How do we Find Proof of Life in Death?

The Remarkable Answer to that question is Pondered in the Homily Below

How do we Find Proof of Life in Death?

How do we find proof of life in death? The remarkable answer to that question is pondered in the homily below, delivered on Sunday, September 19, 2021, by Fr. Luke Winklemann of St. John Vianney Parish, Northlake, Illinois,


Beloved in the Lord,

Father John Kemble was a dedicated priest in England in the 1600’s. He was well known and respected, even by Protestants. But then came anti-Catholic persecution, again.

Fr. Kemble was arrested. He had been urged to flee, but he chose to remain with his Catholic people. Now at 80 years old, he was ordered taken to London for trial.

As the elderly priest had difficulty riding a horse, he was strapped onto the horse like a pack, all the way there. He was found guilty of the crime of being a Catholic priest, and sentenced to be hanged, and drawn and quartered. This means, that before you die from hanging, your intestines are cut out; then you are cut into four pieces.

Before he was led out to his execution, he insisted on saying his prayers and finishing his drink, and the group joined the elderly priest in a final smoke.

The executioner was fearful, so the priest comforted him and said: My friend Anthony, be not afraid, do your office. I forgive you with all my heart.

His death was greeted with shock, even Protestants praised him as a great gentleman. Soon, miracles followed, and cures and healings. He was canonized a saint in 1970.

Some people on this earth, driven by the love of God, have their eyes fixed on only one goal: Heaven.

They realize that loving God, and giving one’s whole self to build Christ’s kingdom on earth, is the only thing really worth doing; everything else is temporary and non-essential.

Today in the gospel, Jesus is walking along, beginning his journey to Jerusalem. He gives a warning to his disciples, that he will be crucified. Now if we compare the passage today with his similar statement from last Sunday, we see that he adds one extra phrase; he says: “The Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of men.”

There was a traitor in the group and Jesus knew it. Maybe he could see it better than Judas could himself. When he said he would be delivered into the hands of men, it was not only a prediction, it was a last appeal to Judas, with a desire to save his soul.

But what is astonishing in this gospel, is that – Our Lord is telling them that he will be delivered up, crucified, and that – he will rise on the third day.  I mean, their dear Jesus, who they have left all to follow, whose presence is the dearest thing to them – he is telling them that he will be crucified!

Then he tells them he is going to conquer death, be raised up, resurrected. I mean, this is stunning information!

But these guys don’t even hear it, or get it, or even ask about it! Why?

It tells us: “And he began to ask them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves who was the greatest.”

This scene is in the scriptures to instruct us; this is the danger – instead of keeping our eyes on Christ, on our goal, we get caught up in petty things due to our pride, our crummy pride.

This pettiness, trying to be better than others, vying for advantage, envy – it’s because we want to be great, yes. But greatness is not this.

Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God? Is it the President? Famous movie stars? Is it the Pope? Is it the people who have important offices? No.

Greatness in the Kingdom of God is determined by holiness. Those who lead the best life, a life of love of God, and this comes down to seeking to do God’s will every day; it means developing our personality, our virtues; growing in humility, simplicity, loyalty, chastity, hard-working, courage, honesty, sincerity. Being REAL – authentic, not phony.

But we read today that the apostles are so focused on themselves and their petty rivalry, that they don’t even hear Jesus say that he will rise from the dead. As we know, this is the most incredible and glorious reason that makes life worth living: the promise of our own resurrection in glory, that if we follow Christ, we will conquer death.

I suppose that Judas never believed that. He was living only for this world, no faith in anything beyond this life. There are people today who only believe what they see. Some say, “I don’t believe in anything except science.”  Interesting, no?

I used to be a scientist and engineer. Not now. Science can only go so far in seeking truth. Science, technology, is interesting, but what is more interesting to me are things that last forever, eternal things: Eternity.

