All Souls Day
Almost 1,000 years ago, the feast of commemorating all the departed souls was initiated at the great Benedictine abbey of Cluny in France, situated roughly two-thirds of the way from Paris to Geneva. Then, Cluny was a major center of learning and of missionary outreach.
It is no wonder that a feast celebrated at Cluny would be observed throughout Europe.
Eventually, the feast of All Souls became an important date on the Catholic calendar.
On this weekend, instead of celebrating the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church is observing the feast of All Souls. The Church has a lesson to teach.
Whenever the Church replaces the liturgy of a Sunday in the normal sequence of “Ordinary Time” with a feast, it intends to teach an important lesson.
The Church’s message is simple. Only the just may enter heaven, as the Scriptures teach, but everyone has sinned. While forgiven, believers suffer the ill effects of their sins, while not bringing upon eternal death.
Purgatory is the Church’s theological explanation of how sinners overcome these ill effects. The lesson is about us as humans, and about God’s great love for us, even if we have sinned.
The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. The purpose of this book is expressed in its name. It sees religious faith and devotion as the highest of human reasoning. Belief in God, and obedience to God, are only logical.
The reading is reassuring. It states that God will never forsake the righteous. But, God will test the righteous, as fire tests gold. (Fire removes impurities from gold).
For the next reading, the Church presents a passage from the Epistle to the Romans.
This reading consoles us that while we have sinned, God still loves us. Indeed, the Son of God died for sinners that they might have eternal life.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. In this reading, Jesus declares that no one who earnestly seeks God will be scorned. Each person is priceless. In God’s love, the plan is that no one shall be lost, but we must freely turn to God.
Death and penance, and of course the drabness of the vestments and the subdued tone of the liturgy on All Souls, all easily bring before us the image of gloom and unease. In these symbols, and in each of these readings, the Church warns that sin produces death.
The Church, however, does not leave us in despair but rather with great hope. We are sinners. Nevertheless, God loves us. In this love, God sent the Son of God as Redeemer, dying in sacrifice on Calvary, so that we might have life forever.
God never imposes anything upon us, not even for our own good. Just as the ancient prophets, and the Christian mystics, knew quite well, sin injures humans. As sinners, we are wounded.
We must seek God’s pardon, but even if forgiven, we bear the scars of the injuries of sin. Our resolve has been weakened, our vision further blurred.
Purgatory is the opportunity to be purified, for the scars of the wounds of sin to be erased. It is a state of longing and of intense re-dedication to God. The souls in purgatory understand the folly of their sins but also the beauty of God. They yearn to see God — and they will not be disappointed.
On this feast, we pray that God will hurry the process of purification so that the souls in purgatory soon fully will live with God.
We also must think of ourselves, recommitting ourselves to God. Sin has hurt us, but its wounds can be healed, we can be pure, and God will give us life and peace forever.
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