Fr. Leo Pabayo .
Last of three parts
THE feasts of All Saints and All Souls are the celebration of the Communion of Saints which is one of the basic truths of the faith that we Catholic Christians profess whenever we recite the Creed. The Communion of Saints means firstly that we never cease to be connected with one another even after some of us have passed on to the next life. Just as we help one another in this life so do we do so after some of us have passed on to the next life. Those who have died are either already in heaven or are still being purified so as to be ready for heaven. Traditional theology described the process of purification as a Purgatory. It is a condition or a state of the soul that is undergoing purification. Just as our prayers, good thoughts and love for one another in the present life help purify us of our sinfulness so do our prayers, good thoughts and love for those who still need purification in the next life help them to be ready for heaven.
The so-called pain of Purgatory is but the pain that goes with the process of purification that a soul has to undergo to grow in the love of God and neighbor. The love of God and neighbor is the core purpose of our life and the key to happiness. Our experience of love in the present life tells us that learning to love is a gift but also a struggle. We need to undergo the many trials on the way of growing in the virtue of love of God and neighbor in its various forms. We need to be purified of the many bad traits, attitudes, habits of selfishness, etc….that get in the way of our growing in love. The teaching on Purgatory means that the process of purification does not stop for most people when they die. If we have not been fully purified here as to be ready to be at home with God and the saints after we die, there will be a period of purification in the next life before we can enter heaven.
The Church teaches however that the martyrs who embraced martyrdom out of love for God and neighbor enter into the next life already purified. They go straight to heaven. As for the other saints, they probably underwent some minor and short period of purification before becoming totally united with God.
The devotion to the saints arose from the belief that they can intercede for us before God. Some souls in heaven have been graced by God to intercede on our behalf to help us who are still struggling to live good lives. This empowerment could have been also meant by the Parable of the Talents where the faithful servant is rewarded with, “Welcome good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful over little things I will entrust you with greater things.” Numerous stories of saintly people interceding for the faithful have been authenticated.
There are saints and there are Saints. Everyone who is in a state of grace is a saint, meaning to say that he or she is holy although not perfectly purified from the stain of sin. Everyone on earth sincerely trying to live good lives, those in Purgatory and those who are already in heaven are saints. The saints in heaven are those we remember on All Saints Day. The saints with the capital S or Saints are those formally declared by the Church as Saints because of their heroic virtues and because they are good models of Christian life. They are formally declared Saints by means of a process called canonization. Canonized means that the life and death of one proposed by the faithful for sainthood has been rigorously evaluated and is found to have lived an exceptionally virtuous life. A good example for our time was Mother Theresa of Calcutta who died recently and whose canonization was completed not long ago. One of the requirements for a candidate to sainthood to be canonized is that he or she had actually interceded for someone by means of some miracle. A miracle or miracles that have been attributed to the proposed saint have been scientifically established. For example, it has to be indisputably proven that a cure of an incurable sickness was really due to his or her intercession, that there is no way the cure can be explained psychologically by the power of suggestion or by any other natural cause.
The process of canonizing is like a trial. Someone is assigned to play a devil’s advocate to refute the reasons being put forth for canonization. The refutation must be satisfactorily answered by those recommending canonization.
For the Christian, the death of the just man is a birth to new and glorious life. The feasts of All Saints and All Souls are therefore an occasion for celebration. It is an occasion for contemplating the wonderful things that are in store for us in the next life if we live righteously in the present life. One way of celebrating this feast is by meditating or contemplating Bible passages that talk about the happy state of the faithful in heaven. The words of St. Paul about the resurrection of the dead are a good subject matter for meditation. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Corinthians 1:9) “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face… Now I know in part; then I shall know fully” (1Corinthians 13:12) These are words from St. Paul worth pondering at this time.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said that the thought of his own death filled him with so much joy that he had to deliberately stop himself from thinking it because it was getting on the way of his apostolic work. Most of us are frightened by the thought of death. But the thought is a joyful one for the saints because heaven is very real to them. This must have been so with San Lorenzo Ruiz so that he could say before he was tortured and killed that if he had a thousand lives to give for Christ he would give them all. This must have been the experience of San Pedro Calungsod who did not fear the spears that took away his life while doing his work as a catechist and assistant to Blessed Sanvitores in proclaiming the Gospel.
Families who go to the resting place of their loved ones on the occasion of these feasts can pray together the novenas for the dead, copies of which are available in Catholic bookstores like St. Paul. They can attend the Masses that are usually celebrated in the chapels of the cemeteries.
The All Souls Day is the time for remembering and praying for the dead who continue to struggle to be perfectly united with God and win a place in the new heaven and the new earth where “there will be no more suffering, no more tears and no more sadness….and where we will see God as He really is.”