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Sunday, November 2, 2014

ALL SOULS' DAY: Beyond Today

Yesterday, we venerated the memory of the heroes of our faith, the saints who are now in heaven. Today, we commemorate all the faithful departed. These two celebrations form parts of our belief in everlasting life. The twelfth article of our faith as enshrined in the Apostles’ Creed states: I believe in life everlasting.

Every one of us is called to holiness. The saints in heaven have responded positively to this divine call. They have lived virtuous lives, continually attentive to the promptings of God. Faithful, hoping and loving, they have reached the end of their earthly pilgrimage in the grace and friendship of God. Perfectly purified, they are now citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, seeing God as he is, face to face.

All the faithful departed, whose memory we remember today, have also been invited to tread the path to sanctity. Many, having led saintly lives, might have immediately gained the joy of heaven at their death, although they had not been officially declared as saints by the Catholic Church. In their lifetime, they conscientiously patterned their lives after the model of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There could also been many others who died in the grace and friendship of God, meaning, they did not die in mortal sin, and still need to be purified. They have not yet achieved the holiness or the purity necessary to enter heaven. These must pass through a process of final cleansing, and the Church calls this state purgatory.

The Church’s teaching on purgatory has suffered many attacks from fundamentalists. History would remind us that the Reformation was triggered by abuses in the practice of indulgence for the deceased. One preacher on indulgence prior to the Reformation taught that as soon as the coin falls from the hand of the one offering, the soul or souls for whom the coin is being offered are released from purgatory and go to heaven. The Reformers, led by Martin Luther, were furious about this. They dropped the belief in purgatory. But the deeper reason why they did not accept purgatory was that, according to them, there was no biblical basis. For us Catholics, the second Book of Maccabees backs our belief in purgatory. Chapter 12, verses 44-46 tell about Judas Maccabeus making atonement for the dead that they might be delivered from their sins. The problem is, the Protestants consider the second Book of Maccabees as apocryphal, meaning, not divinely inspired; therefore, it cannot be a source of true teaching.

Despite the seeming scarcity of scriptural evidences, the Catholic Church teaches as dogma, first, that purgatory exists, and, second, that it is possible for the living to intercede for those in purgatory. However, nothing is defined as regards the nature, the place, the number of those in purgatory and the duration of their being in that state.

According to Tradition, St. Monica, in her deathbed, asked her son, St. Augustine to remember her in his masses. By this St. Monica acknowledged her belief in the power of the living to mediate for the faithful departed who are in purgatory. St. Perpetua had a vision of her deceased brother. In her dream, she saw her brother in pain. Because of this, St. Perpetua offered prayers for his sake. The next time she dreamt of him, he was already released from pain.

For us Catholics, it is theologically sound and logical to believe in the existence of purgatory. According to the Book of Revelation, nothing impure enters heaven. There are many who die in a state of grace, yet they are not entirely pure. Since divine holiness and justice demands that the door of heaven can only be opened for the pure, those who left the world in God’s friendship must first undergo some purification. In more simple terms, there are those who die who are not evil enough to deserve being thrown in hell, and there are those who die who are still not good enough for heaven. These must as yet spend some time in purgatory. In purgatory, their venial sins are remitted. They suffer the temporal punishment due to their sins. And they experience a spiritual purification from attachments, bad habits and inclinations to sin. They experience a deep contrition for their sins because all their faults are shown them, and this causes some mental agony. But they could no longer change their situation by their effort. Because of this helplessness, they are called poor souls. But we can pray for them, sacrifice for them, intercede for them. Be that as it may, the souls in purgatory are already assured of heaven; they only need a little cleansing before their triumphant entry. Because of this, I am hesitant to call them poor souls. They, on the other hand, should be called blessed souls: they are sure to enter heaven! They may still be suffering some pain, but such is accompanied by the security of being saved. There is no anxiety, but hope, peace and joy.

Our commemoration of the faithful departed fits well our belief in the communion of saints. The saints in heaven have no need of our prayers and those of the souls in purgatory. But they can intercede for us and those in purgatory before God. The souls in purgatory may be helpless in regard themselves, but they have the power to intercede for us living. For our part, we can intercede for them and spend this day especially praying for them . . . a beautiful exchange of spiritual goods.

This day should also be an occasion for us to pause a while in our journey and ask ourselves: How have I been responding to the call to holiness? Let us stand in front in the mirror: Can you tell the one standing before you, “If you die today, you are assured of heaven?”

