Shortly before her death at the old Roman port city of Ostia in 387, St. Monica said to her son, St. Augustine: “Lay this body anywhere, and take no trouble over it. One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be” (Augustine, Confessions, IX, 11).
At least here in the northern hemisphere, thoughts about the end come quite naturally at this time of the year - as the sun rises a little later every morning and sets a little earlier every afternoon. Amid withered leaves and barren branches, there is a melancholy sense of time passing by - as yet another year draws to a close. In our Catholic tradition, the month of November is dedicated in a special way to remembering those who have died, and to praying for the departed who may still be in the process of being purified from the effects of their sins. Just as remembering the dead is an important human duty, so too praying for the dead is an important Christian one. When we remember those who have died, we acknowledge our common humanity with them. For, like us, they lived and loved and worked, succeeded and failed, hoped and dreamed – both for themselves and for their families. And, like them, we too must eventually die. Our Christian faith, however, redefines for us the universal experience of dying and unites us with those who have gone before us not just in our common humanity but in what the Apostles’ Creed calls “the communion of saints.”
Recalling his early years and the period preceding his conversion, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, Servant of God Isaac Hecker wrote: “When, in 1843, I first read in the catechism of the Council of Trent the doctrine of the communion of saints, it went right home. It alone was to me a heavier weight on the Catholic side of the scales than the best historical argument which could be presented.” [“Dr. Brownson and Catholicity,” Catholic World, 1887]. Hecker wrote that in 1887, almost at the end of his life. Would that we all had such a strong, life-long appreciaiton of the communion of saints!
Conscious of the powerful bond that links us all together through space and time, a bond unbroken even by death, the Church continually invites the living to remember the dead and to intercede on their behalf, even as the saints in heaven intercede for us who are still on earth. Today, we Paulists remember in a special way those who lived together in our religious community – those we were privileged to know personally and the many more who preceded us and whose legacy we have been privileged to continue. We pray that, with the wise ones of whom the Prophet Daniel spoke, having devoted themselves in life to leading many to justice, they too may be like the stars forever [Daniel 12:3]. We pray that they - and all the faithful departed - may be purified from the effects of their sins and live forever with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints in the kingdom whose cause they sought to serve on earth.
Homily for the Annual Mass for Deceased Paulists, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, November 3, 2012.