This weekend, we chose to celebrate All Souls at all of the parish Masses on Sunday (which is allowed) as part of our four-week series called “A Crash Course in Catholicism.”
Today, we come together to remember our loved ones who have passed from this life to the hope of the kingdom. As we continue to grieve their loss, we remember the promises our God has made to us and to them, and we pray that they will all receive the fullness of the fulfillment of those promises. Here at Saint Mary’s, we are also observing the end of our four-week preaching series called “A Crash Course in Catholicism,” and this week’s topic is, very appropriately, “What happens when we die?”
It’s a very important topic to conclude this four-week series, because it’s a topic that touches every single one of us at one point or another. The loss of our loved ones, and our own mortality, are universal realities for every single person. In death, we are united with our Lord, who himself “suffered death and was buried,” as we pray in the Creed at every Sunday Mass. While death was not in God’s plan for us, the fullness of life in the Kingdom of Heaven certainly was. Passing through the gates of death, we have the promise of life everlasting. Jesus came to show us the way through all of that, so that we could be in the place where He and His Father intend to give us the fullness of glory.
As wonderful as this world can be, it has its flaws – we all know that. It is important that we keep in mind that the fullness of grace and blessing that God wants for us is not on this earth, but rather in the life to come, the glory of heaven, for which we were all created and toward which we must all be straining. We are travelers in this place; we are only here for a time, and so our time here must be marked by travelling, moving forward, toward that heavenly glory. This is a story that began at our baptism, continues through our life here on earth, and until we reach the goal of all our lives, our heavenly glory.
There is no one in heaven who is not a saint. That’s why it’s so important that we join ourselves to God in Christ, that we follow the Way our Lord marked out for us. We must all become saints so that we can live forever with God. We should want that for ourselves as much as we do for our departed loved ones. Becoming a saint is our vocation in this world, that’s the ultimate meaning of life on this earth. The saints in the Kingdom help us on this journey: their stories are examples for us and their prayers call God’s graces on our lives. We Catholics don’t worship the saints; we worship God alone. But we call on the saints for intercession, much as we might call on a friend or loved one to pray for us. Those saints join us at Mass every time we celebrate it; we all lift up our voices in praise and prayer to God who is the focus of our worship.
I love what the third Eucharistic Prayer offers for Masses for the dead. We’ll use it this morning, as I do for almost every funeral, but it’s nice sometimes to reflect on those words and let them enter into our prayer more fully. So the prayer goes: “Remember your servant N. whom you have called from this world to yourself. Grant that he (she) who was united with your Son in a death like his, may also be one with him in his Resurrection…” Here the Church recognizes that our God does not leave us alone in death. Death was never God’s will for the human person, rather death came as a result of sin, as Saint Paul reminds us so well. But in this prayer, the Church recognizes that our God, whose intent is always for our salvation, took on our lowly form and assumed all its defects, including the capacity to die. And so of the many ways that we are united with our Lord, one of them is through death. We certainly see death was not the end for him; so if we have faith and follow our Lord, it will not be the end for us either.
The prayer continues: “…when from the earth he will raise up in the flesh those who have died, and transform our lowly body after the pattern of his own glorious body.” Just as we have been united in death with our Lord, so he intends that we would be united with him in resurrection. Our Lord intends that the glory of the Resurrection of our Lord would open for us the way to the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom for which we were created in the first place, that Kingdom which is the destination of our life-long journey. In resurrection, we will be transformed. The weakness of our flesh will be redeemed, our woundedness will be bound up, our disease will be healed, our sin will be wiped away, leaving nothing but the radiant glory of the very face of God. Our bodies are not so profane nor so damaged that they can’t become glorious, by being united with our Lord in resurrection.
We continue to pray: “To our departed brothers and sisters, too, and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance into your kingdom.” Here the Church acknowledges that the dead depend on our prayers. We implore the Lord to give admittance to the Kingdom to our loved ones. We pray that their sins would be forgiven, that their weaknesses would be overlooked, that their relationships would be purified, that whatever was less than glorious in them might be made fit for the Kingdom of God. The Church recognizes that most of our dead brothers and sisters continue their journey to the Kingdom after death. We call this reality “Purgatory,” and it is not a punishment so much as it is a gift: a gift of continued purification so that the soul can be made fit to live eternally with the Lord. Our departed loved ones move in this journey with different, more splendid graces than we have on this earth, and they take it up with perhaps fewer distractions than those that divert our attention from the goal. Whatever is not purified on earth can be purified by the gift of Purgatory, for those who have faith, and for those who need grace.
Finally, the Church recognizes that we are all headed for the same goal, we and our loved ones who have died: “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow in the world all that is good.” The Kingdom is where all of our sadness is erased, and with eyes free from the tears of this life, we can finally see God as he is, and not as we would have him. We can then be like him, caught up, really, in his life, one with him forever in Christ, receiving all that is good for all eternity.
Our greatest work of charity is to pray that our deceased loved ones would receive all these graces, these wondrous and holy gifts, from our God, who deeply longs that each one of his children would return to be one with him. In praying for them, the Church extends its ministry to all of us who mourn, enabling us to know the love of God in our time of grief and sadness. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, all who believe in him will not die forever. Death was never intended as our forever, as our final stop. For to God, all are alive, just in different ways. Praise God that he gives us life, and mercy, and grace, and resurrection.
Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.