The Commemoration of all the faithful departed
Wis 3:1-9; Rom 6:3-9; Jn 11:17-27
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2007 and republished in Viet Nam 2010. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
In countries with four seasons, November falls in the middle of the season of fall – the season of yellow leaves. In the midst of yellow leaves, there are dotted with crimson red leaves. That is why poets and painters have used a lot of paints and colors to describe the beauty of fall. Those who do not know how to paint or write poems, but just with a dreaming spirit, can drive away from home hours and hours to watch the fall leaves. Wow, how gorgeous fall colors are! How beautiful the fall is! However, very soon, the leaves will fall down and the creatures will go to sleep. The fall anticipates the death of leaves, flowers and grass. It makes people think of the death of man.
For those who do not believe in the afterlife, then death is a failure; death is an end and nothing else. For them, there is only winter without spring. For those who believe in the resurrection, death is not a failure, or an end. Death is merely a change of life, from this life to the next. Death is not a failure because Christ through his death overcame death through his resurrection: Now that we have been justified by his blood, it is all the more certain that we shall be saved by him from God’s wrath (Rom 5:9). Thus, death is not final, but only the end of life on earth as the Preface of the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed proclaims: Life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.
Before the Second Vatican Council, we had often heard of hell. After the Council, we have seldom heard of hell and purgatory. To mention hell, it is not meant here to scare anyone. In fact, in the Old Testament, the book of Maccabees also reminds us of offering sacrifice to pray for the dead in purification from sin: It was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin (2Mc 12:45-46). In the New Testament, Jesus himself said about hell a number of times (Mt 5:22, 29, 30; Mt 10:28; Mt 18:9; Mt 23:33; Mk 9:43, 45, 47; Lk 12:5). He also mentioned the darkness outside (Mt 25:30); a place of eternal punishment (Mt 25:46); a place of wailing and grinding of teeth (Lk 13:28); the abode of the dead (Lk 16:23); a place where the last penny must be paid (Mt 5:26; Lk 12:59).
Purgatory tells us about God’s mercy and forgiveness. In fact, if there was no purgatory, then God is indeed strict and merciless. If there was no purgatory, but only paradise and hell, then it is really scary since after death, if one does not go up to heaven, then one must go down to hell. There is no place in between to be purified. If there was no purgatory, then there is no need to pray for the deceased, no need to ask for mass intention offered for the repose of this soul or that soul.
On our pilgrimage to the house of God, the faithful do not travel alone, but with the people of God: with Mary and the saints in heaven, with the faithful on earth and with the souls in purgatory. According to the Doctrine of the Communion of Saints, Mary and the saints in heaven can intercede for the faithful on earth. The faithful on earth can be in communion with one another by prayers, good examples, sacrifices and good works. The faithful on earth can also offer prayers, sacrifices and good works to pray for the souls in purgatory. The teaching on prayers of the faithful for the souls in purgatory is called the Doctrine of Communion of Saints by the Councils of Nicea II, Florence and the Council of Trent. It is called vital fellowship with our brethren by Vatican II (The Church - Lumen Gentium # 51).
Thus, our Catholic faith is supported to the utmost it could be by the intercession of Mary and the saints in heaven, by the prayers and support of the faithful on earth. Even when we die, we are still supported by their prayers. Catholic tradition reminds us of praying for the souls in purgatory. However, the souls in purgatory cannot help themselves. The souls in purgatory rely on the prayers, sacrifices and works of charity of the faithful on earth offered for their intentions. So even in their rest, the deceased are not alone. The deceased are still remembered in their pictures, their legacy, and their stories and by our prayers and good works for them. To know as such, to know after death, we are still supported by prayers and good works of other Christians would warm our hearts as such.
On this all souls Day, we offer our prayers for all souls, the souls of our ancestors, the souls of our relatives and friends, and the souls of the deceased especially poor souls. On All souls day of 2003, Pope John Paul II reminds us: It is an essential duty to pray for the souls departed, even for those who have died in God’s grace and friendship; they still need final purification before entering the heavenly banquet (Pope speaks Nov 2, 2003).
The fourth Commandment teaches us to honor and respect our parents. If we are grateful to our parents when they were alive, we must remember them among the dead by offering mass and prayers for them. We ask God, with his mercy to forgive their sins and bring them to enjoy happiness in his kingdom as Jesus promises: Everyone who looks upon the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life (Jn 6:40). According to the church tradition, today the faithful are encouraged to visit the cemetery in order to pray for those who have passed away, especially the souls of our ancestors, grandparents, parents, relatives and friends. In addition, in November, the month of all souls, we remember the faithful departed in our prayers.
A prayer for the repose of the souls of all the faithful departed:
Oh all mighty and powerful God!
You are the glory of the saints
and the hope of all Christians.
Forgive the faithful departed their sins.
Let your eternal light shine on them.
Grant that I may remain in your house
when I am alive and until I die.
Do not let me be separated from you. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong