Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day - Life is Changed not Ended

I love my German Shepherd Ratzinger

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, while he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was known by some as "The German Shepherd" or "God's Rottweiler," because he was the defender of the doctrine of the faith.

If you've ever actually read his works though, he is a beautiful soul and reveals in a very eloquent way the goodness of God.  Some of his greatest treasures are his series on Jesus of Nazareth as well as his final encyclicals on Faith, Hope, and Love.  

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict deals with the notion of purgatory as being one of God's last and wonderful gifts to us.  

Pope benedict xvi happy

The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

While he was still Cardinal he was interviewed about some of the highly debated doctrines of the faith and one of them was of course the Church's teaching on Purgatory.

He explains:

"My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it. Why? Because few things are as immediate, as human and as widespread - at all times and in all cultures - as prayer for one's own departed dear ones... Praying for one's departed loved ones is a far too immediate urge to be suppressed; it is a most beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death. The happiness or unhappiness of a person dear to me, who has now crossed the other shore, depends in part on wether I remember or forget him; he does not stop needing my love." -Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report 1985

"He does not stop needing my love."  Isn't that beautiful?

I would add... "We do not stop needing their love."

We are a faith of scripture and tradition and one of the ancient beliefs of our faith is Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. "The Law of Prayer is the Law of Faith."  Meaning what we pray is what we believe.

Notice the prayers used during the Funeral Rites (And Mass for All Souls) are based in hope.

Prayers at the Vigil

My brothers and sisters, we believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death. Confident that God always remembers the good we have done and forgives our sins, let us pray, asking God to gather N. to himself.

Pause for silent prayer.

Take a moment now to remember someone you love who has died.  Bring to mind one of your favorite memories with them.  Try to see them and hear them and feel them.  Hold them in your heart as you read the rest of this.  

Notice this is exactly what Pope Benedict was describing - "Our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death."  

The opening prayer continues with this truth that death does not destroy the bond of our love:


Lord our God,
the death of our brother/sister N.
recalls our human condition
and the brevity of our lives on earth.
But for those who believe in your love,
death is not the end,
nor does it destroy the bonds that you forge in our lives.
We share the faith of your Son’s disciples
and the hope of the children of God.
Bring the light of Christ’s resurrection
to this time of testing and pain
as we pray for N. and for those who love him/her,
through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

In the Preface for Funeral Masses we hear this echoed so beautifully.

In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned,
that those saddened by the certainty of dying
might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come.
Indeed for your faithful, Lord,
life is changed not ended,
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust,
an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.

This means that the reality is for those of us who believe, life is changed not ended, we can be consoled by this promise of eternal life.  We can also be consoled that we are not separated by our loved ones.  The truth they are with us now in an even deeper, more intimate, and constant way than they ever could have been on earth!  They are with you always.  

Every time you receive the Eucharist you receive the Body of Christ, and if they are with Christ and He is in you, then they are in you and you are in them.  You can't get more close or intimate than that.
So what does the Catechism say about Purgatory?  

The Final Purification, or Purgatory (This is a summary: Read more here)

1030 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.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610
Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611

The message of All Souls Day, and of Purgatory, is really a beautiful one.  

We are assured by the readings of the mass so often used at funerals: 

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)

Wisdom 3:1-9

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.  

Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.
Romans 5:5-11 

Hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly...
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How much more then... will we be saved through him from the wrath...
how much more, once reconciled,
will we be saved by his life.

John 6:37-40 

This is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,

Over and over we are assured by the prayers, by the Word of God and by the Sacraments that we celebrate that those whom we love are in the hands of God, and at the same time we are not separated from them, for those of us who believe life is changed not ended.

So how do we make sense of purgatory and why is there a sense of dread when there should be a sense of hope?

Purgatory is a lot like confession and it seems that those who don't believe in one don't believe in the need for the other. The reason for this is our reluctance to admit our sin, our fault, our imperfection... and the reason for this is probably because we don't realize or believe God's unconditional love for us.

Think about it, Purgatory is a lot like confession. We can not forgive our sins but must go before Christ. It is difficult to go to confession especially if it is a sin that we are embarrassed by, ashamed of, or powerless to overcome, but when we can confess it, when we can bring it to Christ, though it is painful and difficult, we experience not His condemnation or judgement, rather we experience His forgiveness, mercy and unconditional love. We go into confession with the weight of the world on us and we may even dread it, but when we purge our sins before the Lord and experience His acceptance, absolution, and unconditional love, we walk away feeling better than we've ever felt before - it's a glimpse of purgatory and heaven really.

So we don't have to fear death, we don't have to fear purgatory, it is God's last and greatest act of loving us and forgiving us. We also know that we don't have to fear losing the ones we love because for those of us believe life is changed not ended. The ones you love, who have died, are with you now in a deeper way than they ever could have been on earth.

To end, a friend of mine had a brother who died suddenly 15 years ago.  He was a priest and was very devoted to praying and offering sacrifices for the holy souls in purgatory.  The prayer cards distributed at his funeral offered this quote from St. Thomas More which beautifully brings this to a conclusion:

“Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.”

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