My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Each day, we live our whole life from beginning to end. This is what I mean; when we awake in the morning it is like being born, born again. As we carry on through the day, with its ups and downs, we mimic in a certain sense the life cycle that we follow. And then finally at the end of the day we go to sleep. When I was in third grade, Sister Maureen told us that sleep was a rehearsal for death. This was quite a weighty thought to put in the mind of young children. Yet, I never forgot what she said because in a certain sense falling asleep in the Lord is not something that we need to fear.
During this first week of November, we celebrated two important feasts: that of All Saints and All Souls. This reminds us most importantly of the communion of saints that somehow, we are connected with one another, those in heaven, and those awaiting entrance into heaven in the process we call purgatory, who are all united together with those here on earth who continue to live their lives day-in and day-out. There is this strong communion of saints that allows us to seek help from one another.
On All Saints Day, we remember all the saints, those who have been canonized and those whom we know to be saints. We pray for their intercession before God’s throne since they already know the great God who is all love. When we pray asking them for assistance, we know that the graciousness of God’s love is always available to us.
On November 2, we celebrated the Feast of All Souls. Perhaps in the past our concept of purgatory was very concrete; a place of fire and suffering like hell but where there would be an end for individuals, and at the end of time a complete end. Perhaps the theology of the past did not help us to understand the mercy of God and His justice which is part of understanding the process of purification before we can enter the presence of God.
We know that at the end of our individual lives that there is a moment of judgment where our whole life goes before us. We recognize the good that we have done and also recognize where we have failed. And sometimes our failures, especially in our relationship to God, keep us from entering God’s presence to enjoy His full love and glory. And so, for some, and we know not the number, a period of purification, of anxious waiting, is their fate at the end of life, knowing that someday they will be fully reunited, not only in the communion of saints, but also before God’s presence.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical, “Saved in Hope,” gives us great insight into eternal life and our concepts of heaven and purgatory and hell. Pope Benedict, and I paraphrase what he said, has told us that many people are afraid of eternity or even afraid of dying because of the language that we use to describe eternity and even death itself. He asks, who wants to rest eternally? It would seem that it could be rather boring. And yet, it is exactly the opposite what we experience in the life to come which we profess each time we recite the Creed on Sunday. We do believe in eternal life. It is eternal life that builds on the life that we have lived and perfects us so that we enjoy the presence of God who is all love.
Pope Benedict gives an example which I find very helpful in explaining what life in heaven is about. He said that we must begin with what we understand from our own human relationships based on love. Very seldom, unfortunately, in life do we have what we might call a love that is unconditional, but it could be the love of a husband for a wife, the mother or father for their children, children for their parents or any other relationship that rises to the level of what we call agape love, or unconditional love.
Our experience in this life is limited to this type of love. In heaven, however, we need to multiply to the Nth degree that type of love, because we will be before God who is all love. What we know of God from the Scripture is that we are told that God is love. And so only our human experience can help us to understand that love of God which is infinite and totally unconditional towards us.
Unfortunately, some who reject God’s love can condemn themselves to an eternity separated from God. This is what hell is all about. However, we must temper our understanding of who actually is capable of rejecting God’s love completely in this life. It has been said that the Church has raised up many, that is many saints, but may pronounce as reprobate none. So, in fact, the Church never has declared that anyone is in hell. We know that people are in heaven because of their intercession and the miracles that they may perform here on earth; however, we do not know who has rejected God’s mercy and love.
The Feast of All Saints and All Souls reminds us of that wonderful bond that we have with the living and the dead and one which continues for eternity. Once I heard a priest tell me that he tried to explain the Communion of Saints to one of his parishioners, in fact it was a woman who had recently lost her husband. When she asked him if she would ever see her husband again in heaven, the priest replied, “Yes, and we believe in the Communion of Saints. And if he is there you will encounter him again.” The woman politely said, “I am not sure I want to see him again!” Perhaps with a little humor we can understand that our connections in this world will endure in the life to come.
As we put out into the deep waters of life, we must strive to live each day as a mini life cycle, being born again and going to sleep as a reminder that someday we will enter the presence of God. We pray for the dead, especially our relatives and friends who have gone before us in the hope that they are already or will soon enjoy the full presence of God’s love. Powerful intercessors; help us, we who remain here on earth, to live our lives day-in and day-out for the glory of God.