On Monday we will celebrate the Feast of All Saints and on Tuesday, The Feast of All Souls – November being a month of remembrance for those who have died and we will have a special mass on Friday 12th November here in this church at 7.30pm to remember all our deceased loved ones.
So, what is the Feast of All Saints about? Who and what is a Saint? Well, just as no two of us are alike, no two saints – being real people- are alike. For some of them the road to holiness was easy, for others very hard. Some saints had gifts of great natural talent; others seemed devoid of it. Some saints were fiery, others gentle. Some were gregarious; others loners and on and on it goes.
The Feast of All Saints is a feast of encouragement, celebrating that we are all called to be saints. The biblical meaning of ‘Saint’ is a person who is trying to live a life of holiness for the Lord. Our modern idea has restricted the term to those who are in heaven.
Just the same, we still use the term “Communion of Saints” to refer to the union of all members of Christ in the Church militant here on earth and the Church suffering in purgatory as well as the Church triumphant in Heaven. The ‘Communion’ or ‘Fellowship’ which we have with each other comes from our union with God. We don’t come together to form a community and then begin to worship. Rather we come to worship, and by that worship we are formed into a community.
And so, we must always see our Communion of Saints in the context of Christ. Only through, with and in Him do we have communion with each other and with the saints in Heaven. So, we should not visualise our relationship with the saints as their being so many functionaries through whom we must go to get to the Boss. Our relationship with the saints is a circle, not a hierarchical bureaucracy. The saints intercede for us, just as we intercede for each other.
A child, asked what a saint is, and remembering the figures in the stained-glass windows at church, answered, “A saint is someone the light shines through”. And that’s quite true! Saints are the light of Christ in the darkness.
The saints are wonderful models and examples for us. They can help us be heroic and faithful in our life and remind us that as Christians we are called to give witness to Christ in our normal daily lives.
I don’t suppose there is any one of us who would seriously try to deny the fact that we human beings are social creatures. We were never intended by our creator to live out our lives in a vacuum, cut off from the benefits of human companionship and the encouragement, the support, the help that brings with our lives.
That is a truth which Christian tradition has recognised since the very beginning. That interdependence has been called the Communion of Saints, the Mystical Body, the human family. Our tradition demands that we take care of one another.
But there is a dimension to that interdependence that may be puzzling to many: the almost uniquely Catholic practice of praying for the dead.
Certainly, the goal of each of us is to become the best that we can be, to realise our fullest human potential as God knows that to be. Until we achieve that potential, we cannot enter the company of the Father. Salvation, after all, is a demanding thing. When the Father calls us to live with Him for eternity, he calls us to set aside anything in ourselves that would make that impossible. By our own free choice, our own practice of virtue, he calls us to set about the task of purifying ourselves of any other choice, anything that might block the action of that grace.
Our choice of God has to be a total thing, no reservations, no hedging, no holding back.
Well, such a total choice is no easy thing to do. It may take a long time to get it right, it may take a lifetime. In fact, it may take a great deal more than a lifetime. But if God is demanding, He is also patient. As long as we are actively involved in the process of trying to cleanse ourselves of sin, He will wait. God will never reject us or withdraw the grace of salvation, unless we reject God and refuse that grace.
So human growth does not stop with death. The call that God gives us to open ourselves to salvation does not end with death. Nothing really important ends with death. It continues on. Those who have died in the midst of their struggle to become perfect continue that struggle. For death is not the last chapter of the human story, Christ’s Resurrection has opened us up to eternal life.
Purgatory is a state of preparation for eternal life. There are people there. The people in purgatory are still social creatures, still dependent on other human beings for support, for encouragement. Praying for the dead is really nothing so different as praying for the living. It is wishing them well, giving them support, calling up the action of God’s grace in their lives. We have, after all, helped each other through a lot of purgatory already. And we shall continue to do so, just as long as it takes.