Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day

In the year before his death, Paulist Founder 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]. 

By then, some 44 years had passed since Hecker’s initial encounter with the Catechism and its presentation on the communion of saints, but the passage of time had done nothing to dull the impact of what he had found there.  Appropriately so, since the Communion of Saints proclaims the bonds that connect us, not only across space, but even more profoundly across time. The doctrine of the communion of saints, the same Catechism explained, “teaches the practical spiritual purpose of the Creed as a whole. For the great end to which all our study and knowledge of the truths of the Creed are to be directed is our admission into this immense and blessed society of the saints” [The Roman Catechism, Article IX, 23, p. 111].

Yesterday, All Saints Day, the Church celebrated that part of the communion of saints traditionally known as “the Church Triumphant” – not just the Church’s thousands of officially recognized saints, but all those holy ones, known and unknown, who have attained the goal for which we on earth still strive. Living now forever with God, the saints help us by uniting their prayers with ours, thus uniting their intercession for us before God.

Today, All Souls Day, our focus is rather on all the rest of those who have died in God’s mercy and who were pleasing to God at their passing from this life. Every day, at every Mass, but especially today, we pray that they may be welcomed into the light of God’s face and be given kind admittance to his kingdom, along with the saints already in glory.

This afternoon, we will have our annual Rosary Procession at our parish cemetery. Cemeteries are special places for us Christians. Remembering is, first of all, a profoundly human activity. To remember those who have died is to acknowledge the importance of their lives - and the common humanity which we share with them. To remember those who have gone before us in faith is to celebrate the different ways in which the grace of God touched and transformed each one of them - and the hope we share with them.

This being the 160th All Souls Day in the history of our parish, let us also remember today in a very special way all those parishioners who have been part of the life of our parish community, who quite literally built this parish - if in no other way than by virtue of their personal presence. The Parish Death Registers record the names of those, whose funerals have been celebrated here in our church. What an extensive human history those names represent! Some, we confidently hope, are already among those saints honored yesterday, while others may still be undergoing a process of purification, prior to their entrance into the full joy of heaven, and so may be the beneficiaries of our intercessory prayer on their behalf. What a wonderful network of holy souls whom we hope today to help by our prayers - and who in turn we hope are praying for us!

We remember all those departed parishioners whose commitment to the Body of Christ was incarnated in the charitable and social ministries of our parish - as well as all those who benefited from them. We remember all those students and their dedicated teachers and all whose commitment to the Body of Christ was incarnated in the educational ministries of our parish. We remember all those departed parishioners whose commitment to the Body of Christ was incarnated in the liturgical and musical ministries of the parish. The list goes on and on. All those people, most of whom none of us have ever met! Today, however, we remember them all. And, with them we remember also all those whose commitment to the Body of Christ was incarnated in their priestly service in this parish, among them – since 1973 – the various Paulist Fathers who have served here.

They have all gone before us in faith, in hope, and in love. And today, we remember them all.

May the angels take them into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome them on their way and lead them into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels welcome them, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may they have everlasting rest.

Homily for the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day), Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, November 2, 2014.

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