Death is evil. Death rips apart our life-giving relationships, hauls away our loved ones, and tears asunder our hearts. If there is not a hole in some part of your heart, an aching emptiness for someone taken away by death, then you have not loved nearly enough. And if you really love as a Christian, then your heart will look like swiss cheese.
For Christianity death is not “just a natural part of living.” It is, rather, the Great Enemy. We oppose death and all that leads to a culture of death. We stand against the deliberate destruction of the unborn, the use of war as an instrument of national policy, the death penalty, and all that devalues the life of the sick, the poor, the mentally ill, the handicapped and the elderly. We are for life and against death.
Death, at least as we now experience it, is a chastisement and a punishment. As one of the Preface prayers for today’s Mass states: "For even though by our own fault we perish, yet by your compassion and your grace, when seized by death according to our sins, we are redeemed through Christ’s great victory, and with him called back into life." Death is evil. But it is not victorious.
We all die, but we do not live in despair, nor do we face life stoically with a stiff upper lip, but rather we thrive in HOPE. St Paul today assures us “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
It is the Holy Spirit that unites us to each other and forms us together into the Body of Christ. And that connection of the Holy Spirit is stronger even than death. The real spiritual connection we have with other Christians does not end with death. It remains, and in a real way we are still connected, still attached as member of one body in Christ.
So in Christ and through the Holy Spirit we can still express to our departed loved ones our care, our concern, our love. We pray for them in order to encourage them in their continued growth, even beyond the grave, so that they can be fully open and receptive to all the love God the Father wants to give them, and not be hindered nor blocked by any resistance, by any evil, by any lingering selfishness or sin.
That is what the purgation or cleansing of purgatory is all about: it is growing and stretching to be fully open and receptive to all the love God wants to shower on us. It is not so much about punishment as it is about growth. That growing and stretching may be painful. The beautiful gaze of the incredible love of Jesus may burn as we cling to self-centeredness, fear and sin. The dropping of our defenses and the opening of ourselves in vulnerability to others may be really, really scary. But it is what we must do to become the truly loving people that God has created us to be. To be truly open to such transforming love will be a big change for many of us.
But we are not in this alone. We are all members of one Body. We here support, encourage, root for our deceased loved ones from the sidelines and assist them with our prayers. That is what we are doing here today.
In addition, we can unburden them by offering our forgiveness for any ways they have hurt or sinned against us. Maybe a parent was too tired after working all day to really be the mother or father we needed. Maybe they had been damaged by their parents. Maybe there was no excuse other than shear laziness. In any case we can unburden them by offering our forgiveness and peace.
Likewise, we may need to request their forgiveness. Perhaps we need for them to accept our repentance and apology. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance and assistance, they most surely will forgive. Forgiveness is the road to the fullness of life, and our deceased loved ones will certainly be eager to respond.
This Feast of All Souls is about community, the Communion we have in Jesus Christ. We are all members of One Body. We are all in this TOGETHER. Both in life and in death, we support, encourage and assist one another by our prayers.
Our Faith is our encouragement and hope. In our Gospel today Jesus gives us this most encouraging and welcome assurance: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” AMEN.