All Souls Day
Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6
Purgatory? Where is that word in the Bible? You won’t find it there. But you won’t find the word “Trinity” in the Bible either, nor the word “incarnation”, you won’t even find the word “Bible” in the Bible.
But does the Bible say anything about Purgatory? In Romans 3:23 it says that all of us are sinners. In Rev. 21:27 we read “Nothing impure will enter heaven.” We must be completely sanctified before we can enter heaven. Without this no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14.)
All of us are sinners, but God saves sinners. Therefore, there must be some sort of final cleansing that takes place after death, before going to heaven, and this is what we call Purgatory. No one wants to come back from Purgatory to the earth and risk falling into sin again. They just could not return to the uncertainty and miseries of the earth. In Purgatory, even if the pain is terrible, there’s the certainty of living with God forever. It’s an unshakeable certitude. Their joy is greater than their pain. There’s nothing on earth that could make them want to live here again, where one is never sure of anything.
St. Catherine of Genoa shows us this happier side of purgatory. She writes, “Apart from the happiness of the saints in heaven, I think there is no joy that can be compared to that of the souls in purgatory. Their happiness increases day by day, as their union with God increases and the impediments to it are worn away. … It’s not that their suffering disappears, but souls in Purgatory are one with God in pure love, and in complete harmony with God’s will. … Compared with their love of God, the suffering of purgatory is a small matter.” 1 We call them “poor souls” but they would never trade places with us. They are saved, they are children of God whom they love with increasing intensity. They pray for us even more than we pray for them. Let us be moved by compassion to help those who are in Purgatory by our prayers and sacrifices so they may soon reach the places Jesus has prepared for them in heaven.
- Catherine of Genoa, Purgation and Purgatory, The Spiritual Dialogue, Paulist Press, NY, The Classics of Western Sprituality Series, 1979, p. 72.
All Souls Day
Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6
St. Bernard urges us to explore purgatory. He writes, “Explore, O faithful soul, this region of expiation and [be moved] to a feeling of tender compassion.” 1 Let us explore purgatory with the help of several saints.
Blessed Franz Jagerstatter describes purgatory as a place of cleansing for our sins. He writes: “Our souls demand purgatory. If God said to us, ‘It is true that your breath smells, your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable up here and no one will reproach you for these things. Enter into your Master’s joy.’ Wouldn’t we reply, ‘Lord, if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first’? God replies, ‘It may hurt.’ And we say, ‘Even so.’ The treatment given will be the one required whether it hurts much or little.” 2 Purgatory is like a doctor cleaning a wound before stitching it closed. It hurts but it is cleansing and healing.
St. Catherine of Genoa shows us a happier side of purgatory. She writes, “Apart from the happiness of the saints in heaven, I think there is no joy that can be compared to that of the souls in purgatory. Their happiness increases day by day, as their union with God increases and the impediments to it are worn away. … It’s not that their suffering disappears, but they are one with God in pure love, and in complete harmony with God’s will. … Compared with their love of God, the suffering of purgatory is a small matter.” 3 We call them “poor souls” but they would never trade places with us. They are saved, they are children of God whom they love with increasing intensity. They pray for us “poor souls” even more than we pray for them.
St Bridget of Sweden describes purgatory as a place of restitution. This is the neglected side of our sinfulness. We sin, we confess and we are forgiven, but the harm done to others has not been repaired. We steal but neglect to repay; we commit slander and detraction but fail to restore someone’s good name. St. Bridget 4 writes that in purgatory we will make restitution for all the harm we have done. It’s a happy place, but we won’t be perfectly happy until we can make it up to those who were hurt because of our sins. How can people in purgatory do that? By offering their prayers and sufferings for those they injured. No prayer goes unanswered, no prayer is ever wasted.
As St. Bernard said, let us be moved by compassion to help those who are in purgatory by our prayers and sacrifices so they may soon reach the places Jesus has prepared for them in heaven.
1. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bernard’s Sermons, Sermons for the Seasons and Principal Festivals of the Year, Vol. 3 Various Sermons, On the Five Places of Spiritual Traffic, The Carroll Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1950, p. 531.
