Long and Deep Teaching. Parts of the content here will be in the homily Nov. 2nd.
Pics. My shadow in the sand at Bethany Beach. Sunset sparkles off Lake Michigan.
All Soul’s Day begins a month of daily intentions for our beloved dead, for their soul’s full sanctification in God, as they are made perfect in God’s Spirit for life forever in Heaven. Catholics have been praying as such since the First Church with the apostles, and we have also borrowed from the anticipated faith of the Hebrew people, who were preparing for the Messiah in enlightened religion.
I would like to share some Scriptures about this observance of the departed in our Catholic practice of faith, because I find that many Catholics cannot explain it well, when asked about it.
Let’s review a few Scriptures of the Mass and Liturgy of the Word chosen of today…
From 2nd Maccabees, chapter 12, of the Old Testament (RSV): “On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”
Here is a text explanation:
In the books of Maccabees, we have the end of Old Testament time when the Jews, like Judas Maccabeus, had come to believe in the ongoing soul life of men, and of their resurrection to come. Judas (with other faithful Jews willing to even die as martyrs–so deep was their faith) believed that there would be some great new life connection in the Lord Messiah to come, Who would bridge Heaven and earth. He would be The One to carry over the soul out of the physical body at death and transform them onto Glory. This Lord Messiah of the Hebrew hope, would even be the Link between those departed, and those who remaining living on earth. All would live as one in Him.
In this Biblical account, Judas and his army find brother Jews on a battlefield who had died in war, but they find that these fallen men had each been wearing an idolatrous token. Judas Maccabeus feared that this sign of idolatry, of some ‘lucky’ token on them, was displeasing to the Lord. He instructed his own army not to resort to such a practice of token wearing, but asked that they collect the fallen men for a proper burial ceremony, wherein they would give these fallen soldiers some special prayers. Judas Maccabeus taught that their intercessory prayers for Divine Mercy (for their dead comrades) would be helpful, since they had all died in battle in a sin of idolatry and with likely unconfessed hearts about it.
Judas, thus, leads all his army in prayer, in a petition for all those fallen men that their idolatrous sin be blotted out. Judas knows that God’s Spirit will need to do that cleansing sanctification, so the prayers he leads are for those in need to get that cleansing and to go on to perfection in God’s realm. Judas’ actions go even further in concern so far as to offer a sin offering (sacrifice) to be prayed in the holy places in Jerusalem, namely, at God’s Temple. The drachmas will be given for the customary prayer to priests and intercessors there in their holy duties. This whole episode told in this Bible account is a communal act of a merciful and caring prayer for souls of the dead.
We do something similar in Catholic Faith. First, it is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead. Our Church takes that seriously, and we believe in intercessory prayer.
Secondly, we realize that modern people of faith also unfortunately die with some serious unconfessed sin on their hearts. We pray for their souls, in that, God’s Mercy and Purification come to their aid. Thirdly, we pray for those who died in God’s friendship, that their fundamental trust in God will be their saving grace, and that our prayers help them to now agree fully to abide forever with God. Sometimes we, the petitioner to God, even know what area of life the departed may need fully surrendered to God. In the Maccabees story it was the known idolatry of those soldiers. Today it may be that we know personally that our departed fell badly short in committing some sin, like in stealing, cheating or their breaking a big promise, or it could be we know of their religious omission in something like tithing, Mass-going, pro-life defending, or forgiving someone they should have. Or maybe we know how little social concerns that person had in following Jesus’ new command to “love one another.” In these cases, the one praying for a departed soul really knows what to say in petition. We ought to pray for the finished wonder to go well for that person’s obvious new for purgation and purification, because we know they need it. Yet if we don’t know of other believer’s shortcomings, it is always good to pray for a person’s soul who earthly body has expired.
As on memorial days like All Soul’s Day, we offer prayers, similar to the account in Maccabees. We pray with concern and support and solidarity for brothers and sisters in the Fold of faith who have fallen asleep in death, to be brought into God’s Light, and to be saved out of any un-confessed sin or disobedience or lack of faith maturity, and to be completed and purified into Heaven**. It is a prayer in Christ Jesus, via the Spirit, to the Father— for those who have died. We have our personal prayers and our prayers made in a special way in the Church and in our liturgies. The Gospel for All Soul’s Mass tonight is Matthew’s Beatitude list, including “**Blessed are the Pure of Heart, for they shall see God.”. I will be praying on All Souls for a lot of departed people in need, and for anonymous Poor Souls in Purgatory.
Let us now turn to our second reading today, as written by St. Paul, of the book of 2nd Timothy, chapter 1, of the New Testament (RSV): “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me — may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day — and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.”
Here we have a Scripture of the New Testament time when Christians believed in the resurrection of the dead, as confirmed in Jesus, and in their fuller realization that we are embodied souls on earth, and that when we die, our souls pass on to God, with our bodies buried for the resurrection of the dead to come, when Jesus Christ would return. St. Paul the apostle had written many things of faith in what God would do so favorably for the disciple of Christ, His Son, and that, after physical death, God would continue His work in us in our soul. Next, at the Second Coming, our body would be given resurrection to perfection, with no more sin and death to be weary us any longer.
