October 26, 2011 // Uncategorized

Honoring saints and praying for the dead

All Saints Day

This coming Tuesday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints, a holy day of obligation. The origin of All Saints’ Day can be traced back to the 4th century, though its observance on November 1st dates back to the 8th or 9th century. It is a beautiful feast in which we rejoice in the great multitude of holy men, women and children of every time and place who share in the glory and joy of heaven.

The saints we honor on November 1st were believers like us who experienced the everyday challenges and difficulties of this pilgrimage on earth. We look to them today as models for us of a life lived according to the Beatitudes of Jesus, a life of faith, hope and love. Opening themselves to God’s love and grace, they listened to Jesus and sought to do God’s will.

The saints were not perfect, which gives all of us hope. Being holy does not mean being perfect. Holiness does not mean that we never error sin. It involves continual conversion, beginning anew, and growing in the virtues through the grace and mercy of God. Pope Benedict has said that “holiness increases with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness. … Thus, what makes us holy is not never having erred, but the capacity for reconciliation and pardon. And all of us can learn this road to holiness” (General Audience, January 31, 2007).

Another aspect of growth in holiness that is important to remember is that it always involves self-denial and sacrifice. This is the reality of love. Pope Benedict reminds us that “every form of holiness, even if it follows different paths, always passes through the Way of the Cross, the way of self-denial” (Homily, November 1, 2006). The first canonized saint of America, Saint Rose of Lima, wrote that “apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” The way of the cross, the way of Jesus, is the way of love. It is also the way to true happiness and peace in this life and in the next. True happiness is, in the end, holiness. The saints teach us this important lesson.

I have been struck by the frequency with which our Holy Father talks about the saints. In all his apostolic visits and particularly in his many addresses to young people, he speaks about the call to holiness and refers us to the saints. One of my favorite descriptions of a saint comes from Pope Benedict: “The saint is the person who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth as to be progressively transformed by it.” Notice that the Holy Father uses the word “progressively.” A life of holiness is not achieved immediately — it is a progressive transformation by the grace and mercy of God, a path of continual conversion. Christ asks us to make the Gospel our rule of life — this is a day-to-day adventure in which we strive to resist temptations to sin and to live in God’s grace. The saints are our models, our examples, in this beautiful adventure.

Blessed John Paul II beatified and canonized a great many people, some who lived centuries ago, and others, like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who lived in recent years. He did so to show us how to be disciples of Jesus, “how to live life as it should be lived.” At World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, his first as pope, Benedict XVI said to the young people: “The saints show us the way to attain happiness; they show us how to be truly human. … They are the true reformers … only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”

On his visit to the United States in 2008, our Holy Father spoke to young people and seminarians at a meeting in New York. Again, he talked about the saints. He invited them to fix their gaze on the saints as models of Christian discipleship who teach us the importance of developing a personal relationship with God through prayer and silence as well as through our participation in the Church’s liturgy. This prayer then becomes charity in action. The saints teach us the primacy of prayer and how this then bears fruit in lives of hope and charity. “The saints show us the selfless love of the way of Jesus.”

We all have our favorite saints and our patron saints. These are our intercessors in heaven and our models here on earth. We honor all the saints on November 1st. They are stars of hope for us along the road of life. They are, as it were, like living pages of the Gospel of Jesus. I hope that everyone will make the time to attend Holy Mass on November 1st, to worship God and to celebrate the memory of all the saints!

All Souls Day

On November 2nd (All Souls Day) and throughout the month of November, the Church prayerfully remembers our brothers and sisters “who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again” (Eucharistic Prayer II). Though we are not obliged to attend Mass on November 2nd, it is a special day to attend Mass for the faithful departed and also to pray at the graves of our deceased loved ones. I am looking forward to offering Holy Mass at the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne at noon on All Souls Day and welcome all who are able to participate, especially those who have loved ones buried in the Catholic Cemetery. I also invite you to attend the 12:05 p.m. Mass for the deceased clergy of our diocese which I will celebrate in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Monday, November 7th.

It is appropriate that on the day after we celebrate the glory of the saints in heaven we remember in prayer the souls in purgatory. As the Catechism teaches, these are our brothers and sisters who have died “in God’s grace and friendship,” but are still “imperfectly purified.” They undergo purification after death “so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030). This important doctrine of our faith is based on the practice of prayer for the dead that is mentioned in Sacred Scripture. “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God” (CCC 1032).

If you are looking for good spiritual reading during November, the month of the Holy Souls, I recommend the encyclical letter On Christian Hope (in Latin, Spe Salvi) in which Pope Benedict XVI writes about purgatory. “For the great majority of people — we may suppose — there remains in the depths of their being openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil — much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge?” At this point, the Holy Father reflects on Saint Paul’s words in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:12-15) and about our personally having to “pass through fire so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.”

In reflecting on purgatory, the Holy Father speaks of “a blessed pain, in which the holy power of God’s love sears us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. … At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of His love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.”

In November, we pray for all those who are being purified “as through fire,” the holy power of Christ’s love. Even after the death of our loved ones, we can play a part in their purification by our prayers. As Pope Benedict says, “it is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.”

May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace!

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.