2. Gordon C. Zahn, In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, NY, 1964, p. 111.
3. Catherine of Genoa, Purgation and Purgatory, The Spiritual Dialogue, Paulist Press, NY, The Classics of Western Spirituality Series, 1979, p. 72.
4. St. Bridget of Sweden, Revelations, Book 6.
All Souls Day
All Souls Day
[Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6]
St. Bernard tells us to pray for those in purgatory. He writes, “Explore, O faithful soul, this region of expiation and [be moved] to a feeling of tender compassion.”1 There are no street views of purgatory in Google Maps, but we can explore it with the help of several saints who provide windows showing purgatory as a place of penance, purification and restitution.
In the first window Blessed Franz Jagerstatter shows us purgatory as a place of expiation or penance for our sins. He was a conscientious objector during World War Two. When he refused to serve in Hitler's army he was imprisoned and beheaded. In October, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared him a martyr and a saint. Franz was 36 years old, married, and had three daughters under the age of six when he was executed. What gave him the courage to refuse obedience to Hitler and give up all that he had to live for?
One night Franz Jagerstatter had an extraordinary dream. He writes, “Let me describe an experience I had on a summer night in 1938. At first I lay awake until almost midnight. I must have fallen asleep. All of a sudden I saw a beautiful shining railroad train that circled around a mountain. Streams of adults and children rushed toward the train and could not be held back. … Then I heard a voice say to me: 'This train is going to hell.' Immediately it seemed as if someone took me by the hand, and the same voice said, 'Now we will go to purgatory.' And oh, so frightful was the suffering I saw and felt there … Probably no more than a few seconds passed then all was gone. … Until that night I would never have thought the suffering of purgatory could be so great. I believe God has shown me most clearly by this dream, and convinced me in my heart how I must answer the question: Should I be a National Socialist or a Catholic?”2 As Catholics, we believe that our prayers and sacrifices lessen the sufferings of those in purgatory, especially by the Masses we offer for them.
In the second window the saints show us purgatory as a place of purification. C.S. Lewis describes it this way. “Our souls demand purgatory. If God said to us, 'It is true that your breath smells, your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable up here and no one will reproach you for these things. Enter into your Master's joy.' Wouldn't we reply, 'Lord, if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleansed first'? God replies, 'It may hurt.' And we say, 'Even so.' The treatment given will be the one required whether it hurts much or little.”3 Purgatory is like a doctor cleaning a wound before stitching it closed. It hurts but it is cleansing and healing.
St. Catherine of Genoa shows us this happier side of purgatory. She writes, “Apart from the happiness of the saints in heaven, I think there is no joy that can be compared to that of the souls in purgatory. Their happiness increases day by day, as their union with God increases and the impediments to it are worn away. … It's not that their suffering disappears, but they are one with God in pure love, and in complete harmony with God's will. … Compared with their love of God, the suffering of purgatory is a small matter.” 4 We call them “poor souls” but they would never trade places with us. They are saved, they are children of God whom they love with increasing intensity. They pray for us “poor souls” even more than we pray for them.
In the third window St Bridget of Sweden shows us purgatory as a place of restitution. This is the neglected side of our sinfulness. We sin, we confess and we are forgiven, but the harm done to others has not been repaired. We steal but neglect to repay; we commit slander and detraction but fail to restore someone's good reputation; we tempt others to sin or hurt someone deeply, but our repentance doesn't always put things right.
St. Bridget5 writes that in purgatory we will make restitution for all the harm we have done. It is a happy place, but we won't be perfectly happy until we can make it up to those who were hurt because of our sins. How can people in purgatory do that? By offering their prayers and sufferings for those they injured. No prayer goes unanswered, no prayer is ever wasted.
