2 Nov 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
Catholics throughout the world today are thinking about and praying for their loved ones who have died and are perhaps thinking about their own inevitable death.
Many other Christian denominations also celebrate a Commemoration of the Faithfully Departed today but see it rather as an extension of All Saints’ Day which was yesterday (and which we’ll be celebrating at all the Masses this weekend.)
Most of the other Christian denominations do not believe in Purgatory as a time of purification before we are worthy as holy saints to live in the presence of God.
In the first reading taken from the second book of Maccabees written roughly 100 -150 years before Christ, we have a clear reference to the custom of praying for those who have died but are not yet in a state of perfection with God in heaven. They are on the road to sainthood, as we all are, but are not yet saints.
The writer says that Judas Maccabee, a great Jewish leader of the time, following an epic and bloody battle in which many men had been killed, took up a collection to pay for a sacrifice to be offered in Jerusalem for the dead so that they might be released from their sins.
I’m deeply relieved that there is the option of Purgatory; the option to come to terms with my sinfulness and past transgressions with the blissful promise of heaven a certainty.
If I was to die today – perhaps better I suggest ‘ had I died yesterday’ – there is no way that I could possibly share in the perfection of heaven with God and the saints; my very presence there would render heaven imperfect because I am so far from being perfect, from being spotlessly holy.
Pope Benedict in his second encyclical “Saved in Hope” (Spe Salvi) published in 2007 writes
“The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death – this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon?”
There is ample evidence of the custom of praying for the dead in the inscriptions in the ancient catacombs and in the writings of the early Church Fathers in the first centuries of Christianity. In fact, not praying for the dead is a relatively new practise originating in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
Perhaps on this All Souls Day, we could reflect on the “Four Last Things” – death, judgement, heaven and hell.
We will all die and only die once – there is no such thing as reincarnation. In the NT in Hebrews 9:27 we are told “Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.”
When we die will meet our Lord face to face and receive judgement.
If we die in faith having lived a life trying our best to be true to the great commandments to love God and our neighbour we will be welcomed into the kingdom of God which we call heaven – though we may have to pass through purgatory first.
If we die having lived largely selfish lives, neglecting our baptismal promises and rejecting the sovereignty of God, our choices in this life will be reflected and respected in the next. We will not be forced to change our minds about God and we will live for eternity outside of God’s kingdom; that’s hell.
After death, there is no opportunity to bargain or appeal for a different outcome. Our choices in this life will determine the outcome for our eternal life.
Weekly attendance at Mass is not a guaranteed ticket to heaven. We’ll also have to account for the other 167 hours in each week.
We don’t like to talk much about death but, I don’t know about you, I certainly have thought about it throughout my life.
When I was in my teens I was sure I wouldn’t live much past the age of twenty-five. When I was twenty-five I believed that I’d probably live to about forty and I’d decided that I’d not marry and didn’t want to be a father. By the time I was forty I was happily married with two wonderful school-going children and I had just come through a cancer scare ….. and I hoped to live another thirty years or so.
Well twenty-seven of those thirty years have passed very quickly.
I know now that I wasn’t really ready spiritually to die at twenty-five or forty and I’m thankful to have had the time to better prepare for this eventuality.
I may live many years yet … or by this time next year, my ashes may well be buried in the garden of remembrance. None of us know whether we or which of our loved ones will be alive this time next year; or even be with us to share this coming Christmas.
Our hope, our purpose, our mission in this life is not old age; It’s sainthood.
In the extract we heard from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes
“For we know that when the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.”
That’s our hope.
And Jesus says in the Gospel reading “Whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”
That’s God’s promise.
We know neither the hour nor day when that promise will be fulfilled.
We pray today for those who have died.
In our prayers we could ask them too, to pray for us that we will be adequately prepared when the time comes for us to join them.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.