Sixty-first in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day)
Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 6:3-9; John 6:37-40
So how do we do it? How do we become a Saint? Well, being “merciful like the Father” is the best start, and the best finish. This impartial ministry of ours that unites the Body and the Head in love is our “on the job” training, if you will, for sainthood! But what when the members of the Church Militant reach the end of their march not quite ready to see God as He is? And old hang-up, perhaps, or a strong attachment to this world, or a past wrong never quite made right. What then? Do we eternally languish in hell, deprived of God’s presence for ever? Only those who want to will do that, my friends. But those who still desire to perfect their relationship with God, to achieve that happy destiny He has in store for us, continue that journey in the spirit world, purifying themselves of all that gets in the way of the goal so close yet so far. Now that we have celebrated that common destiny on the Solemn Feast of All Saints, let’s talk about what it means to achieve it on this solemn commemoration of the faithful departed that is All Souls’ Day, the feastday of the Church Penitent.
The Book of Wisdom tells us that “[t]he souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” This particular passage is popular at funeral liturgies, and it speaks to a fundamental truth of our relationship with God: even in purgatory, souls do not suffer needlessly. In fact, all our trials are compared by the author to gold that is refined in a furnace and as sacrificial offerings. So too are our purifications after this life; they make us into something strong enough to endue the direct sight of God, something that looks as precious as we are already esteemed, something that God has created to take up to Himself. Our being “merciful like the Father,” then, doesn’t just help us here on earth; it helps our brethren in purgatory. Our mission of reconciliation spans dimensions! How much more important do the words of the Book seem now: “Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love.”
Truly God does not want anyone lost, not if we too can extend mercy to those who have gone before us. No wonder Jesus can declare to the crowds that the great secret of the will of God is “that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.” The Church does not belong to us; we belong to the Church, and the Church belongs to God. How can we not belong to God when God even shares our DNA now!? That’s why the Son came, that’s how He did it. That’s the whole reason for the unfathomably compassionate act that is the Incarnation: the shepherd became one of the sheep so that none of the sheep might be lost. And it’s the whole reason for even purgatory. “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,” He tells us, “and I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” In His great compassion He will give us every opportunity for relationship with Him, even once our earthly journey is done.
The same Christ Who we believe ministered to the dead even as His own body lay in the stillness of the garden tomb is ready to minister to us at any and every stage of our lives and beyond. From the moment of baptism, we are marked like a beacon for Christ, we stand out as especially belonging to Him, we are made ready to begin to pursue a relationship with Him if we choose. “We were indeed buried with him,” writes Saint Paul to the Romans, speaking of the mystery of baptism, “…so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” Why should we ever despair or feel discouraged when all these moments abound to reach out and take Christ by the hand? It is sin and death who should be running scared! When we show the Father’s mercy to ourselves and to each other, just as the Son taught us by His example of loving obedience, there is no destiny to be feared in this world or in the next. The One over Whom death “no longer has power” has made sure of it, and because of that we can continue to extend that mercy even to those of us who have already moved on to the spirit world.
Remember: if we die with Him, we will live with Him. Our brothers and sisters in purgatory are asking of us the same thing we ask of the Saints: “Pray for us!” If we wouldn’t deny them our help on earth, who are we to deny them help now? Truly this is how we become Saints, this is how we help the Son do the will of the Father: by showing the Father’s mercy to each other, by receiving it when it is shown to us, and by allowing the Holy Spirit to unite us all in love.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.