SOLIDARITY WITH OUR LOVED ONES WHO ARE STILL ON THE WAY

November 2, 2015 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

02 NOVEMBER 2015, Monday, All Souls

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ISAIAH 25:6-9, ROMANS 5:5-11, MARK 15:33-39, 16:1-6

One of the most beautiful articles of faith of the Church is the profession of our belief in the communion of saints.  Who belongs to the communion of saints?  It refers first and foremost to the saints on earth, that is, we as the members of the body of Christ who are still on our pilgrimage.  Secondly, it refers to the saints in heaven who are already glorified and have reached their destiny and are with God forever.  Thirdly, it refers to the souls in purgatory.  It is these souls we remember today.

The greatness of the doctrine of the communion of saints lies in the fact that in spite of our different levels of spirituality, we are very much in communion with one another.  In other words, one cannot believe in the communion of saints unless one believes that no one ever dies.  Our life does not end on earth.  We believe that we will still continue to live in some form but which is not clear to us.  What we experience on earth is only a physical death.  There continues to be a life after death that is eternal. 

Nevertheless, there is also a possibility that this life hereafter can also be an eternal death or an eternal life.  To experience eternal death is what we normally term as hell; and to experience eternal life is heaven.  To those who have died in total alienation from God and in total hatred for his fellow human beings, these people can no longer be saved because they have severed their communion with us and with God.  There is no possibility for us to reach them.

If this is our fear, the scripture readings today give us much encouragement.  While hell is always a possibility, the scripture readings make it clear that heaven is a much greater possibility.  Indeed, Jesus tells us in the gospel that it is the will of the Father that He should lose nothing of all that has been given to Him.   Yes, God wants us all to be saved.  He wants to give all of us eternal life, a life with Him forever.  It is not enough to simply overcome physical death, but we need to overcome eternal death as well.  Only in this sense is the prophecy of Isaiah to be understood, “The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek and he will destroy Death forever”.  Eternal life therefore is not simply a life in eternity, but rather a life with God and in God.

This assurance that we will be saved is reiterated by St Paul in the second reading.  He assures us that if Christ died for us while we were still sinners, even in our sinfulness, God will continue to love us in Christ.  For this reason, St Paul is filled with joyful trust in God, through Jesus who has gained our reconciliation and demonstrated God’s love for us, a love that is irrevocable.

This means that neither we nor our departed loved ones need ever fear that God will condemn us into the eternity of hell.  So long as we try our best to live good lives, to follow the gospel life, we are guaranteed a place with Jesus and the Father.  Yes, Jesus said, “It is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and that I shall raise him up on the last day”.  We might not be perfect but God understands our human imperfections, especially our lack of love.

Does it mean therefore that it makes no difference how we live our lives since we will be saved through the mercy of God, so long as we do not cut ourselves away from God’s love totally?  Of course, there is an important difference.  If at the end of our lives, we have not yet perfected our love for God, for ourselves and our fellow human beings, then there is no way for us to share the life of God.  For what is the life of God if not a life of perfect love and unity, both with the Holy Trinity and with one another?  So while it is true that the death of Jesus brings about the forgiveness of our sins and God does not hold anything against us, yet we will not be able to share in His life if we are still not totally open to the love of God which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  So long as our docility to God’s love is not total, to that extent we are prevented to share in the life of God.  The inability to share in God’s life is due to our residues of selfishness and our resistance to love.  Isn’t it a fact that for most of us, we would die with some kind of attachments, selfishness and even bitterness or resentment in our lives?

So how can we overcome such obstacles to perfect union with God, a union which has not been achieved at death because we have not yet loved totally?  The teaching of the Church is that we can have opportunities after death to purify ourselves in love so long as we are not totally cut off from God through very grave sins.  This is what the doctrine of purgatory is all about.  The teaching about purgatory shows the compassionate aspect of God and the Church.  It is indeed one of the most consoling doctrines of the Catholic faith.

For this reason, we have cause to rejoice when we celebrate All Souls Day today.  When we celebrate this occasion, we are consoled that the souls of our departed ones are assured of eternal life although they might still be imperfect.  That is why the souls in purgatory must not be understood as if they are suffering in hell.  The difference between hell and purgatory is like heaven and earth.  Those in hell are condemned to total misery because of their total inability to love.  Hell is a state where one lives in total isolation not only from God but also from others.  It is a state of total hatred of self, others and of God.  On the contrary, the souls in purgatory are capable of love although they are incapable of loving completely like the saints in heaven.  That is why the souls are already happy in one sense, because they know that they have not lost God totally.

On the other hand, it is also right to say that the souls are suffering because they cannot be in total peace and total joy until they are released from their selfishness and resistance to God’s love.  The suffering of the souls lies in the waiting and in the purification.  They are like those of us who are awaiting our loved ones to come back from their overseas trips.  We are waiting excitedly for them to come home.  We are happy that they would be returning home but the waiting time also causes us a certain amount of tension and apprehension.  This is an analogy of what the souls in purgatory are going through.  They already have a foretaste of God’s love but they cannot be at rest until they surrender themselves totally to God in love.

This is where we can help them.  Because we believe in the communion of saints and that in some ways, all of us are related and are bound to one another in our destiny, we can therefore show our solidarity with them.  And what better way to show our love and union with the souls of our departed loved ones than to pray for them and with them.   We can no longer see our loved ones physically but we can still join them in spirit through our prayers.  It is not enough simply to remember them in our thoughts but more importantly, we need to remember them in our prayers.  By praying for them, that gives them courage and strength to overcome their weaknesses and imperfections.  Which one of us does not need encouragement in life?  In the same way too, by showing our love for them in prayer, that will certainly give them the capacity and strength to purify themselves in love.

And what should we pray for them?  We should pray as St Paul tells us, for the love of God to be poured generously into their hearts so that they become so overwhelmed with God’s love and be able to transform themselves in love.  It is only their realization and experience of God’s total love that they will be able to surrender themselves totally in love to God and for others.  When they realize how much God loves them in spite of their sinfulness, then they will be able to forgive themselves and those who have hurt them.  They will also have the courage to let go of everything and let God take over their lives.  And when they are liberated from their unforgiveness, bitterness and all forms of attachment, they become free to love God and their fellow human beings totally.

Yes, we are thankful for God and for the Church for this celebration today.  This is a celebration that helps us to be in union with our loved ones; a celebration that gives us great joy that our loved ones will be in full union with God, sharing in His life forever, if they are still in the state of purification.  And for ourselves, this celebration gives us the motivation to prepare and purify ourselves well so that when that day comes, we too will join them in heaven and all will be reunited as one big family again.  On that day, the prophecy of Isaiah would be fulfilled, “The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek … that day, it will be said:  “See this is our God in whom we hoped for salvation; the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.  We exult and we rejoice that he has saved us”.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved
 
Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org.sg/scripture-reflection/a/
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Entry filed under: Catechesis.

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