Why love transcends the grave (All Soul's Day)

All Soul’s Day (Lamentations 3:17-26, 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, John 1:23-26)

Today we have the rare opportunity to celebrate All Souls Day on a Sunday, giving us the opportunity to celebrate this feast together. We reflect on the reality of death and in particular remember our beloved departed. As we celebrate this feast, each of us probably have in mind some of our own family members or friends who have died. When we take time to recall our loved ones who have passed away we experience many emotions. A flood a memories - both happy and painful - can come pouring back. Above all, such an exercise reveals a desire that we all hold deep in our hearts: we all yearn to remain in contact with our loved ones who have passed away. At the same time, it is quite natural to fear that death is the end of the story. The first reading from Lamentations alludes to this fear and feeling of “homelessness”. Some people even claim that after you die there is nothingness, a void. This is nothing new; at the time of Jesus there was a lively debate regarding what happens when we die. With His life, death and Resurrection Jesus settled the question once and for all.

Holger Motzkau 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons
Because of Christ, we have a secure trust that we maintain a relationship with those who have died. During His life, Jesus declared that the dead would indeed rise again. He proved this fact with His own Resurrection. Jesus promised that if we serve Him, He will raise us up after we die. We need to remember that we believe in the resurrection of the body. We do not think that we will spend all eternity as disembodied spirits hanging out on a cloud playing the harp (actually you couldn’t without a body, but I digress)! St. Paul explains that at the final judgement our perishable bodies will become imperishable. Our resurrected bodies will be like that of Jesus’ own resurrected body that we read about in the gospels. It will be similar to, yet different from, our current bodies. Eventually, at the last judgement, we will be bodily reunited with our loved ones. We will see then and touch them.

Even before the last day, however, we remain in communion with the dead. Human beings are made up of body and soul. St. Thomas Aquinas explained that the soul is the form - the animating energy or principle - of the body.  John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist who also happens to be an Anglican priest, explains that the soul is like the blueprint of our existence. This soul, which informs our bodies now, is remembered by God after our death. After death and before the final judgement and the resurrection of our bodies, our souls continue to exist in a certain expectation of the resurrection of the body. The souls of the dead continue to live, not so much in a different place but in a different way. As we read in the book of Wisdom, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God” (Wisdom 3:1). Later our soul becomes the blueprint from which God will reconstitute us, but at a higher pitch. This higher pitch is our resurrected body we receive when Jesus returns at the last day. Since the souls of our loved ones are with God, remembered by Him, we continue to interact with our beloved dead in a real and lively way.

Because we maintain communion with our loved ones after they die, we continue to be able to do acts of love and kindness for them. Death does not cease our ability to help our faithful departed. Here, we come upon the sensitive topic of purgatory. After they die, some friends of God are ready to meet Him immediately. Other friends of God need a time of purification before entering His presence. These days there is a tendency to canonize people at their death. Certainly our deceased loved ones had many fine qualities. At the same time, we know they had their defects, they were human after all! The idea of purgatory makes a lot of sense. Imagine that you were in a pitch black room for many hours and then suddenly walk through the door into incredibly bright daylight. It would take some time for your eyes to adjust and you would even feel some pain and discomfort. Being in the presence of God in heaven is like being face to face with the sun. Purgatory, is that time in which you prepare yourself to be in that light. In fact, many, including the poet Dante, argue that those in purgatory decide how long they will stay there. It is like walking out from a dark room into the sun. You decide when it is safe to open your eyes wide. Because we are in communion with those in Purgatory, we can pray for them to help them enter the presence of God as soon as possible.

All Souls day is a day of hope. We remember that because of the Resurrection of Jesus we can be sure that we maintain union with our loved ones when they pass away. Ultimately, we will be reunited body and soul at the resurrection of the dead. Even before then, their souls are with God. Since we are in union with them, we can still show them love. Let us find some way concrete way to show love and kindness to our faithful departed today by praying for them, offering Mass for their soul or visiting a cemetery.