Death’s Amazing Effect
Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. Fr Brendan Slevin preaches on the strange effect death has on people.
The commemoration of All the Faithful Departed is, I think, one of the most consoling days of the Church’s year. We both celebrate Christ’s offer to us to share in his resurrection as well as recognise our own sinfulness.
For most of the year we tend to try and separate the triumph of the cross from the frail stumblings of our own ordinary lives. On one side we place Christ and his saints and on the other poor sinners like ourselves.
But this artificial separation distorts our understand of the faith we profess. This day, when we pray for the Holy Souls, reunites us with a broader understanding of the Church. A Church that is one; not two separate churches, one of saints and the other sinners.
The unifying bond is the love our Creator has for us. A love that brings about in us the possibility to love God back. A love that becomes incarnate in Jesus.
We are constantly trying to separate in our minds that which should be considered together. Life and death, past, present and future – we seem to think we can only understand these if we think of them individually, but in reality they must be thought of together in order to make sense of them.
Death has a strange effect on people. More times that not, only good things are said of the one who has died. All their faults, if not forgotten, are for a time not spoken of. One should never speak ill of the dead, goes the ancient saying.
In much of Europe and in the USA and Canada we go even further. There is an attempt to hide death itself. The whole process is made ‘more pleasant’. The body is prepared to look as if it is beyond corruption. Even funerals are becoming celebrations of a person’s life rather than about their death. We speak of the past rather than contemplate the reality of the present.
On this day, however, the Church allows us to be honest about death. We recognise that our friends and relatives who have died, and those we never knew, were capable of sinning. We recognise this because we know it is true of our selves. We long to be with God yet we continue to make mistakes on our pilgrim way.
This realisation, though, does not lead us to despair. For we believe that at death, life is changed not ended. The soul lives and awaits a share in the resurrection. The holy souls wait to be purified. They wait to see God face to face.
These souls share in our longing as we share in theirs. The bonds that united us on earth continue to unite us. And the source of those bonds is the love of God, which is the bond of the Church’s unity.
We pray for the dead not because it is our duty – though it is – but because it is part of what defines us as Christian. We pray for a reconciliation between the holy souls and their Creator. At the same time our prayers act as a reconciliation between ourselves and those we pray for. The circle completes itself with the recognition of our own sinfulness before a loving God. We renew our acceptance of his offer to be reconciled.
In the thundering silence of prayer we bathe in the mercy of God as the guilt of sin is washed in the blood of the Saviour. The prayers of the Church on earth, united with the prayers of the saints in heaven, embrace the souls of our brothers and sisters in the love of Christ. Our hope is not deceptive, our prayers are not solitary or unheard, the Church is not separate but one, as the saints triumphant unite with us in Christ.
The commemoration of the holy souls should renew in us an understanding of the unity of Christ’s Church, while at the same time confirming in us our sure and certain hope in the resurrection.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.