From yesterday each one of us has today moved one day closer to death. It’s our common destiny. The Mass of All Souls puts that reality in front of us in a special way even though in every celebrated Mass we always pray for those who have, along with all of the saints, gone ahead of us into the next life.
Each and every Mass puts us in a holy communion with the communion of saints. This is so because Christ, in His Mystical Body the Church, continues to join us into Himself so that He can take us back to our Father in heaven.
Our prayers for the dead began with the first Christians who, from the very beginning, prayed for those early martyrs. They did so in order to give thanks to Almighty God for the witness of those martyrs along with their courage, and above all their faith. They did so because they recognized the unbreakable bond that joins us all together in Christ, the living and the dead alike. Death cannot tear asunder the family of Christ; death cannot tear asunder the communion that we share in Christ with each other whether we are here on earth or have gone ahead into the next life.
Thirteen hundred years ago a famous English Benedictine priest, The Venerable Bede (673-735), gave us some beautiful thoughts about this. He wrote:
We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them first to us. Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives do you give. What you give you do not take away. For what is yours is also ours. We are yours and life is eternal. And love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is but the limit of our sight.
One day death will come to claim us. But death cannot defeat us. We cannot escape you, O Death. We recoil from you, for you come to us from the realms of our Ancient Enemy, the one who separated himself from the Source of Life. You come to us, O Death, from the one who defied God and then went off into darkness. You are the ruthless destroyer of life, but victory is not yours, O Death. Christ is risen from the tomb; His light now scatters the darkness. He brought Lazarus forth from his tomb and set him free, free from the winding embalmment sheets that imprisoned him. You have been defeated, O Death.
St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:53-66) tells us:
For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality. And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, remembering those heroes and heroines who lived such lives of faith, hope, and love here on earth that we honor them as saints who live now in heaven. But what of those who are not yet there? What of those who have yet to achieve heaven’s goal?
As Catholics we speak of Purgatory, that state of being in which we are purging away those imperfections of ours that we need to be overcome. It is a comforting doctrine. Purgatory is a statement that God’s love always awaits us, awaits our total and complete response. God offers – we respond, and many of us, myself included, are working on perfecting the quality of our responses to God’s offer of love. That is what Purgatory is all about. That leads me to believe that many of us are working out our time in Purgatory in this life as well as in the next.
Our Ancient Enemy, Satan and his agents, will do whatever they can to bring us into misery. As the old adage goes: “Misery loves company.” Satan’s envy, Satan’s jealousy, is because Jesus Christ patiently gives us many chances to choose Him and choose His Father’s love.
After all, St. John tells us, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. [John 3:16] Satan and his angels had their chances and lost them. We still have our chances and that sends Satan and his angels into a rage of jealousy and envy.
If you go to any bookstore you will find books having to do with living purpose-filled lives. Unfortunately many of those authors offer their insights without any reference to God, Christ, and God’s Holy Spirit. Fortunately, we have the Good Book, the lives of the holy ones in our Church, as well as the holy ones among us who show us our true purpose in living, namely to live in loving union with God in Christ here on earth and forever in heaven.
We delude ourselves if we think that is something that is easy to do. It is not. It is much easier to follow a set of laws, rules, and regulations than it is to love others as Jesus loves. Love, true love that is loyal, faithful, and committed, is hard to live out in its completeness. Why? Because love requires self-sacrifice. Love requires that we crucify our self-centeredness, die to self-interest and then live in sensitivity, compassion, and loving concern for others. If the truth were told, it can only be successfully done with God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s powerful Spirit living within our hearts and souls.
The central point facing us is to acknowledge that God gives each one of us in Christ His presence, His power, and His love in His Sacraments. The unearned free gift of God’s presence is here… we need only to fully open our hearts to receive all that God wants to give us.
It can be done and so today we remember those who are trying to do it by purging away all that keeps them from living fully with Christ. With God’s loving presence within our hearts and souls we can live forever with all of the saints in heaven. For it seems to me that to have lived a good life, to have loved others around you very much, to have had the grace to have wonderful children, to have overcome one’s personal and private limitations and sufferings, and to have left the lot of those around you a little bit better than it once was, to have been genuinely loved by the people around you, and to have died in God’s good graces, is no small thing to have happened to any one of us.
May God grant that each one of us lives such a life.