Science is one form of knowledge-seeking; it crawls along, doing tests and experiments, or building things, or to learn about nature, bit by bit. It is on purpose skeptical. But as we have said here before, it is remarkable how scientific discoveries are leading us more and more to God.

For example, when we think about the next life, or the question of the existence of the soul after death, one might think that science could not get us any answers about that; but maybe it can. Some people say that consciousness – our mind’s ability to be self-aware – that it comes from our physical brain. This is what materialists say.  But consciousness is a mystery: our ability to reflect on ourself, to ponder things and their meaning. Really, there is no reason that evolution would produce consciousness; it is not needed for survival.

Students today, in the public school, are usually told that the human mind, with its ability to consciously reason and reflect, is the result of the processes of evolution. Materialists think that we’re just animals. But modern medicine has something to say about this.

In olden times, when people died, they died. That’s it. But in modern times, it is not uncommon that a person “dies,” but is brought back by advanced medical techniques. Paramedics can shock someone back to life; sometimes during an operation, a man’s heart stops and then he is revived.

Dr. Maurice Rawlings explains that 10-20 percent of patients who were clinically dead but were revived, report some kind of near-death experience.

During their “death”, they actually experience consciousness; they report finding themselves out of their body, even watching the work of doctors and nurses on their body; there have been many studies of this, and these studies show that they are correct, in what they saw.

Vicki Noratuk was blind; she had never, ever, been able to see. One day, their car was in a tragic accident; she found herself out of her body, looking down to see the mangled car, the first time she had ever seen a car. She later watched as the doctors worked on her in the operating room; they said, “it’s no good, we can’t save her.”

She tried to tell them she was there, but they couldn’t hear her. Vicki, who had always been blind, could later report many details in that operating room that she could never have known unless she actually saw them.

She then felt herself rising above the hospital building itself; she could see the whole city; then hearing music, she was whisked to a place of great light. There she was surrounded by trees and flowers and people. It was a place of tremendous light, and the light, she said, was something you could feel as well as see.  Everybody there was made of light. What the light conveyed was love.  It was like love came from everything, even nature.

Vicki then became aware of persons she knew in life who were welcoming her including two of her blind schoolmates who died at ages 11 and 6. In life, they had both been severely handicapped, but here they were vitally alive.

(She says, I had a feeling that everything made sense. I just knew that this was where … this place was where I would find the answers to all the questions about life, about the universe, about God.)

The figure next to her was of greater illumination than anyone; it was Jesus, who greeted her tenderly “Isn’t it wonderful?,” he said; “everything is beautiful here, and it fits together, but you can’t stay here now…” Then he showed her everything from her birth in a review of her life; she understood the significance of her actions and their consequences. And then she was suddenly back in her painful body.

Friends, 80 percent of blind people who have had near-death experiences are able to see, even after being clinically dead. In addition, there are thousands of cases of those who met loved ones beyond death, or siblings they didn’t know they had.

Of course, there are scary near-death experiences too, of people who have seen the devil, or were brought to a burning place of terror, and others. When I was a seminarian, I did a stint in a hospital; one night, I was called to the emergency room, a man had attempted suicide. He told me, ‘’I have seen the devil’ (Not a nice experience for a seminarian!).

Science does not admit to anything that cannot be proven, but it seems that there is a great deal of data, and eyewitness accounts of events beyond the grave.Maybe new discoveries will help unbelievers to find the way to the truth. I hope. We ourselves know by faith, that if we are faithful, Jesus will lead us on that day to the joy of his heavenly kingdom.

The stakes are very high. To lose in this game, is to lose everything. We see that the martyrs gave up everything to attain the kingdom of heaven.

As your pastor, who prays for you – for you teachers, for you students, for our parishioners – I can’t think of anything I desire more than that each person here, would arrive safely in the kingdom of heaven. To lose that, is to lose everything.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary pray for us, for all of us, to persevere. Pray for us Mary, now and at the Hour of our death. Amen.