All Souls Day
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm - 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Second Reading - Romans 6:3-9
Gospel - John 11:17-27
Jesus arrived in Bethany, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for
four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their
brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask
of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise."
Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me,
even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never
die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I
have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is
coming into the world."
Today, Catholics worldwide celebrate All Souls Day - one of the more ancient feast days in the Church's calendar. It's an appropriate way to begin this month of November, the month of All Souls. Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints - the celebration of the Church Triumphant - those souls that have made it to heaven; and today, we celebrate the memory of the Church suffering - those souls in purgatory who are still making reparation for the sins they committed in this life.
All Souls Day is a testimony to our enduring belief in the resurrection of the body and it forces us to consider our own mortality and what will happen to each of us when we die. As body-soul composites, we will each face two judgments before the Lord. The first will occur when we die - our souls will stand before God for particular judgment while our bodies will remain in the ground. We can be sent to either heaven, purgatory or hell. At the Final Judgment, at the end of the world, each of us will be reunited with our earthly bodies that we had here on earth but now in a glorified state and all the souls in purgatory will also be rejoined to their bodies and will be taken up into heaven and only heaven and hell will exist. This is why we treat the body with such dignity and why even cremated remains must be buried or placed in a columbarium or similar place of dignity - not on our fireplace mantle - because the faithful need a place to come and have an opportunity to venerate and pray over the body of the faithful departed. That's also why we don't strew ashes over the ocean or the river - the body is sacred and we will get our bodies back when we face Final Judgment. The veneration of gravesites underscores the fact that we view the body as a sacred instrument that is intended for lasting glory with God in heaven.
The entire doctrine of purgatory is one that many non-Catholics find confusing. In fact, many Catholics today can't give a reasonable explanation for why we hold for this doctrine. We do well to consider this morning what purgatory is; why we believe in it and what it should mean for us here on earth. There is good Scriptural evidence for the existence of purgatory. It's even referred to in the Old Testament. For example, in the book of Maccabees, Judas Maccabeus makes atonement for the dead, that they may be delivered from their sin (2Macc 12:46). If the dead are in heaven, no atonement for sin is necessary; if they are in hell, no atonement is possible. So, there must be a place (what we call purgatory) where the dead make atonement for their sin. Purgatory is a temporal reality - a state of existence where the souls of those who need to make atonement for their sins are able to go.
Many people think if one were to go to Confession and then die just minutes after leaving the Church, that they would go straight to heaven. That's not necessarily true. Just because one has been forgiven of his sins in the Sacrament of Penance, that does not mean that he is automatically exempt from having to make reparation for his sins. Perhaps an example would illustrate this point. Let us say that I am sitting in my rectory on Sunday afternoon, enjoying a football game and a group of young men are across the street playing catch. One of the guys is dared to see if he can throw the baseball far enough to put it through my living room window. So, Johnny takes a shot at my window and boom! - the ball crashes through my window. The other boys run but Johnny knows that he just can't walk away - he's responsible. So, he knocks on my door and admits fault. In a magnificent act of benevolence, I quickly forgive him and then he says, "Ok, thanks, Father." Whoa! Not so fast! Johnny may be forgiven, but he still owes me but the problem is - Johnny doesn't have money. So, he and I agree that he will come to the rectory every day after school for a month and trim my bushes, mow my lawn and wax my car. It's fair, right? Johnny is forgiven - I won't tell his parents what a bonehead he was but at the same time, he still owes me - that's purgatory.
In effect, purgatory is evidence of God's mercy. If God were to judge us on a strict basis of justice, we could only either go to heaven is we died in a state of perfection or hell, if we died in a state anything short of perfection. So, purgatory, according to the Catechism is a place where those who die in God's grace and friendship, but are still imperfectly purified and are assured of eternal salvation, go to be purified, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter into the joy of heaven. Some will argue that if God is merciful, then he wouldn't send someone to purgatory. Ah, but such persons forget that God's justice and his mercy never contradict. God is merciful by not sending us to hell for dying in a state of imperfection but He is just in giving us the opportunity to purify ourselves of those imperfections - those attachments to sin that we still have at the time of death. So, in this life, we live in God's mercy; in the next life, we will live in his justice.
There's a tendency today at funerals for even faithful and believing Catholics to practically canonize their beloved dead. Some people get upset when a priest mentions purgatory at a funeral - they say that they know for sure that they're loved one who has died is in heaven. Yes, we need to live with the hope - the trust - that our beloved dead are on their way to heaven and if they are in heaven already - they should pray for us. If they're not - then we should pray for them - pray them out of purgatory, if you will.
Masses are not offered for saints - they don't need it. Most Masses are said for the souls in purgatory. it's one of the key reasons why we have funeral Masses in the first place. Yet, at the end of the day, judgment is for God, not for us and as a matter of justice, we ought to pray for our beloved dead because for all we know, they may be in purgatory. Yes, it is possible that those who have suffered greatly in this life have spent their purgatory here and we should encourage those who suffer to offer up their suffering for the intention of making reparation for their sins - to unite their suffering with that of our Lord crucified.
For us, the, we ought to recommit ourselves to praying for our beloved dead - especially those of our loved ones who most need our prayers as they make reparation for their sins that they committed here on earth. For our part, let us strive to imitate the saints - to be holy! Let us recommit to struggle against vice and live in virtue, always grounded in the truth. Finally, may the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother help us to desire heaven - the reason why we were created in the first place - to know, love and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him in the next.
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!
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