We have explored purgatory as a place of penance, purification, and restitution. But we don't have to wait until purgatory. We can offer prayers and sacrifices for ourselves and others right now. Br. Ignatius Brady was a monk of New Melleray for 56 years. One of the brothers who knew him said, “I suppose Br. Ignatius never had a bath since his mother gave him one. His beard stood straight out in bristles. He wore a smock that came to his knees. What its original color was no one could tell. Under the smock he wore pants that were a foot too long. The front was slit open to give freedom to walk and the rest trailed on the ground after him. When it rained you can imagine what it was like. His ideas of poverty and humility were exaggerated but very sincere. … He had a cancer on his nose and suffered a lot from it. He could not stay in bed at night because of the pain, so he would take a pillow under his arm and lay down in a corner of the cloister or chapter room to sleep when he could. He refused to have an operation, saying he wanted to do his purgatory in this world. In all probability his suffering would have become more than he could endure, but he caught pneumonia and died quickly.”6 And in all probability he went straight to heaven.
Let us be moved by compassion to help those who are in purgatory, and the even poorer souls here on earth, to reach the places Jesus has prepared in heaven. They will in turn pray for us that we may go straightway to heaven. You can begin your sacrifices by offering up this long homily!
All Souls Day
[Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6]
I doubt if any of us experienced what St. Benedict experienced when he saw the whole world in a ray of light. Our vision is more disjointed and confused. It is hard for us to connect what appears to be unrelated things or to get the full picture of a situation. We speak of two sides of a story and it is rare to be able to see both sides at once. The great spiritual master De Caussade said there is more truth in the present moment than we can comprehend. How much more can we say this about the great dogma's of our faith? Two dogmas are especially important for our liturgy today, our belief in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. The truth in these never changes but our interpretation does. They are so full of meaning that we cannot grasp it as a whole. We break it into parts and how we do that is how we adapt our faith to the times.
From the 1300's until 1962 there was a chant called the Dies Ire used in the funeral liturgy that expressed a medieval understanding of death. It was an almost mystical melody that captured our instinctual fear of death, and expressed perfectly the culture in which it was composed. The Dies Ire along with black vestments and the dark yellow candles has been replaced by Resurrection songs, white vestments and the Paschal candle, reflecting our culture's understanding of death. Both approaches are right but we have a hard time joining them together. We are much more comfortable with the renewal of Vatican II and how it drew on our understanding of death and purgatory than we were with the medieval understanding.
To speak in almost commercial terms it is not as hard to get into heaven, as say, people in Catherine of Siena's day when interdicts would send tremors of fear and despair into the hearts of the faithful. Vatican II went back to the sources and to me one of the sources for our understanding of salvation is found in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It is Peter's discourse in Caesarea. He says, “People of every nation who fear God and act uprightly are acceptable to God”, and, “All who believe in Jesus have forgiveness of sins through his name.” Baptism of desire was unknown in the middle ages.
Our understanding of purgatory has also changed. We heard this morning from a reading by Pope John Paul II that purgatory is not so much a place but a state of being. We are all, even now, in this state of purification and transformation. Purgatory is not time bound it could be completed instantaneously, as Paul says, in the twinkling of an eye.
The spark we call our life can go out at any minute but our faith tells us it does not go out but is transformed into the light of eternity because when we die we bring our whole life with us, all of it the good and the bad. Those who have gone before us also have their whole lives with them and together with the one who bore our infirmities and died for us we form one body one spirit in God.
All Souls Day
[Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6 ]
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” Jn. 14
Right after WWII there used to be a lot of pictures of displaced persons in countries like Italy and Germany. I was too young to comprehend the suffering of these people but now I can understand a little of it — everyone needs a place to live. But displaced persons, refugee camps and homelessness are still present in our modern world. It is terrible.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house. So, if we ask what is heaven like we can say it is where everyone has a place, a permanent place to live. Heaven is the only such place, which means homelessness, is a relative term. While on earth Jesus confirmed this by saying the Son of Man has no where to lay his head. And even though this monastery may seem to be a solid a place that there is, it is still only temporary. It is not our permanent home, or is it, after all the early monks called the cloister a paradise, a second Garden of Eden. In some ways the monastery is permanent and in other ways it is not. The buildings, the physical place will go, but the inner life begun here, the union with God, the love, the healing, the communion of brothers will pass over with us to the other shore.
Take for instance the words we recite everyday just before communion. “Lord I am not worthy to receive you only say the word and I shall be healed”. The Latin has inters sub tectum meum, enter under my roof, my place, my home. We could even expand this to mean my space. Lord I am not worthy to receive you into my life, my environment, my space, but only say the word and I shall be healed. Believing these words we take a leap of faith and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. If we think about this, it is a very dramatic moment during the Mass. We do this day after day and the double moment of healing and receiving goes on and on. Jesus comes to us and prepares us to be a permanent dwelling place of His Spirit. It is our belief that this preparation to be a dwelling of the Holy Spirit, a temple, a place of worship continues even after death.
Today we are mindful of this continual healing process. All Souls Day is when we pray with and for all those who have gone before us that their healing and ours will come to completion is God’s good time. The purification and healing that we ask for everyday just before communion is the same purification that all souls need before they see God face to face. For the saints this happens during their time on earth, for the rest of us during that space between our death and our full incorporation into the Trinitarian life of God. God’s love is a burning fire and it purifies all who approach it.
You might say the feast of All Saints is a day of bliss and love while the feast of All Souls is a day of healing and hope. Just because we are all, saints and sinners, members of the Body of Christ it does not mean we are all in the same place. Jesus said he is preparing a place for us. This can mean a specific place just for you and me. For some, like the saints, it is a permanent place of bliss, for others a transitional place of healing just as this life is a transitional place. But no matter where we are on the spectrum we are all one and we will all be full in our place, full in the sense that our love will be full but never complete. God’s life and love are infinite and if we are in God our love and live will never stop growing; it will be infinite just as God is infinite.
All Souls Day
[Scripture Readings: Is 15:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6]
Isaiah speaks of a veil covering all peoples, a web woven over all nations:
“On this mountain he will destroy the veil
that veils all peoples.
The web that is woven over all nations” (Is 25:7-8)
We certainly know this veil, this web woven over us. We walk by faith not by sight. A moment of contemplation is like having the veil lifted even for a brief time. It is a timeless moment given in anticipation of heaven. The Transfiguration was such a moment for the Apostles. St. Benedict had such a moment one night when he saw the whole world in a beam of light. St. Augustine described it as, “a flash of a trembling glance“. These are rare graces given in prayer when the veil is lifted and truth overwhelms us. Most of the time, however, we stay under the veil, which can also be a time of grace. A veil is not an impenetrable wall. When we were banished from paradise God did not put up a wall between heaven and earth, only a veil.
A veil speaks of mystery. It conceals and reveals. It conceals the beauty of the bride only to make her it all the more appealing and mysterious. The veil separating us from God was rent in two when Jesus handed over his Spirit on the cross. So, we have it on Divine authority that someday the veil covering our eyes will be lifted once and for all and we will see God as he is and in that seeing become like him. When this will happen we do not know. Hopefully, it will be at the moment of death, but maybe not.
Yesterday we celebrated the saints, the ones who see God as he is. As St. Bernard said, the day was for us not for the saints. We need their help, they do not need ours. Today we change our focus and pray for the dead believing our prayers help them. Who are the dead that need our help? They are the ones who are still in a state of purification. I think every great religion has a way of saying our time on earth, no matter how long or short it may be, is not enough. The Hindus believe in many, many cycles of life, the animist have ancestors who have died deeply involved with relatives on earth. We have purgatory. We even speak of the poor souls in purgatory. Passing from this life into heaven does not automatically mean there is a complete unveiling. Our sinful eyes may not be ready for the full light of glory and our life may need to be purged of all that is not God like in us.
The veil is only gradually lifted as we become more pure of heart through the merits of Christ and the cleansing of his blood. This is what we pray for today, that the blood of Christ will wash clean all who are lacking the full vision of God. In our lifetime we can share in the work of redemption, we can make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ by embracing our own suffering and asking that the power of the cross be given to our deceased brothers and sisters still on their journey to full blessedness in God.
