A reflection for the Commemoration of All Souls
By Fr. Ron
Today’s Commemoration of All Souls and yesterday’s feast of All Saints go hand-in hand. Both focus on those who have gone before us, our loved one’s who have died. Yesterday’s solemnity celebrated those who have arrived at our destination. Today we join with those who are in the last steps of the journey. Together, these two celebrations remind us that we are united in the “communion of saints.”
The Church has encouraged prayer for the dead from the earliest times as an act of Christian charity. St. Augustine said, "If we had no care for the dead, we would not be in the habit of praying for them." Many Protestants do not pray 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.
Our Scripture readings today focus more on our belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of the dead. Even Isaiah, writing centuries before Christ, foresees a day when death shall be conquered. Without knowing it, he anticipates Christ’s triumph over death. St. Paul reflects on this in several of his letters. He exhorts to recall that just as sure as Christ rose from the dead, so also all those who have died in Christ will also rise.
It is normal for us to grieve for our loved ones who have died. Yet our grief is mixed with hope because we believe along with us and all who are faithful, our beloved dead will rise on the last day. 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.”
Actually, our grief expresses our own sadness at the loss of a loved one. But in reality, wetrust God’s mercy will allow the Lord to welcome our dead relatives and friends into his eternal dwelling place. As Jesus reminds us, there are many dwelling places and he has gone to prepare a place for us.
Today’s feast is also 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 purgative state and insisted that the prayers of the living can speed the process of purification. But we need to pay attention to how the Church speaks about purgatory:
CCC 1031 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.
So purgatory is not about punishment. It is about purification. It is a final expression of God’s mercy and love for God’s children.
Fr. Leonard Foley, O.F.M. offers us a very appropriate corrective to the view some people have 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”
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.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.