September 4, 2023 –
Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
… the dead in Christ will rise first.
Today’s First Reading is often proclaimed at funerals. It’s full of teaching from St. Paul about death and the afterlife, fitting for meditation as fall draws closer and our minds turn to the Last Things. Unfortunately, some of the Church’s teachings about the Last Things have been distorted. We can find clarity through the wisdom of holy doctors of the Faith, and the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church.
Consider one of the phrases that St. Paul uses in this passage. He refers to the dead when he writes of “those who have fallen asleep”. Are we to understand this phrase literalistically? That interpretation has been adopted by some Christians to the exclusion of the Catholic belief in the saints being alive and active in Heaven. The Catholic belief in the afterlife would interpret this phrase of St. Paul as referring to the physical appearance of the dead: that is, once the soul has left the human body, it seems to our physical senses that the person has fallen asleep.
The various human authors of Sacred Scripture often use such metaphors, which appeal only to what seems to be the case to the outer senses. This appeal has a pedagogic purpose in teaching those who have yet come to understand the Faith fully. The context, of course, in which to understand this phrase is Christ. All depend on Christ for their life. Those who sleep in death await Christ’s Second Coming for the raising of their bodies. We who work in life rejoice in Christ coming among us in the Eucharist, to strengthen us in the face of the death that we embrace through our sins.