SFX Bulletin, 3 November 2014: The passing away of loved ones, lives lost in wars or conflicts and natural disasters – they make us stop and ponder on the meaning of life, why there is death and evil and what happens after death.
The Church journeys with us in this reflection on All Souls’ Day. We are reminded that death is not “natural” and is in fact “the wages of sin”. The Catechism explains, “Even though man’s nature is mortal, God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator, and entered the world as a consequence of sin. ‘Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned’ is thus ‘the last enemy’ of man left to be conquered” (CCC1006;1008).
In today’s first reading, God promised to “destroy Death forever” (Isa.25:8). True to His promise, Jesus came 800 years later to fulfil this promise and transform death in a radical way, “Jesus, the Son of God, also himself suffered death that is part of the human condition. Yet despite his anguish as he faced death, he accepted it in an act of complete and free submission to his Father’s will. The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing” (CCC1009,cf.Rom.5:19-21).
Jesus’ obedience to God’s will even to the point of giving up his life on the cross “’opened’ heaven to us” (CCC1026). This means that all who have died in God’s grace and friendship are heaven-bound, “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgement that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately – or immediate and everlasting damnation…each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith” (CCC1021-2).
On All Saints Day, we celebrate God’s help in bringing the “works and faith” of the Saints to the holiness necessary for heaven. By canonizing some people and declaring their heroic virtues, the Church celebrates their co-operation with God’s grace. More significantly, the Church celebrates God’s everlasting graciousness and mercy towards persistently sinful man. The Saints’ outstanding holiness reveal God’s “Spirit of holiness” at work within the Church through her sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and encourage us to deepen our understanding and participation in the sacraments of the Church (cf. CCC828).
The sacrament of baptism where we received God’s Spirit begins our life of grace. Writing on this gift of the Holy Spirit made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, St. Paul urged the Roman converts to see in it God’s love, “It is not easy to die even for a good man…but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we are still sinners. Having died to make us righteous, is it likely that he would now fail to save us from God’s anger?” (v.7-9).
Purgatory is that final cleansing in God’s plan of divine compassion. Hope in purgatory existed from Old Testament times and is most explicitly expressed in 2 Maccabees 12:46 where “Judas Maccabeus made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin”. 5th century Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, exhorts us, “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them”.
Today, as we celebrate God’s compassion for all the departed, let us not be complacent or misunderstand purgatory as an excuse for sloth. Jesus asks us to be like the Saints – to live truly as God’s children, be “yoked” to him and “learn’ from him how to love and serve the Father (cf. Mt.11:30). The New Evangelisation also calls us to daily deepen our encounter with the risen Christ. May we be resolute in evangelizing ourselves every day with God’s Word, radiate Christ in us, and grow in sure hope of our place in the feast of the resurrected “at the last day” when Christ will come again.