Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
All Soul’s Day Mass – November 2, 2018
Earlier this year, a dear cousin of mine died. By most standards, she passed from this world far too soon at the age of 70. While her final struggle with cancer only lasted a few months, she knew her share of suffering and pain far more than most, having been confronted with one health crisis after another for the past ten years or so.
What was so amazing about her, however, was her positive outlook on life – born from her faith in Jesus. She never bemoaned her physical problems nor felt that she had been cheated on life in any way. In fact, when it became clear to her that she wouldn’t survive her final illness, she talked openly about her death and the hope of new life that awaited her once she passed. “Rest assured,” she said to me, just a few days before she died, “that when I’m gone, we will still be together.”
My cousin’s words expressed something that lies very much at the heart of this cherished day in the Church year. Pope Francis captured it well some time ago in these reflections:
“There is a deep and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world — us — and those who have crossed the threshold of death and entered eternity. 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. … This is the reality of our lives … that accompanies us on the journey of life. … Let us go forward on this journey with trust, with joy … 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!”
Today, we celebrate as a Church what most of us affirm every day, whether at the graves of those we love or in the midst of daily routines. We affirm the words of St. Paul from today’s second reading, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall 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 lives, who have passed from this world to the next and who journey to God.
This feast, more than any other in the Church year, allows us to put faces and names on those we honor and for whom we pray. And by that very fact, this day and this mass often bring sadness into our lives. It is never easy to let go of those whom we love. There is never a right time or reason. Yet, because of this reality, it is imperative for us as Christians to also bring to mind the mystery which lies at the heart of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Today’s Gospel offers us consolation as we face life and death. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. And your souls will find rest for my yolk is easy and my burden is light.” … Notice that Jesus offers very real words. He doesn’t white wash life. He doesn’t say that if you’re a good person, if you pray, you will never have a cross to carry or a burden to bear. No. He says “Come to me with your struggles and pain … and I will give you rest.”
The same scriptures also tell us that death was not the end for Jesus. Three days after he died, he rose and through that event promised the same life and gift of resurrection to all who live and die believing in him.
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 – why we choose to gather in prayer for them today.
The great Saint John Chrysostom expressed that reality in slightly different words. Listen to what he said: “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” … And they ARE with us because of the power of Christ’s resurrection which knits us together with him through this life into eternity.