The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed--All Souls Day
Yesterday, we honored and venerated all of God’s saints who gladly accepted his grace and lived in his love during their earthly journey. These holy men, women, and children are our examples, and now live eternally with the Trinity and enjoy his beatific vision. We call on all the saints to intercede for us, so where they have gone, we hope to follow.
Today, on All Souls Day, we pray for those in our family or friends who have died that they, too, enjoy the heavenly inheritance promised by our Savior. Some Christians have a hard time with this concept because they believe that an acknowledgment of Jesus as their Savior is all that is required to be in the fullness of God’s presence in heaven. Although part of the belief is accurate, some is not because it defies reason and justice.
It is true that those who have been baptized and lived a life of faith are in the presence of God, but not in his fullness as the saints in heaven enjoy. Traditionally, the Church teaches these poor souls are in purgatory, where a refining occurs. “As gold in a furnace, he proved them.” There is little doubt that people of faith had lived a good life, but sometimes not extraordinary. Perhaps they mastered part of the Beatitudes, but not all of them. Furthermore, it is undeniable that some people have lived more virtuous lives than others. Even with those we love deeply, we have to admit there were less-than-holy tendencies that were never rooted out from their life while they were still on the earth.
The use of an analogy becomes helpful in understanding why there is purgatory. Before a man or woman becomes a doctor, they must have mastered their trade to practice medicine. There can be a charismatic candidate who may show potential for diagnosis, bedside manner, and all the intangibles of medicine. Still, without complete proficiency, the doctor candidate is not yet ready to see patients. That doesn’t mean the candidate will never become a doctor; it only means they need more time.
And so, it is with the belief in purgatory. Those who have died and are not yet ready to be in the full presence of God are given a state to conquer their insufficiencies. Lest we fall into despair for our loved ones, the Book of Wisdom reassures us that those who have died are living in God. “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.”
Purgatory is a state of eternity where a person, without any distraction, desires God more than anything else. The ultimate desire of every human being comes to its completion in purgatory, and the person’s love is perfected. Our prayers help those souls to reach their destiny—full life in God for all eternity.
The underpinning of All Souls Day is the proper acknowledgment of human weakness and frailty stripped bare of all emotion. When we have done this, there is no other conclusion that every person needs God’s mercy and forgiveness. Our prayer today is for God’s mercy and forgiveness for ourselves and those we love who have completed their journey on earth. Without God’s mercy and forgiveness, the thought of heaven as our final destination is impossible.
In addition to remembering and praying for those we love, others have died and have no one to pray for them. Say a prayer for them today. Although you have never known these individuals and no relationship was forged on earth, they will never forget your love and generosity. Rest assured, when they meet the Lord in all his gloriousness, they will never forget and intercede for you as one of God’s holy saints. An ancient and profound prayer of the Church has always prayed for poor souls, and it remains an excellent way to pray for them today:
Be mindful, O Lord
of thy servants who have gone before
us with the sign of faith,
and rest in the sleep of peace.
To these, O Lord, and to all
who rest in Christ
grant a place of comfort
light and peace through
Christ our Lord. Amen.