What is it like to hope for others? What is it like to practice what we believe about the human person? Is our belief anchored in a theology that distracts us from hurt and grief? Or, does the theology help us to grieve and grow? I don’t think the Catholic Church creates her own theology about the human person. I think she obediently receives the Divine Revelation from God, and tirelessly preserves and defends this truth through history. Only God could give us such a dramatic, high, yet real and attainable hope.
We will consider All Souls Day in three aspects: (1) the resurrection of the body, (2) hope, and (3) being drawn into one. The three points are meant to strengthen our ability to “wander, wonder, and awe” at this mystery.
The Roman Missal refers to this day as The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. We remember and honor those who have died. Why? I’ve received harsh replies like, “they died already, why do you bother with that?” This article is not meant to answer the question why do we pray for the dead; it is meant to help the reader reflect on and wrestle with certain truths and beliefs of the Catholic faith.
First, do you know what it is we believe? Do you remember what it is we believe about the dead who had hope in Christ at their passing? Let’s take a look at the Creed we professed during yesterday’s Holy Day of Obligation:
…and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
That’s how we end the Creed. The dead are not merely a memory we hold onto or call to mind on certain days. The faithful departed are destined and meant to have their body resurrected. With their resurrected and glorified body, reunited with their soul, they will live in “the life of the world to come.” This should echo Revelation 21:1-2:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven for God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
The world to come will be made new (verses 5-6). The new heaven and earth will be the dwelling place of God and his people. The remainder of chapter 21 and all of 22 help our weak faith to see what it is we are made for. The resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come are not meant primarily to make us feel warm inside. In fact, much of the time these good and beautiful truths don’t cause comfort but tension… Here’s a real life example of what I mean by tension:
…to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. –St. Paul to the Philippians 1:21-24
Look at that. St. Paul the Evangelist, apostle, slave to Christ, ambassador and teacher of the faith… this man openly admitted his personal and human struggle. He was caught between the desire to depart to be with Christ and to “remain in the flesh.” He knew very well the supernatural reality that we anxiously await and work toward daily. Knowledge of that reality caused tension in his life.
How does hope relate to this? “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness” (CCC 1817). Hope is the power and capacity to desire the accomplishment of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “…We also groan within ourselves as we await the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we are saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance” –Romans 8:23-25.
Hope moves us toward heaven, toward God. “In [Jesus] the hope of the blessed resurrection has dawned,” says the Roman Missal. Jesus Christ, who has been raised as the first fruits of those whom have died (1 Corinthians 15:20), gives light and hope to us. This hope is the resurrection. Can this hope be our prayer? Can we hope and pray and desire the kingdom of heaven for the faithful departed? It seems that by interceding and praying for a loved one, the person praying is compelled to respond with more devout and fervent intercession and thanksgiving. This act of prayer burns in the person an even more ardent desire and hope, a hope that seems to “groan within.”
How strong is this hope? Hope helps us attain “perfect possession of God in divine union” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. 3, Ch. 7.2): the beatific vision. Hope does not disappoint because “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). In fact, “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). That’s how strong hope is. Now, imagine living hope instead of reading about it… Now, begin to live in hope in a way that intoxicates others and moves them to do the same.
Drawn Into One
We suffer with one another and rejoice with one another, right (Romans 12:15)? We edify the body of Christ by having the same mind, spirit, and faith, right (Ephesians 4:1-6)? Have you read John 17? Read how our blessed Lord prays. He prays for the apostles and for all who will believe in him through their word (verse 20). He prays, “so that they may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (verse 21).
Can you see that? Consider this with the Eucharist in mind. In the Eucharist, we are drawn together. “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (CCC 950 and 962). What effect does this Eucharistic communion have on our dead family members? With Christ as our head, “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism” (CCC 1396). “We have been called to form but one body,” and this body is the Bride of Christ who is united to her husband in such an intimate way we can only begin to contemplate in heaven. In other words, the saints in heaven and the baptized on earth are meant to draw the suffering souls in purgatory “upward” toward heaven with their (our) prayers.
May the souls of the faithful departed…
It is right to pray for them and commend their souls to God. It is good to desire heavenly things, and most of all, heaven itself. It is right to ask God to give the faithful departed a share in his life. Let us pray with the Church:
Having received the Sacrament of your Only Begotten Son, who was sacrificed for us and rose in glory, we humbly implore you, O Lord, for your departed servants, that, cleansed by the paschal mysteries, they may glory in the gift of the resurrection to come. Through Christ our Lord.