Reflections for November are by Archbishop Donald Reece, Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston
“THE PERENNIAL HUMAN YEARNING”
There is a perennial yearning in the heart of every human being to live forever. This quest for eternity is supported by the words of Wisdom: “Death was not God’s doing; he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living. To be—for this he created all” [Wisdom 1:13].
It is within that context that the Solemnity of All Souls’ Day gives meaning to that article of the Creed which we recite at every Sunday Mass: “I believe in the communion of saints.” Yes, we remember and pray for our loved ones who have gone before us, and for all the souls in purgatory who had died after having lived a life of grace in Christ Jesus.
Let’s situate this article of faith within the traditional understanding of the three-fold states of the Church, which “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” [##954-959] treats while commenting on Vatican Council II’s “Constitution of the Church:”
Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him, some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding ‘clearly God Himself triune and one,’ as He is; but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor, all sing the same hymn of glory to our God. For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him (cf. Eph. 4:16).[L.G. #49].
Stated another way, the Church triumphant is comprised of Saints who already enjoy the Beatific vision with the Triune God; the Church suffering comprises those who, though no longer in the flesh, yearn for union with the all-holy and loving God; and the Church militant comprises those still alive in the flesh, who struggle “in this vale of tears” working out their salvation [cf. Phil. 2:12].
As members of the one Church we span that chasm through valuable intercessory prayers, Masses, and other prayers offered up for our brothers and sisters in Purgatory, which is actually a state of purification before entering the all-holy Presence of the Triune God. In such a state there is hope of ultimate union with the God-Man who says to both the living and the dead (all members of His Body): “Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father.. Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” [Matt. 11:27,28]. Jesus’ promise is for real! That rest is both for now and for eternity!
The hope about which St. Paul speaks in his Letter to the Romans is one that is not deceptive; neither is Christian hope constrained by time and space, for it is due to the Holy Spirit poured into the hearts of believers, as a result of God’s tremendous love made manifest in Christ Jesus, who is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” [I Cor. 15:20]. The Apostle is very explicit about this love that ensures hope in reconciliation, which is the fruit of Jesus’ Paschal mysteries.
It is precisely because of this reconciliation why St. Monica, while on her death bed, could say with confidence to St. Augustine: “It doesn’t matter where you lay this body, so long as you remember me at the Altar.” This 5th century Catholic woman had tremendous appreciation for the Eucharist and its efficacy extending to her even after death. Isaiah’s prophecy of “a rich banquet” has indeed been fulfilled in the very Eucharist which Jesus Christ himself gave to the Church for the continued work of reconciliation and ultimate glorification. He said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my Blood will live forever, and I will raise them up at the last day” [John 6:54]. Jesus’ promise is real, and He invites us to understand the mystery of life that is reflected in the yearning within the heart of everyone, whether in the flesh of the Church militant, or in the souls of those of the Church suffering at the very threshold of eternity.
Today, there is much scepticism about life after death, not unlike the scepticism about Jesus’ assurance of his Body and Blood being a certain pledge of life eternal. In contrast, Matthew records these very relevant words of Jesus: “‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants'”[Matt. 11: 25]. The Saviour wants us to have faith in his promise of eternal life: “Come to me, all you who labour and are over-burdened, and I will give you rest” [Matt. 11: 28].
Prayer. “Life eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them! May they rest in perpetual peace! Amen.”