By Father Christopher M. O’Connor
WHAT EXACTLY IS Gehenna? Jesus tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel that it is a place where we do not want to go.
Gehenna today is a beautiful place outside the old city of Jerusalem, but that was not always the case. It was in Gehenna that idolatrous Israelites sacrificed their children to the false god Moloch. That land was then considered cursed and became the garbage dump for ancient Jerusalem, where the constant fires burned the refuse. It was an awful, smelly, disgusting, vile place where the flames consumed all that was placed there. Gehenna then becomes synonymous with hell. Hell is real and is somewhere none us should ever want to go.
Misunderstanding About Death
There is a misunderstanding today about death and the afterlife. There is a presumption that everyone goes to heaven upon their death. We see this in social media when people post statements like “Happy birthday in heaven mom!” or “Hey pop, 24 years ago today you went to heaven.”
Sometimes we hear it in eulogies when people make comments like: “We know you are in a better place” or “Get heaven ready for the rest of us.”
The only time we know for certain that someone is in heaven is when the pope canonizes that person, otherwise the dead are still in need of our prayers.
I tell people that my own father has been dead for 28 years, but I still offer Mass for him near his anniversary and other times during the year. I do not want to die, get to purgatory, see my father and have him tell me, “You know, a few more Masses and I would be in heaven.”
Jesus warns us of the consequences of our sins when He – using hyperbole – suggests we should pluck out our eye or cut off our hands or feet to prevent us from continuing in sin. He is not actually saying we should do those things, but He wants to make it clear that radical change is necessary to prevent us from going into hell. Our body parts do not cause us to sin; it is our human will.
Choices Define Us
If one keeps committing the same sin over and over again, it is not enough to give up. One must do what is necessary to reject the sin and give oneself over to Jesus. We make a choice and we must choose Jesus.
Many sins are difficult to stop and require us to take courageous actions. It might mean entering a rehabilitation center, attending a 12-step program, seeking therapy or engaging in prayer and fasting.
Earlier in the Gospel, the apostle John is concerned that another individual, not one of their inner circle, is exorcizing people in the name of Jesus. Jesus does not want the apostles to stop him, but is pleased that someone recognizes the power of His Holy Name and believes in Him.
Jesus wants all of us to use His name to cast out the power of darkness and sin.
In the first reading, Joshua is upset that two other men are prophesying in the camp, who were not at the meeting tent when the Spirit of the Lord rested on the other 68. Moses responds similarly as our Lord does, wanting all the people to prophesy in the name of the Lord. Moses and our Lord Jesus both know that the more people who are faithful to the precepts of the Lord, the more they will have joy in their hearts. Their hearts will then turn away from sin and lead others to do the same.
In the second reading, St. James calls out those who are greedy and hoard material possessions, failing to see the needs of their brothers and sisters. He chastises them for being unjust in labor practices as well. It is not just to get them to share their wealth for the good of others, but he is also he concerned for their immortal souls, he does not want any one of them to be lost.
Called to Radical Conversion
In the last few years, particularly during and after the Year of Mercy, we have heard a lot about the mercy of God. But we must not be presumptuous of it.
Sin destroys souls, families, societies and parishes. Jesus calls all of us to radical conversion, to refuse to be mastered by sin. His Divine Mercy will pour out upon us, but we need to listen to Him.
Let us all call upon the Holy Name of Jesus and be saved by Him and Him alone.
Readings for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Numbers 11: 25-29
Psalm 19: 8, 10, 12-13, 14
James 5: 1-6
Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48
Father O’Connor is the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside.