A Homily for The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
(All Souls Day)
Thursday, November 2, 2023
Holy Ghost Church – 8:00 Mass
Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Romans 6:3-9; John 6:37-40
Yesterday’s Solemnity of All Saints, one of the most glorious solemnities within the Church, gave us an opportunity to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that there are countless people who have gone before us who are now enjoying the glories of Heaven. These include faithful souls, both canonized and not, who lived lives that were grounded in God’s grace and have been fully purified of all sin. They now are now in heaven, face-to-face with God.
Today’s memorial commemorates the fact that many who die in a state of grace are not immediately ready to stand before the glorious throne of God and see Him face-to-face. The only way this is possible is if every sin and every attachment to sin is purged from our souls.
Even though we are forgiven our sins in the confessional, most of us still retain some attachment to sin. We must all experience the temporal punishment due to our sins if we have failed to do adequate penance for them in this life or if this punishment has not been satisfied by an indulgence. The bottom line is that we must have nothing but pure charity alive within us if we are to enter the eternal glories of Heaven.
The Church, in her wisdom and holiness, has taught clearly through the centuries that when a person passes from this world to the next while still attached to less serious sin, they need to be fully purified in order to enter Heaven. This is what we call Purgatory, defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia as “a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.”
The Catechism says it this way: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (CCC 1030–31a).
For some, Purgatory can be a frightening and even confusing thought. Why doesn’t God, in His infinite mercy, simply take all our loved ones who followed Him straight to Heaven? The answer is simple. He does, although via a different path than those saints who have no need for final purification. The path for most of us to Heaven is this incredible mercy of our final purification.
Purification of all attachment to sin within our soul is a mercy beyond what we can imagine. Through this final purification, God prepares the holy souls who have died for an eternity of joy. But this purification is necessary because God, in His love, does not want any soul to live eternally with even a minor attachment to sin. God wants us all free. The truth is that every sin on our soul, even the smallest one, is reason enough for us to be excluded from Heaven.
We must understand Purgatory as being a final mercy from God by which He purifies us from every attachment to sin that keeps us from perfect love, so that our eternity will be one of utmost freedom and ecstasy. Thus, upon our death, we are graced to enter into a final and intense purification of every minor sin, so that when we see God in all His glory, we will see Him with the perfection to which we are called.
Purgatory is a gift, a grace, a mercy. It will be painful to go through in the same way that overcoming any sin is painful. But the good fruit of freedom from sin makes every final purification we must endure worth it a hundredfold and more. And this is why we are instructed to pray for the dead, to assist them as they undergo this purification.
Listen to what the Catechism says about praying for the dead. “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them.’ Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” (CCC 958)
Reflect, today, upon the spiritual truth that God wants you to be a saint. If you are among those few who die in a state in which you are purified from every sin, then be assured that you have already completed your purgatory on earth. But if you or your loved ones are among the many who still hold some minor attachment to sin at the time of death, then rejoice that God is not done with you yet.
Anticipate with much gratitude the final purification that awaits and look forward to the freedom that ultimately comes from that purification. And while you are still here on earth, make it your habit to regularly pray for your deceased loved ones.
God bless you.