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The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Job 19:1, 23-27

Psalm 23 (or 130)

Romans 5:5-11

Matthew 5:1-12

Native American tribes are known for their elaborate and colorful quilts. Often the memories of the tribes are woven into large quilts used in religious ceremonies. Native American peoples are believed to be among the best quilt makers in the world. What many people do not know is that they have an unwritten law governing the art of quilting: every quilt must have some flaw. Even when they could easily produce the perfect quilt, they go out of their way to introduce a flaw into it. Since the quilt for them is basically a representation of human life and the human condition, the symbolism is clear: no human life is perfect. In a way, the feast of All Souls which we celebrate today echoes the same message: no human life is perfect, not even the Christian life. The Good News we celebrate today is that God loves us even when we are not perfect, and that the love of God does not abandon the souls of our departed brothers and sisters in the faith even when they did not measure up to the ideals of Christian perfection.

In the feast of All Saints which we had yesterday, we, the saints who are still struggling on earth (the Church militant), celebrate fellowship with the saints who have already arrived in heavenly glory (the Church triumphant). Today we celebrate our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in purgatory, a state of temporary suffering for departed souls who are not yet fully ready for full fellowship with God in the glory of heaven (the Church suffering).

All Christians believe in the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.

Purgatory is not mentioned as one of the “last things” because, strictly speaking, purgatory is a part of heaven. Purgatory is the remedial class for heaven-bound souls. Souls who go to purgatory are those who have been judged worthy of heaven, but not straightaway. They still need some purification (purgation) before they are ready for heaven because, according to Revelation 21:27, “nothing unclean shall enter it.”

Dear brethren, even though we Catholics believe in purgatory and Protestants do not, unofficially almost everyone seems to believe in an interim state of purification before heaven. When we lose loved ones, Catholics and Protestants alike pray for the dead. We all say, “May their souls rest in peace.” Wait a minute. If the souls of are in hell, why pray for them? Our prayers cannot help souls in hell. And if they are in heaven, why pray for them? Our prayers cannot help those in heaven either. They are already in heaven. Any sort of prayer for the dead has meaning insofar as the souls of the dead are in an interim state where they have not yet reached perfect union and peace with God, and where our prayers can help them get there. That is purgatory.

In the feast of All Souls we pray for the souls of the faithful departed who are being purified in purgatory. In this we profess our belief that, just as God has not stopped loving these poor souls because of their imperfections, neither have we. For us the belief in purgatory is Good News: even though we may not in this life be perfect as our heaven father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) we can still hold fast to the hope that there are mansions for us in the kingdom of heaven.


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