On 1st November –the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints when we honour those who have lived with outstanding holiness, have died and have been acclaimed by the Church to be now in Heaven. We are also meant to honour that multitude of saintly, unsung, heroes who have never received public recognition.
We have missed the whole point of the Feast if fail to face up to the fact God is calling each of us to be among the ‘saints-in-the-making.’ God is calling us to lead lives that are pleasing to Him. This Feast Day should inspire us to reach for the Heavens!
On 2nd November, the Feast of All Souls, and then through the whole month of November, we pray for the dead.
In so doing we ought to muse, ‘I could die any time. Am I, at this moment, totally ready to enter Heaven? Have I ever been?” Most of us would be satisfied with saying of ourselves, ‘Not yet ready for Heaven; certainly not fit for Hell. Please God, I never will be!’
We Catholics believe that between Earth and Heaven there’s ‘middle ground’ called Purgatory. Here God in His merciful love gives that ‘finishing touch’ that would render those there completely suitable to live in His presence.
While this is most consoling it may leave us desolate with grief at the passing of a loved one. At this point St. Paul gently advises us, “Make sure that you do not grieve for them, as others do who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (1 Thess. 4.13).
Contrast “When you’re dead you’re done, full stop!” with the promise Jesus made to His disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many places to live in; otherwise I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am. (Jn.14.1).
Our tears might dampen our Faith In God but they won’t drown it. Our Faith tells us, ‘There’s no need to dry your tears! When the Son of God became man He took upon Himself the fullness of our humanity - with its raw, heart-rending sensitivity. While Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus the Jews remarked, “See how much He loved him,” (Jn.11.36).
The Feast of All Saints is telling us, ‘Now is the time for us to be working on leading lives that are pleasing to God. We should do nothing that would disqualify us from entering His presence. Moreover, Jesus has always had an immense love for His Church. ‘He sacrificed Himself for her to make her holy…so that when He took the Church to Himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless,” (Eph. 5). We too are embraced in this cleansing love.
What Jesus didn’t complete in our lifetime He will accomplish by delaying us in Purgatory. There He will straighten out our misshapen selves with our unwholesome habits and deal with our tepid repentance which never amounted to a total rejection of sin and a radical turning towards God.
The real punishment for our sins that is Purgatory is the pain in for a while being deprived of the Glorious Vision of Almighty God in Heaven. We will have brought this delay upon ourselves.
The spirituality of All Souls is that we who remain to mourn are consoled that our love-filled prayers will serve to shorten the stay of those still confined to Purgatory. For their part, they, with love and gratitude, will bless us for remembering them.
What a thought! God wants us to share in this final stage of their Salvation History!. What a privilege for us to do so!
Peter Clarke, O.P