirit and were rewarded with God’s Kingdom; they chose to mourn in this life for humanity’s predicament, and now they’re being comforted. They embraced meekness, lived an intense desire for righteousness, chose mercy rather than revenge, sought purity of heart, and became peacemakers; yet they were persecuted for doing good.
Usually in this world you don’t get persecuted for doing something bad – you get persecuted for doing good; but that shouldn’t stop us. Evil will become more powerful in the absence of good – as when you turn off a light in a dark room, darkness will prevail.
Run the race
Hebrews 12:1-2. To be Christian is to run a race, to fight our battles, the good fight of faith. It’s more than asking God to be a helpful or providing spirit. There’s suffering in this life, and you cannot take it away, although God is with you when you suffer. That’s the reality we’ve seen this past two years. Often people are perplexed as to why a loving God allows people to suffer. When life is difficult, I like to read about the lives of the saints. What we’re encountering isn’t new – many of the saints before us encountered the same thing or worse. There have been many pandemics in history; during the Spanish flu about 100 years ago, 20 to 50 million died. We can sometimes temporarily forget the suffering, but there are challenging times in this life.
We shouldn’t be afraid, because God is on our side. God desires you to love Him – not because He’s desperate for you to love and worship Him, but because He wants to be part of your life. He wants to do something good in your life every day: when you’re in sorrow, God will give you the joy you need; when you fall down, He’ll lift you up so you can carry on until the end. God doesn’t make our lives complicated – we do. God tries to make your life easy, because He loves you. But that can only happen when you have a relationship with Him. Why is God allowing people to suffer? Jesus came to suffer – if you can explain that, you have the answer. When it’s really challenging, He’s there to help us.
Today we look at the lives of the saints. If they made it, then if you fight the good fight of faith and run the race with patient endurance, you and I will also make it to the end.
We need community
We live in a society where individualism is preached every day: What’s good for me? How much do I have in this deal? Many people are leaving their jobs and don’t want to go back: they’ve realised that work isn’t everything. When bad things happen, it’s their family and community they can rely upon. When you didn’t have food during the pandemic, it was people in the church who loved you and brought you a food basket; it was people in the community who called you to make sure you were alive. That’s why we don’t disregard gathering together: in challenging times it’s the community that will support you. You draw strength from the community and bring strength to the community. In Spain, a woman was found six months after she’d died – that’s how individualistic our world is. Can you imagine finding out your relative was dead six months, lying on the floor disintegrating? No one cared to call her, until the neighbours complained about a bad odour and realised something was wrong. We need to be part of a community. Follow Jesus, and be part of the church where He leads you; participate in giving and receiving in that community.
Don’t give up
Paul said, “Run the race, go for the prize”, as if you’re in the Olympics. God’s not embarrassed to promise us that those who overcome will be crowned and reign with Christ forever (Revelation 5:10). God wants you to make it. Those who’ve gone ahead of us are our cheering squad: “Come on! Let’s go! You can make it!” When you fall down, begin to doubt, or question the existence of God, your relatives are praying for you and cheering you on: “You cannot do that! Stand up! Let’s move!” Don’t have a short-sighted mentality that life is only here on earth – no, the reward is great. If only they could share with you what they’re experiencing right now! The Bible gives us a glimpse, and the Church in heaven is our cheering squad. Deacon Angel is among them: when life in Venice is very difficult and you want to give up, he’s praying for you and saying, “Don’t give up – I didn’t give up – and you will reach the end.”
Never forget that even when life becomes very difficult, God never leaves you nor forsakes you. You’re better off with God than without Him. Go for the prize and the crown. Are you ready to run the race and willing to fight the fight? We won’t let you go down the drain, and those ahead of us are praying for you today.
Lord, I pray for those who’ve been distracted by the world around us, like Saint Peter when he lost his focus and stared sinking: come and save us. I pray for those who are undergoing difficulties and asking: “God, are You really real? Are you really there? Please answer me.” When we lose our loved ones or our jobs and it seems like the end of the world, may we not give up, because You’re always there with us and for us. As we open our hearts to You, may You fill us with hope and cause it to increase in every single one of us, that we’ll run the race that’s set before us and never give up the hope we have in Christ – that this promise isn’t empty but You’re willing to fulfil it in our lives today and forever. For those who are afraid of death, give them the courage to believe for a glorious and victorious death, in Jesus’ name. Take away the fear of death, that we’ll be a people of hope, and that as a Church we’ll become a beacon and a messenger of hope to the world around us, especially to those who are struggling after the pandemic, those who are lost, those who don’t have anywhere to go and don’t know what to do.
If this message is speaking to you, turn to God: Lord, fill my heart with hope. I give my life to You. I may not know where heaven is, but You know; and as You are the Way, the Truth and the Life, I will follow You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
 Flaying is the removal of the skin