The Faithful Departed

I sit to write this Corner on the evening of All Souls Day, as we have now entered the month of November which is dedicated by the Church to remember, in a special way, “our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection”. November is also a traditional time for praying for and visiting graves of loved ones, for which an indulgence is gained for the Poor Soul for whom it is intended. When I find myself musing over the concept of “the Faithful Departed”; the Souls in Purgatory, I am reminded of the great importance attached to the obligation, for all of us priests, to clearly convey the most basic tenets of the universal Catholic faith that deal with the end of life.

So, what are those basic important truths of our faith? Well, one is…the Communion of Saints, that we profess our belief in, each time we pray the Apostles Creed. The tri-part consolidation of the Communion of Saints consists of…

  1. The Church Triumphant, consisting of the redeemed souls who have reached heaven;
  2. The Church Militant, consisting of all of us souls remaining on earth, still fighting against the wickedness and snares of the devil and interceding in prayer for those souls referred to as
  3. The Church Suffering… those souls who are (expiating any remaining temporal punishment for their forgiving sins) in purgatory, prior to entering heaven.

Another tenet is… that we are all born into this world, in the image and likeness of Christ, but with concupiscent mortal bodies which are amalgamated with an immortal soul. And, what is far too often not understood, or is simply ignored … is that we are all born terminal. That is, our mortal bodies are all destined… from the moment of conception… to die. This life is just a pilgrimage. Yes, we all will die…but it is not over then…not by a long shot! We are all destined for an eternal existence, which begins immediately after our certain death. There is the promise of Eternal Life, and the Resurrection of the Body. At the end of time, at the General Judgment of Christ’s Second Coming, our Faith instructs us that our immortal souls will be newly amalgamated with our resurrected, previously mortal…but now eternal and glorified… bodies.

Another of those basic truths is… we have the Four Last Things to consider… and those four are: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Most people today, when they see this subject referenced, quickly pass it by. And this is the very common reaction of our entire culture today regarding any mention of death. So, of these four last things, the first two will indeed take place regardless of any action (or inaction) on our part. Our life in this world is indeed fleeting, and it is guaranteed to end, as mentioned above. However, regarding the last two, Heaven or Hell… each one of us…by our performance on this earth, will determine … which of the two we will experience… for all eternity.

Most of us live our lives avoiding any thought of death…much like the way an ostrich does. Whenever
uncomfortable or threatened…they stick their heads in the ground…not ever wanting to think…about the only thing… that everybody knows… is going to happen to them. For us humans (and all creatures) it is death. And it should not be encountered with fear. Whether or not everybody here hits 80… we don’t know! Whether or not everybody here will be successful in their career… we don’t know! Whether or not everybody here will find the perfect person to marry… we don’t know! But…whether not everybody here is going to Die…we Do Know! It’s a given! So let us embrace this bit of
wisdom…that…”Until I make sense out of what happens when I die…I’ll never know how to Live!”

Sainthood should be our goal. For Sainthood (freedom from sin and purified) is required for eternal life in heaven. You can’t make sense out of life… until you first make sense out of death. If when we die…we simply decay and turn back into dust…then have at it…and do whatever you want! If this is so, there can be (logically speaking) no reason to be good. Nice guys finish last! So if this Life is all there is…do whatever you want! But…if this is not all there is…if in fact when we die…we are judged, (and we should know that, Yes, we are judged) on what we have done in the flesh during our earthly lives…then that has a significant impact on how we are supposed to live… now…today!

There is not time or space to address a concept I feel strongly every one of us should embrace. Shortly after the death of my wife, some 26 years ago, I went to a “Death and Dying Seminar”, and I was presented with the merit and the wisdom of Planning Your Own Funeral. As odd as it may seem, I found pondering death to be not merely sobering, but to be tremendously helpful as well. I plan to offer a seminar that delves into the merits of planning our own funerals. It is quite obvious, that if each of us began each day with a consideration of our ultimate call to our particular judgment, on the day of our passing, we would continue that day with a focus on living as completely as we could, in accord with the desires of Jesus. We would certainly begin to integrate into our lives (and to our everyday behavior) the virtues and good example for which we wish to be memorialized posthumously. But more important than how we are remembered, is to be received on that day of arrival “back home”…is to hear the welcome…”Well done my good and faithful servant!”

In loving remembrance of all the Holy Souls in Purgatory,