Sunday 2nd November 2008
All Souls Day
A Holy and a Wholesome Thought
And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought the Lord, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas Maccabeus exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain.
If you are an older reader you may remember the rest of this line: “It is a holy and wholesome thought to…” You may also remember the Bible story from which it comes. Judas Maccabeus was the leader of the Jewish people one hundred and fifty years before the birth of Jesus. He led an army against the Greek invaders who had taken over his country. Several of his men were killed in battle. It turned out that all of them had been wearing superstitious amulets or charms around their necks, a practice that was totally opposed to their Jewish faith. When Judas Maccabeus discovered this he took up a collection among all the people and sent two thousand drachmas to the Temple in Jerusalem to have sacrifices offered for those who had died. The Bible story draws a lesson from these events: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed of their sins.”
Bring them into the light of your presence.
When St. Bernadette of Lourdes was dying, she was afraid that people would think she was holy. She asked the sisters around her, “Pray for me when I am dead. People will say, ‘That little saint doesn’t need prayers and I will be left in purgatory.’” Of course no one in purgatory is forgotten or abandoned; the souls in purgatory are remembered and prayed for at every Mass every day: “Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again. Bring them into the light of your presence.”
We pray for the dead because they had faults and failings like ourselves. Few of us think that if we died right now, we would be ready to go straight to heaven. We know we are selfish and sinful in many different ways, and are not able to love with our whole hearts and souls. We need to grow in love. Purgatory is where we go through the final purification that frees us to love and makes us ready to experience the joy of God’s presence in heaven. The English Dominican, Fr. Bede Jarrett described it this way: “We must not think that our dead are in anguish. No doubt they are restless and eager for their release, but only as a lover might be restless who did not find himself fit to meet his beloved.”
Remember me at the altar.
Those who are in purgatory are free from fear now and they have no worry about the future; they are grateful to God who took care of them through life and through death and they are sure of a place in heaven. They wait in joyful certainty and we speed them on their way with the help of our prayers.
St. Monica lived in North Africa. She made arrangements to be buried there beside her husband who had died several years previously. But while traveling in Italy with her two sons she became seriously ill and knew that she was dying. One of her sons was very upset that she would die so far from home. She said, “What silly talk. Lay my body anywhere and take no trouble over it. I only ask that you remember me at the altar of the Lord.”
Lord God, in whom all find refuge,
we appeal to your boundless mercy:
Grant to the souls of our deceases sisters and brothers
a kindly welcome,
cleansing from sin,
release from the chains of death
and entry into everlasting life.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.