Last week, I posted the reflection for All Saints’ Day. There were some who had asked for my reflection for All Souls’ Day. Somehow, the Church’s placing of these two celebrations side by side almost demands that we cannot speak about one and leave the other silent. I hope that this will help the many who are either coping with death of loved ones, or have had very negative images of what happens on the other side of this life. God love you all.
All Souls’ Day (A homily delivered on 2 Nov 2009)
Just this morning, I went for a jog around the whole of Yishun Ring Road. When I turned the corner of Yishun Ave 11 and Yishun Ring Road, I came upon a group of foreign workers on their way to work, most likely China nationals, dressed in their blue work overalls. As I passed them, I noticed that one of the last men bend down to pick up a page of a newspaper that was littering the pavement. He crushed it up, and placed it in a bin. I couldn’t help but smile at him when our eyes met, and I gave him a thumbs up, and thanked him for his courteous act. I continued on my jog.
Why do I begin my homily for All Souls’ Day with that account? I shall return to it at the end of these few minutes of reflection, and hopefully, it will make sense. What do we observe on All Souls’ Day? We don’t celebrate this day as much as we really observe it, with care and concern. We come here to celebrate the Eucharist, but it is done in the light of the observance of a remembrance of our deceased brothers and sisters who have walked the path of life before us.
One of the things that we must never do in life, no matter if we are Catholic, or not, is to take things for granted. And if there is anything that shows that we are taking things for granted, it would be this - to presume that our deceased brothers and sisters, those who have gone before us, our elders, our friends who are no longer with us, are in heaven and no longer needing purification for their sins. But my suspicion is that if we take a random poll, and ask 10 people where they think their deceased mother or grand parents, or spouses are, they would very likely say “oh they are with Jesus in heaven”.
Well, I certainly do hope that they are in heaven, but to presume that they are saints would be what I would call taking God’s mercy for granted. The doctrine of Purgatory must never be forgotten or side-stepped by us who are on this side of eternity, simply because to think that we don’t need any purification for our sins after we die is to almost trivialize sin and sin’s terrible effect on our souls. So, what is the best attitude to have as Catholics? One of hope and desire - hope, that our deceased relatives and friends are in heaven, but also desire, that if they are still not ready for whatever reason for heaven, that they can be helped by us who can desire to do something for them.
In fact, at every Eucharistic celebration, we hold them in prayer at the Eucharistic Prayer after the memorial acclamation, where we pray for the Church. They may be gone from us, but they are still members of the Church.
Perhaps it makes sense here to speak about the word remember. One of the things that mark our humanity is the ability to remember. And that is why one of the saddest and hardest things for anyone to cope with is the loss of memory. It almost cuts one off from existence and one’s links with those that matter in life. Even Jesus made this so clear at the Last Supper where he instituted the Eucharist, asking that we do ‘this’ in memory of him. Not so much that he was afraid that he would be forgotten, but because he knew that everything that he stood for and was, would be the glue that holds everything together. Lose memory of him, and we lose the essence of life.
Whenever we remember the dead and loved ones who have gone before us, we are saying that they are still a part of the community. They are re-membered. Still members and still important. Their works, their deeds, their love have formed us for who we are, and we are grateful. And by praying for them, we are also asking that God’s mercy be accepted by them and that they forgive themselves. The only reason why anyone is not yet ready for heaven is not because God doesn’t forgive them. It’s far more likely that they are not forgiving themselves because of the way that see their choices in life that they have made, and because of that, are not ready for heaven. But our God is ever patient and loving. What we do on our part on this side of heaven is to pray for them, and help them to clear the path to heaven with our prayers and presence.
And this brings me to the reason I started with that account of the kind foreign worker who picked up that stray newspaper this morning. He was clearing the path for other pedestrians using the walkway, and it didn’t matter to him who they were. He was thinking of them, and he was doing a kind act with no thought of self or reward. No one around noticed it, but I did.
Our prayers and presence at this Eucharistic Celebration for All Souls are like that act. We are praying for all souls. Not just the souls of our friends and loved ones. All. We certainly don’t know who they are who need the prayers and graces most, but we do it anyway. And we are doing this as a kind act, with no thought of self or reward. We are clearing their path to heaven. And you know what the best part is? Like the act of the foreign worker that was noticed by me only, God notices your efforts and receives your prayers for the strangers you are praying for. And with hope, it is God’s smile that that the deceased will be seeing, welcoming them to eternal life. What’s more, who is to say that he won’t add in a Divine thumbs up too?