All Souls Day – November 2, 2022
Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 6:3-9; Matthew 11:25-30
In recent months, many of you have heard me tell stories about my trip this summer to Ghana, Africa. While the trip afforded us with its share of memorable experiences, today’s commemoration of All Souls prompts recollections of funerals that we experienced on numerous occasions while traveling through the Ghanaian countryside.
Although we only witnessed them from afar, they were typically huge gatherings of family members, neighbors and friends who came together to offer prayers, celebrate religious and tribal rituals and to socialize for a good portion of the day. In many instances, large billboards paying tribute to the deceased were erected along the streets in the towns and villages where they resided. … For the people of Ghana, death is not something to fear but something to acknowledge and celebrate – a moment of passage from life in this world to life in the next!
I share this experience not to set it apart from how we so often ritualize the deaths of our loved ones. Many of us remember those we love and lose in similar ways. I share it because it reflects something that is found in the hearts of all people of faith, namely, that there is so much more to this world and our lives than we can see or touch.
This reality was articulated well by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, a few years ago during his commemoration of All Soul’s Day. “The practice of remembering the dead, caring for their graves and offering intercessory prayers,” Pope Francis said, “gives testimony of the certain hope which has taken root in the certainty that death is not the last word. … Man is destined to a life without limits, which has its roots and fulfillment in God.”
And so today, we celebrate as a Church what we affirm every day in our prayers and in our hearts. Listen again to the words of Saint Paul, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.”
The Feast of All Souls provides us with an opportunity to remember – with the Church – all of the holy souls, all of those dear people who have been woven into our world and our lives, who have passed from this world to the next and who journey to God. But it also affords us a cherished moment in which we’re given the opportunity to put faces and names on those we honor and for whom we pray.
This very fact connects All Souls Day to our lives in a way that is unlike most other days in the Church year. As such, this day and this mass can bring sadness to our lives. … It is never easy to let go of those whom we love. There is never a right time or reason. And so, because of that reality, it is essential that we see in this day the heart and substance of our faith as Christians – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Our belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus won’t necessarily take away the pain that comes from grief, but it does have the power to help us make sense of why we feel the presence of our loved ones, even in their passing and why we choose to gather in prayer for them today. It affirms what all of us believe, even if we cannot understand – that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, death is not the end for the faithful disciple but the passage to an eternity of peace.
And so, as we celebrate this day of prayer for the Holy Souls firmly convinced of God’s mercy and love, may we find hope in the words of Pope Francis, “All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great Family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in the prayers that we offer for one another. … Let us then go forward on this journey sustained by the help of brothers and sisters who are taking the same path toward heaven; and also by the help of brothers and sisters who are in heaven and are praying to Jesus for us. Go forward on this path with joy!” Amen.