As Paul recalls the life of a deceased brother in The Lord, named Onesiphorus. Paul writes to Timothy to pass on to the family and community in Ephesus of how refreshing and good this believer was in life. Paul talks about the great support that this man had given him, even in the effort he made to see him in a Roman prison, and how Ephesus had been so blessed by him. Paul writes of Onesiphorus in the past tense, so it is about his dearly departed friend. Paul prays for his soul. He prays that the Lord grant Onesiphorus mercy—and for great reward on “that Day.” Paul was referring here to the Second Coming. Paul here is writing about this dead friend of whom he believes still lives on, just in a new way. He wants Timothy and others to remember this man as now heading to be with God, and to still be able to be loved, as family in the Beyond. Paul says that the Second Coming Day would arrive to bring all their hopes to fulfillment.
As we apply this Scripture to 2016 and the Church’s prayer practice, we note how we also do pray for people after they have died. We pray as their faith partners on earth, and for God to now look after them. We hope one day, by God’s Mercy and Grace, that we can gather again with our beloved and our friends and with all the just.
Friends care for each other, especially in times of need. What greater need can there be but upon death for one to get into Heaven with God?! Wouldn’t a friend hope that the most for a friend? Making Heaven is no easy guarantee, as some have been mistaken and foolish about. The Bible calls the way in as “narrow” but that “wide” is the road of perdition and destruction. So, we believers should definitely act as good friends and pray for people who have died. Who knows really what great effect it might have?! Maybe the prayer of a friend brings care and relief to a soul on the journey to God. Maybe the petitions here from earth do stir God’s Mercy in Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Love speaks volumes in prayer. Maybe these All Souls prayers unite the body of believers into Christ’ trust, and He expects it, in our cry for unity?
We don’t just pray for the people who we might think will desperately need it, as in ‘barely making it into God’s company (those of weak faith or of not a lot of evidence of soul room for God) faith growth). That’s a good person to appeal for–sure. But that appeal would be natural, just out of dear concern that the person does actually find favor with God.
Yet, we do also pray for the good and practicing believers who pass on. We need to pray also for the good practitioners of faith who have been among us. Rather than just assume an immediate Heaven for them, we join St. Paul for praying mercy on these people, too, as an act of solidarity and an ongoing friendship with them. I can recall that Mother Teresa in her dying days made everyone promise her for prayers for her soul after death. People thought–”Why—for a saint?”-—but Teresa knew her Catholic theology well, and she knew that purgation in the Spirit will be needed for nearly everyone. “Who dies perfect?” Teresa asked her visitors. She would know St. Paul and his teachings about how the Holy Spirit is sent to make us holy in this life, and to complete us in Christ Jesus, afterwards. Many have left a lot undone in life, even if confessing Jesus as Lord over their life.
A hint: Ask people for Mass intentions and other prayers for you after you die. You’re likely to need it! In your will, put it down as a “must” for a Mass of Christian Burial upon your death. These prayers really do mean something!
Here now is some more Scripture and knowledge of the Spirit’s role in purgation of all our sin…
The Spirit is called the Fire by Paul as he writes the Corinthians in the third chapter of his first epistle to that church. He says that the Spirit keeps at it to complete us in holiness, even later on. “The work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire. ”
The author of Hebrews agrees with this work of the Holy Spirit needed for us after our death, so as to see God in the New Jerusalem. In Hebrews 10 it proclaims: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”
Revelation 21:27 is in agreement, too, here, as it declares that “nothing unclean shall enter Heaven.” Thus, the need for purgatory, a place or process to enter purification and completion, is in order. If St. Teresa of Calcutta didn’t feel quite perfected for Heaven, then neither should we be. And we should highly welcome, as she did, the prayers of people for us after our death.
Finally, the great confessor St. John Vianney, who spent hours upon hours every day with people in the Sacrament of Confession, was asked of why he gave some much time for this Sacrament, and he said that it was because it was freeing people of many sins that Purgatory would have had later to address, but was instead pre-dealt with in God’s Mercy in the Confessional. Wow. That’s a saint telling us something important.
John Vianney said the Holy Spirit does much work in perfecting a life in the confessional, but that un-repentance or an unwillingness to address the sins in our life, begs for an address for it later by God’s Spirit in our afterlife, because we cannot enter Heaven and be in God’s Perfect presence without becoming all holy ourselves. God must give the grace for that. Only the arrogant thinks otherwise and would depend on their own righteousness or merit.
(Of course, Reconciliation follows upon the Grace of Baptism and the general repentance of a person for God’s Mercy to save them.)
It is understood then, that the post-Baptism Sacraments affords us much in grace, and that our acts of charity and works of mercy do help in the perfection of our lives, too. It is the practicing believer whom God can then perfect. Practice makes perfect. We need to seek and do good works, and hold to do all we can in Jesus so as not to be dominated by sin. Christ is come to grant us all freedom from sin. Vianney’s saintly faith certainly borrowed from St. John’s epistles, where it set the bar for the Christian life, saying: “But you know that Christ appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who remains in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or known Him. Little children (of God),, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Christ is righteous.”
So there is some review of why we pray for All Soul’s, and how we believe in the Holy Spirit and His work, and how we accept purgation or purgatory, to be mercifully given our good completion in Christ Jesus. We also hear the call to use Confession, to remain pure, as God’s children of faith. Live it out.