ALL SAINTS' DAY: Listening is the Key

We commemorate today the solemnity of all the saints declared as such by the Catholic Church. We believe that these men and women, who lived holy lives on earth, fulfilling what their Christian calling required of them, are now bona fide residents of heaven, the “place” where we all wish to find rest for ever. I wonder if you have ever thought about why we should be celebrating the feast of all the saints. Should we be doing this? From a certain vantage point, celebrating them seems pointless. Today, we praise them, we honor them, and we venerate them. But let us face it, we are not doing them any good. The honor we give them, our praises and our veneration add nothing to who they now are. They are in heaven, enjoying the ever-refreshing presence of the Trinity. What else or who else would they need? They have God, and God is everything! Nobody and nothing can take that away from them – ever again. So why this celebration then? For whom really is this feastday?

It is for us! Our celebration today does not serve the saints a bit, but it does serve us a great deal. All Saints’ Day is a reminder of who we are as Christians: that we are men and women baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Ours is the call to tread the road to holiness, the same road that all the saints have trodden. The saints have reached the finish line, and now the crown of glory is theirs. Venerating their memory, we get in touch with our desire to enjoy the same heavenly residency at the end of our earthly walk. Our hearts are inflamed, and we are arrested by a holy envy: when will I see the face of God? Our existence here below is not an easy walk, and reaching the end is extremely difficult. But the saints present themselves as proofs that it is possible. In fact, the testimonies of their lives of faith, hope and charity stand as the road marks, showing which way to go.

Foremost of the saints is the Blessed Virgin Mary. When I think of the saints now, the Blessed Mother included, I realize that they are not different from us. Aside from the fact that they are human beings like anyone of us, we and the saints share the same calling to holiness. What differentiates us is the response we give to that calling. The difference is in the listening. And that is crucial.

When the angel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin about the plan of God, she was confused. Yes, she understood that she was being singled out among all the women on earth to carry the Savior in her womb, yet she did not understand how that could be possible since she had no husband. But she listened on to the angel. Her listening led to her fiat, and she henceforth conceived the Lord Jesus. Listening is nothing else than being open and receptive. It’s like the womb. If the womb does not receive, there is no giving birth. If the Blessed Mother did not listen to and receive the plan of God, she would not have conceived and given birth to the Savior. To listen then is also to be creative. It’s giving birth to what is good and beautiful. The “yes” of Mary “created” the Lord Jesus in her womb.

This has much to say about our journey on the road to holiness. Our journey is about constant listening to God. The saints are now where they are because they persisted in listening to the will of God. Listening is the key, and there is no other. Our celebration calls us to become like the womb of the Blessed Mother, receptive and creative. Let us be open so that we can, like the saints, conceive and birth forth acts of faith, hope and charity. These will obtain for us the glory that is heaven.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

To Deserve Or Not To Deserve

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a quote, which I found relationally sensible. The line went: "If one cannot accept you at your worst, he/she doesn't deserve you at your best."

Side A:

Broken-hearted people, those who have just called it quits with their partners, and even those whose break-up already belongs to distant history but are still chattel to their failed relationship, can find this somehow comforting. Comforting, when they are confident they were the better partners, better choices, and yet they were abandoned for somebody else. Abandoned, perhaps because the people who left them looked into the worst in them with bridled eyes and would not accept them for who they were; those who left failed to see the best in their erstwhile partners, proving themselves unworthy of them in their best selves.

Side B:

Exhausted people, those who had been silently screaming they wanted out of their suffocating relationship and eventually gained their freedom, those who fell out of love, those who stopped fighting for love, those who simply declared "it's not working", might consider stopping for a while and re-think what really went wrong, not so much to find a reason or two to set their feet back towards the arms that once embraced them. One of the many possible reasons could have been that they were drawn to the shadows rather than the lights, to the storm rather than the rainbow. They did not understand and accept their partners in their worst selves, and so they took flight. But by fleeing, they were calling themselves undeserving of the love of those they left behind. By fleeing, they were leaving the persons who might truly love them. By fleeing, they could possibly be missing the persons meant for them.

American-Canadian-Pacific Vacation 2008 (September-October), Part 1

American-Canadian-Pacific Vacation 2008 (September-October), Part 2

American-Canadian-Pacific Vacation 2008 (September-October), Part 3

American Vacation 2007 (September-October)

American Vacation 2007 (September-October), part 2

American Vacation 2006 (California-Nevada-Hawaii, April-May))

American Vacation 2005 (California-Hawaii, April)