All Souls Day
[Scripture Readings: Isa 25:6a,7-9; Acts 10:34-43; John 14:1-6]
There are various ways of knowing things. We can have scientific certitude; we can have theoretical knowledge, even intuition but I think we would all agree experiential knowledge is the best. There is a story told of a young Zen monk standing on a bridge over a small river. An elder walks by and the novice asks him, “How deep is the water?” At that the elder throws him over the bridge and says, “Find out for yourself.” The elder could have said, “Five feet deep.” But this way the novice has experiential knowledge with the water swirling around his neck.
We don’t know this type of knowledge about death. It is scientifically certain we will someday experience death but right now all we can do is learn about it from others or from being with someone when they die. But even here we have very limited knowledge. We don’t know what our passing over will be like. We don’t even know when we are going to die.
Most people do not like to think about it. As monks, we are supposed to think about it all the time. The word death comes up constantly, many, many times during the day in our Office and Mass. This is so because death is at the center of our religion. The death of Jesus is the mystery of our faith. Vatican II has taught us not to separate Jesus’ death from his resurrection. So we speak of the paschal mystery as the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We share in this mystery each day in the Eucharist. It is a sharing we experience only in faith. We may feel nothing, not even a devotion or desire. That is not at issue. Grace and faith are still present. The transformation of our life into the pattern of Jesus’ life still takes place.
The purification of our being is also taking place. In fact we believe this can continue after death until we are completely transformed into the one whose image we bear. Since God is eternal may be our transformation and purification will be eternal. It seems to me purgatory and heaven are not static places. I used to think it will be like passing from one room to another. Maybe it is more like concentric circles and move from one to the other, toward the center, from glory to glory. Purgatory is the name we use to designate the condition of the dead who are in need of our help.1
How can we help someone beyond the graves? How can we really help someone this side of the grave? It depends on what we mean by help. If you are a controller which most Americans are, you help someone by setting things right. This is why it is so hard for us to help when we can’t set it right. Take, for example, someone you love dying of terminal cancer. You can’t cure the person. All you can do is be present, nurse the person and pray. You cannot cure. When the person dies the story is not over. Our love for them does not cease. Our memories are treasured. Our faith tells us they are now alive in God’s presence. The transformation that begun on earth continues in purgatory and heaven. We can pray that the Holy Spirit will complete the work begun in our deceased loved ones.
Someday our turn will come. We will then have experiential knowledge of our faith. We will penetrate much deeper than the water rushing around the young monk in the river. The knowledge of God’s love and our incomplete response will penetrate right to the source of our being and we will know that forgiveness and love at the same time. Maybe it will be in an instant. Maybe it will be in an eternity. Part of this mystery is that our love and our prayers participate in this transformation for all who have gone before us.
All Souls Day
[Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6]
Today we remember all our deceased, those whom we pray for everyday in the Eucharist and who are known as “those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith”, or in another place as “all who have left this world in your friendship“.
Since last January three of our community have left this world in God’s friendship. All rather suddenly. All were in their 90s which might seem old if you are not in your 90’s yourself! The older I get the shorter life seems. The Psalmist had it so right: “Our life is over like a sigh, our days pass swiftly and we are gone. You sweep men away like a dream, … Lord make me know the shortness of my life that I may gain wisdom of heart,”.
Every year we celebrate Nov. 2nd as All Souls Day — a day of special prayer for the dead. By celebrating this day we acknowledge our own death. It is pressed upon us that we too will die. St. Benedict tells us not to run from this fact. He tells us to remind ourselves daily the we are going to die. This is a sobering thought, even a frightful thought. The Liturgy has always stood up to death and it forces us to do the same. Perhaps more in the past than now. We used to have black vestments for this day, the sequence Dies Irae was sung.There was a certain dark beauty in all this. It kept us from running from the hard side of death. And there is a hard side. St. Benedict again tells us, “live in fear of judgment day and have a great horror of hell“but in the next breath he says, “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire,”.
