Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings bring up a subject we would rather avoid: death. Still, we in the Catholic Church we are realists. We grieve over the death of a loved one, but we also recognize that death is a transition from this life to the next life. We pray for the dead at funerals and special Masses and particularly on All Souls Day and throughout the month of November[1].

We believe in life after death. We believe that an all knowing and all loving God will shepherd His loved ones into union with Him. We believe in heaven, the place of God’s unending love, we believe in hell, the place devoid of God’s love, and we believe in purgatory, the place of preparation for God’s love.

However we can ask why? Why pray for the dead? Well, one interesting way to understand this is to consider Dante’s second book of the Divine Comedy, the Purgatorio. After making it through his tour of hell (the famous Inferno), Dante comes upon a mountain where souls were being prepared for heaven. They weren’t ready for heaven yet and were actually holding themselves back. They knew that they were not yet capable of accepting the fire of God’s love into their lives.

They were still suffering the wounds of their sins. Yes, their sins had been forgiven, but the results of their sins had left their mark. So the souls on Mt Purgatory were holding themselves back. But it was now too late for them to find healing for themselves. Their lives on earth were over. It was too late for them to find healing through their own works of charity, fasting and prayer, but it was not too late for them to be healed. They were being healed by the prayers of the people still on earth. This was Dante’s explanation on why we pray for the dead. It’s a good ANALOGY of this mystery[2].

The greatest prayer that we can offer for the dead is the prayer of Christ on the Cross: the sacrifice of the Mass. That is why we have funeral Masses.

During our lives we approach the Lord seeking the healing for the results of our sins. When our lives on earth have ended we depend on the prayers of those still living here to continue to ask God to heal the results of sin in our lives.

We have done a disservice to our dead by canonizing them all, by deciding that no matter what their lives may have been like, they must be in heaven right now. It is a disservice because the faithful departed need our prayers. They need us to offer the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for them. They need us to pray the Holy Rosary asking Mary to speak to her Son for our loved ones. They need us to keep the memory of their goodness alive and before the Lord.

The Books of Maccabees tell us that it is a good thing to pray for the dead. During the Month of November, we pray for our loved ones that they might be healed of the effects of sin in their lives and be admitted into the eternal love of the Lord.

And so we pray in beautifully poetic language: Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace[3].

[1] Sunday 11th November, 2007, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. St Martin of Tours. Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full-Ps 16(17):1, 5-6, 8, 15. 2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5. Luke 20: 27-38.
[2] The comparison of two things, which are alike in several respects, for the purpose of explaining or clarifying some unfamiliar or difficult idea or object by showing how the idea or object is similar to some familiar one. ...
[3] Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem. Exaudi orationem meam; ad te omnis caro veniet. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
ilustration: Angel helping souls out of the Purgatory, Chapel Notre-Dame of Benva (Lorgues, France). You can visit: www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/medieval/en/index.htm

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris