martes, 4 de noviembre de 2014

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
The commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day) on November 2 and the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1 go hand-in hand. Both focus on those who have gone before us, our loved ones who have died. In a certain sense, we can say that All Saints celebrates those who have already arrived in heaven. All Souls Day is a way of remembering those who are still on the journey. Together these feasts remind us that we are united in the “communion of saints.” The Body of Christ is made up of the Church on earth, the Church in heaven, and the Church in purgatory.

The Church has encouraged prayers for the dead from the earliest times as an act of Christian charity. For example, St. Augustine said: "If we had no care for the dead, we would not be in the habit of praying for them." However, many of our Protestant brothers and sisters do not believe in praying for the dead. They do not believe that the dead can be helped by our prayers. As Catholics, we believe that our connection in the Communion of Saints enables us to assist our beloved dead through our prayers

The earliest Scriptural reference to prayers for the dead comes in the second book of Maccabees (II Maccabees 12:39-45). The books of Maccabees were among the latest written books found in the Old Testament. In this passage we find Judas Maccabeus and his soldiers praying for their slain comrades who had sinned.

The Scriptures pay more attention to the hope and promise that God holds out for all people. St. Paul frequently tells us that all faithful disciples will share one day in the resurrection of Christ. In his 1st letter to the Thessalonians he assures that just as Christ rose from the dead, so also all those who have died in Christ will also rise. Jesus himself tells us that he will share in his resurrection on the last day. We live in the hope of sharing in his risen life for all eternity. It would seem that Christians should look forward to death.

Yet it is normal for us to grieve for our loved ones who have died. But our grief is mixed with hope because we believe that along with us and all who are faithful, our beloved dead will rise on the last day. We believe that we shall be reunited and share in the glory of heaven forever. That is why St. Paul tells us “not to grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” After all, our grief expresses our sadness.

In reality, we cannot become presumptuous about the final destiny of our loved ones or ourselves. We trust that God’s mercy will allow the Lord Jesus to welcome our dead relatives and friends into his eternal dwelling place. As Jesus told us, “There are many dwelling places.” And he has gone to prepare a place for us.

All Souls Day is an acknowledgment of our human frailty. That means that we are not perfect and we know it. Few people achieve perfection in this life. And we go to the grave still scarred with traces of sinfulness. We still need some type of purification.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this purgatory. The Council of Trent affirmed this purgatory state
and insisted that the prayers of the living can speed the process of purification.

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned [hell]. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire. [CCC 1031]

But we need to be careful how we speak of purgatory. Fr. Leonard Foley, O.F.M. offers some very wise advice to maintain a balanced idea of purgatory:

We must not make purgatory into a flaming concentration camp on the brink of hell—or even a “hell for a short time.” It is blasphemous to think of it as a place where a petty God exacts the last pound—or ounce—of flesh.... St. Catherine of Genoa, a mystic of the 15th century, wrote that the “fire” of purgatory is God’s love “burning” the soul so that, at last, the soul is wholly aflame. It is the pain of wanting to be made totally worthy of One who is seen as infinitely lovable, the pain of desire for union that is now absolutely assured, but not yet fully tasted.

And so, trusting in God’s mercy, we assist our beloved dead who are still on their journey to heaven. May they experience the cleansing power of God’s mercy. May they be truly inflamed with God’s love.

And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Fr. Ron Bagley, CJM

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