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November 1, 2020 All Saints’ Day

A pumpkin story: “What is it like to be a Christian Saint? ”It is like being a Halloween pumpkin. God picks you up from the field, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off you by inviting you to confess your sins and seek reconciliation. Then he cuts off the top and scoops out the yucky stuff. He removes the pulp of impurity and injustice and seeds of doubt, hate and greed from you. Then he carves you a new smiling face and puts his light of holiness or Holy Spirit inside you to shine for the entire world to see by your serving and sharing love, mercy and forgiveness.”

This weekend we are celebrating All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day, also known as the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.”
Since both of these liturgical celebrations concern the departed, some of you may ask yourselves, “What is the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day?” On All Saints’ Day, we commemorate those who are in Heaven, those who are presently enjoying the beatified vision of God in their eternal glory.

So, then, what is holiness? And who are saints? Perhaps we need to change our mental pictures of who they are and how they behave. And perhaps, too, we should examine what we think God wants of us.

These Beatitudes we just heard. Did we hear them or did we just listen to them without hearing?

Note that these Beatitudes speak of longing for a better world and a better life, longing for a better world and a better life with a realistic hope in God’s presence, power and love. If we do not have hope we have nothing. Oh, we may possess a lot of things, but without hope our souls are empty, dead.

The beatitudes speak of those Blessed in our world who are active in this world, active in giving mercy and forgiveness; those who seek purity of heart, singleness of purpose; those who live simply and directly without junking up and complicating their lives. Then there are the peacemakers, those who resolve conflicts by employing means other than simply bashing others into submission. Finally there are those who work for justice, those who invest their energies in bringing fairness into the lives of others, as opposed to those who want only to win, and win at all costs.

Do we think that these Beatitudes are unrealistic; that they are so idealistic that in following them no one could live in this world? If we think that they’re unrealistic, then perhaps we should ask ourselves if we’re in a state of denial. Perhaps we are living behind our defense mechanisms; perhaps we are living in passive, defensive lives, avoiding spending the energies that are necessary to be actively engaged in changing our lives and the lives of those around us.

All Souls’ Day, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed is based on the theological basis that some of those who have departed from this world, they have not been perfectly cleansed from venial sin, or have not fully atoned for their past transgression. It is safe to say that some of those who died are in Purgatory. As such, being temporary deprived of the beatified vision until such time as they have been completely sanctified in Christ; these departed souls are to remain in Purgatory. To assist them so that they may be freed from purgatory, we, their spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ, can help the Faithful Departed who are also members of the Body of Christ, through our prayers, our alms deeds and most important of all, through the sacrifice of the Holy Mass.
In the eyes of many purgatory is a bit of a ‘nuisance’ teaching belonging in the same category as angels and indulgences and even hell. It’s not easy to explain because not many understand it deeply and so it’s always making us run up not only against our own ignorance but the disbelief of our modern world as well – and that’s a real nuisance.

The word purgatory comes from the Latin “purgare” to make clean or to purify. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as: a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.

The language can be a bit confusing here. In years gone by we spoke more of punishment while today we speak more of purification or purgation. Whatever word we use the Sacred Scriptures clearly teach that purification from, or punishment for, sin may remain even after the sin has been forgiven by God. We need only remember the Original Sin of Adam and Eve which, although forgiven in Christ, nevertheless had ongoing consequences for all of humanity (With sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread, until you return to the soil. (Genesis 3:19).

Again, God took away the sins of Moses and Aaron and David and Solomon and yet they suffered painful consequences for their sins.

I liken it to a heavy smoker, who declares his intention never to smoke again. This moment of very real liberation is then followed by the equally real sufferings of the withdrawal period, which could last for some time.

Actually, this is what the Church means by the term ‘temporal punishment’. Like smoking withdrawals it has a beginning and an end; it is temporal. Eternal punishment, on the other hand, has no end; it is the punishment of hell.

Looking at this matter from another perspective we can note that repentance for sin has always included a firm purpose of amendment and the intention to do penance, that is, make up for our sin. Clearly, the man who steals money has an obligation to pay it back if he can, or to make some other form of restitution. If you admit to me you stole my car I may forgive you, but you are still obliged to return it.

In the same way God will always forgive a sin when we repent. However, forgiving our guilt does not always mean release from punishment. In his mercy God forgives our guilt; in his justice God requires satisfaction.

The Church has always believed that prayer, fasting and alms giving, indeed any penance, can purify us in this life and, consequently, those who fail to do so in this life will need to do so elsewhere if they are not to suffer the loss of heaven – which nothing impure can enter.

This leads us to make one other thing clear about purgatory. It is also the state or place in which we are freed from our venial sins. A venial sin wounds our relationship with God whereas a mortal sin destroys it. A person who dies in the habit of venial sin is still capable of heaven but needs first to be purged of those habits.

Commonly we fail to see the merciful love of God in this and somehow expect that God should not ask us to participate in our salvation at all. We might say, and correctly, as the Protestants do, that Jesus ‘paid the price’ for our sins! Yes, he did, and that’s why we are now forgiven – but let us not refuse this opportunity to share in the very sufferings of Christ which saved us. As St Paul says: It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (Colossians 1:24).

Naturally enough, the Catholic teaching on purgatory is intimately bound up with the practice of praying for the dead. Those who pray for the dead must believe in purgatory; those who do not believe in purgatory will have no reason to pray for the dead; the two realities are always mentioned together in the oldest texts of the Fathers of the Church.

Without going into the historical details, which can be discovered from the Catholic Encyclopedia, let me simply assert that praying for the dead and belief in the existence of purgatory were well established in the Church from the earliest times. Indeed, the Fathers maintained that the practice of prayers for the dead came from the Apostles themselves.

If we look at the liturgies of these early times we can see that the punishment or the purifying process undergone by the souls in purgatory is the experience of being ‘shut out’ from the sight of God for which they long with unbelievable intensity. This painful longing is made bearable only by the awareness it will one day be fulfilled.

The souls in purgatory have finished with sin and their purifying sufferings prepare them more and more for entrance into the eternal happiness of heaven. Purgatory is therefore a place of suffering, peace and joy.

We here on earth remain in communion with the souls in purgatory and we can aid them with our prayers and works of love. This is clear from the earliest Catholic teaching. Already in the 2nd Century it is recorded that Mass was offered for the faithful departed. Let us do so now and invoke on them and on ourselves the wonderful mercy of God.

A pumpkin story: “What is it like to be a Christian Saint? ”It is like being a Halloween pumpkin. God picks you up from the field, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off you by inviting you to confess your sins and seek reconciliation. Then he cuts off the top and scoops out the yucky stuff. He removes the pulp of impurity and injustice and seeds of doubt, hate and greed from you. Then he carves you a new smiling face and puts his light of holiness or Holy Spirit inside you to shine for the entire world to see by your serving and sharing love, mercy and forgiveness.”

 

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