I always feel a sense of pity for those individuals who are not believers, and who must say goodbye to a loved one. In a certain sense, they are faced with utter loss. The believers embrace the loved one with an understanding that he/she is in the hands of God to be reunited in eternity. For the believer, love is stronger than death itself. And we have been given this testimony by the Father’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Having finished Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve), it’s strange to me that in our materialistic, secular society we can become so fascinated with the macabre. Our modern culture will spend 10s of millions of dollars decorating homes, public squares and shopping malls in an effort to create makeshift cemeteries and eerie spaces. We’ll dress up in costumes honoring the (living dead) skeletons, witches, Dracula and the devil. Of course, some prominent members of our society are also portrayed. A few of whom fit well into the category of the living dead. You choose those who fit the bill.
The society that rarely acknowledges the transcendent celebrates this feast dedicated to the dead and ghoulish. Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement of our “Original Sin” and our fallen nature. In the religious calendar, Halloween comes before All Saints Day. It begs the question that we will all be doomed without God.
Certainly our goal is not the grave. It would be a shame if Halloween just stood alone, apart from the fulfillment of a life realized in the saints.
As a child growing up formed in Catholic schools, the Sisters (Holy Family of Nazareth) would assign us the responsibility of learning about our patron saints. Needless to say, some saints were popular and easy to research while others were difficult and some even obscure. I have used that lesson in my Confirmation ceremonies, questioning the candidates about their names and the saints they have chosen. I love the excitement in their eyes as they are eager to tell me about a special characteristic or remarkable achievement they discovered about their chosen saint. It is my hope that these saints become a part of their spiritual family and the candidates will use them as potential patrons who will guide their young lives with a sense of connectedness to the Church. The saint offers to them a friend to share their journey through life.
What is a saint? A saint is one who has achieved heavenly reward. It is important for all of us to understand that holiness is the goal for all of us. Believe me when I tell you there are more saints than those listed by the Church. But the ones recognized by the Church are those recognized as exceptional and after a series of extreme scrutiny and the declaration of miracles, this person is declared by the Church to be in heaven. The power of the keys given to St. Peter declares whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatsoever you declared loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
All of our loved ones are at the mercy of God’s judgment and what gives us all great consolation is that we can pray for our deceased relatives. I believe there is an errant practice in our funeral liturgies. Our love and devotion to a loved one seemingly pushes them into heaven. The eulogies that are offered canonize them before God has declared His judgment. The Church teaches that the majority of us will go through a period of “purgation.” We refer to this as purgatory. We are called to suffer for the consequences of personal sins in our lives. Therefore, right on the heels of All Saints Day is All Souls Day, Nov. 2. In her wisdom the Church directs her faithful to pray for the souls undergoing purgation. We possess the ability to pray for the deceased in order to assist them throughout this trial. We need to offer our prayers for our loved ones. Offer Masses, and recite the rosary and personal prayers. Flowers are beautiful at a funeral; however, nothing compares to a Mass offered for the soul of a loved one that offers infinite graces and assists the soul as it assumes its eternal life before God. I must tell you that children and relatives that deny their loved ones a funeral Mass deny them an eternal lifeline. If they themselves are not believers, at least they should pay tribute to their parents or relatives who are.
I will never forget Sister asking us to remember the “most neglected soul in purgatory.” I did pray for that neglected soul, and I hope that I will meet that person in eternity. And if they are assisted by my prayers, I hope that they in term will pray for me before God. You can see the connectedness that we all have as faithful. Every one of us has relatives that have walked a fine line in this world, not always living a life following the Word of Jesus. How important it is for us to support them in their time of need — All Souls Day — when the Church asks the faithful to remember the deceased in prayers. There was a wonderful bas relief depicting souls in a purgatorial sea of flames reaching up to heaven. Angels were sent through our prayers to lift these souls up and bring them to their eternal home. I must confess that I like that image because God gives us the opportunity to continue our relationships even after death.
The secular world stops its celebration with Halloween. Death and personal destruction are the end of their perceived existence. However, as believers, always longing for eternal life, we realize that the celebration of the saints who are inspirational to us and through their lives of holiness inspire us to share our love for one another. In our prayers for our brothers and sisters, we assist one another in life’s journey in this world with full confidence in Christ and His Church that leads us.