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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?”

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