So, there are two sides to death. One inspires a healing dread and the other invites joyful anticipation. Our modern liturgy emphasizes the second, the joyful, consoling side. Our first reading today is about a great banquet where all God’s people will be gathered as one. We are reminded in the second reading that no one is excluded who believes in Jesus, “anyone who does what is right is acceptable.” Finally, in the Gospel we hear that Jesus goes before us to prepare a place for each one of us. Death is the beginning of full and new life.
One author claims that our act of dying can be the most personal act of our life. No one can substitute for us, all of us must do it. Handing our life over to God one final time is the greatest thing we can do. One of the things that can cause us such anxiety is that we never know when the moment will come. It all seems so arbitrary. But faith tells us this is not so. God knows and plans each breath we take to the very last one. But yet we proceed toward an end we ourselves have not determined. In fact, we had a beginning and we did not establish and decide this beginning ourselves.1 This can cause great anxiety if we drift from the source of our beginning and ending. Wisdom comes from knowing the shortness of our life, not simply the brevity, but the fact that we are not our own creation. We belong to another. St. Augustine says it beautifully: “We seek one mystery, God, with another mystery, ourselves. We are mysterious to ourselves because God’s mystery is in us. Our mind cannot be understood even by itself, because it is made in God’s image,”. Some day this truth will be fully revealed to us. We hope and pray that it has been revealed to all our loves ones who have died.
To die is to come to the revelation of ourselves in God. One for all eternity.
All Souls Day
[Scripture Readings: Is 25a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6]
Today all over the Catholic world we are remembering all those who have died.
We might be doing this in a very specific way — a particular loved one who
died—or in a very general way, a somewhat distant way, all the souls in Purgatory. Either way, given time, death recedes from our consciousness. Death is like a stranger living in our house; either in the attic where we seldom go—or if a
family member just died, in every room in the house—and we have to deal with it.
But we can only take so much; we cannot get so involved with death that it
paralyzes our life. We have to go on, pick up our life and go on.
But I suspect for most of us, death lives in the attic—a remote somewhat
forgotten presence. We have something like an invisible shield around us keeping
the thought of death out. Jesus encountered this with his disciples. They did
not want to hear about his impending death in Jerusalem and even when they did
listen they didn’t understand.
There was a veil over their eyes. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared in a new way to his disciples. He went for a walk with two of them and explained passages from the prophets that referred to his death. We don’t know which passage, but I would suspect one of those was from our first reading when
Isaiah said, “He has destroyed the veil which used to veil all peoples—the pall enveloping all nations, he has destroyed death forever” . He has taken away its power. It is not the end. It may seem to be the end; in fact, when we make vows—religious or marriage—we say “usque at mortem,unto death, or “till death do us part.” It is as far as we can go. Of ourselves we can’t go beyond this veil of death. So how has death been destroyed?
Some theologians believe that death was a part of God’s original plan, that
even if there were no original sin we would, like all living things, die—but our
death would not be painful and full of fear and dread. It would be a passing
over, a total surrender into our Creator. Death has a terrible sting to it—but Jesus takes the sting of death away. His death allows us to make our death a
most personal surrender of our life into the Hands of God. Our life and death
are two parts of the same thing—giving over to God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus takes the one thing that everyone must do—die—and transforms it into a universal act of salvation. In today’s second reading, St. Peter says, “Now I understand that God has no favorites—anyone of any nationality is acceptable to Him.” There are no boundaries and distinctions—all are acceptable because it is the one thing everyone has to do that Jesus embraced—die. Death is now a saving act—a saving grace given to all who die. No one is excluded from death so no one is excluded from salvation through the death of Jesus. But there is even more. Jesus did not die a heroic death—a conquered death. He died a shameful death, death on a cross, a criminal’s death. Now truly no one is excluded. No one has stooped lower than Jesus in embracing our human sinfulness. Jesus turns our death into a victory. His death can never be separated from his resurrection. He bears the wounds of death into eternity.
Each day at the Eucharist his death is enacted, continued. His sacrifice, his
immolation, the pouring out of His life to the Father continues and we are
brought into the act. We participate in it. His death is his greatest act of love to
the Father—the pouring out of His life—and we share in it.