Homily for the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls) (A) (2nd November, 2017) on the CommemorationIs 25:6-9;
Ps 26:1.4.7-9.13-14 (R. v.1 or v.13)
Few years back, there was an obituary announcement over the radio and the television of a deceased woman. Part of the information disseminated was that nobody should pray for her repose. According to her son who signed the announcement, she has been resting in peace. And we are today praying for the repose of all the faithful departed.
Topic: Belief in Purgatory and Praying for the dead.
Just yesterday, we rejoiced with the whole Church for our brothers and sisters who are already enjoying the beatific vision. Today, we are praying for those who although have left this world and are not damned but are not found as perfect as we are called to be, cf. Matt 5:48. They are neither in heaven nor in the hell. This belief in the purification after death better known as purgatory however is one of the areas many non-Catholics criticise so much. As a result of these, despite the fact that the word PURGATORY is not found in the bible, this homily among other things aims at showing that there is nothing unscriptural about PURGATORY and praying for the dead.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), those we commemorate today are “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030). The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent based on the scripture, cf. CCC 1031. It “is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead” (CCC 1032).
Often during funerals, we normally say or hear that the person is either already in heaven or in hell. But in the gospel we read the very words of Jesus: “… how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:24; cf. Mk 10:23; Lk 18:24). Again, nothing is hidden before God, cf. Ps 69:5; 139:1-17, Jer 33:3. And remember, our target is to be as perfect as God Himself, cf. Matt 5:48. Hence Saint Peter aptly admonished us thus: “… strive to be found by him [God] at peace, without spot or blemish” (2Pt 3:14).
Although we are called to be perfect as God but sometimes some of us claim to be more perfect than God. However, what we know about life in this world and the testimonies of the Holy Scripture prove such claims otherwise. The Book of Ecclesiastes states, “Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning” (Eccl 7:20). In the same vein, the First Letter of St John reads: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar, and his word is not in us” (1Jn 1:10). And through the prophet Jeremiah, God said that he will punish those who deny the fact that they are sinners, cf. Jer 2:35. As if in confirmation, Job asked: “how can a man be just before God?” (Job 9:2). These and many more point to the fact that no matter how holy a man is he or she is still full of at least imperfections. And according to the scriptures, God will “reward every man according to his works” (Matt 16:27, cf. Rom 2:6, 1Cor 3:8, Prov 24:12; 2Tim 4:14; 2Chr 6:23; Jer 32:19; Ezek 18:30; 24:14; 33:20). The reward will not be based on hearsay. We read from the Prophet Jeremiah: “I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings” (Jer 17:10). Only God knows the hearts of all men, cf. 1Kg 8:39.
To the scribe who answered well Jesus said: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mk 12:34). That he is not far surely does not mean that he was already in the kingdom of God. For some people, every person who is found wanting in any way will surely go to Hell. But God said that every person who wrongs is to be punished according to his offence, Deut 25:2.
However, our God is not only just but also merciful: “The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings” (Ps 145:17). The Psalmist also wrote: “… and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work” (Ps 62:12).
Despite the fact that every sin is evil before God yet sins are of different categories. The First Letter of St John reads: “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal” (1Jn 5:16). But supposing one dies in the state of sin that is not mortal, which way – heaven or hell? Again, in the gospel Jesus said:
That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserve a beating will receive a light beating” (Lk 12:47-48).
And again, should such a servant die with an offence that deserves ‘a light beating’ where will it take place – heaven or hell? Both the offences that require light beating and those Saint John asks us to pray for lead people to the state we call purgatory. Hence, we are today praying for them as Saint John asks us to.
It is important to note also that in as much as the Church teaches in line with the scriptures the forgiveness of sins, (cf. Jn 20:23), we should “… understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God, and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial sins, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin” (CCC 1472) or the light beating. To better understand this, one who hits another’s car for instance is liable not just for the repair but also for the inconveniences caused. That one’s sins have been forgiven does not mean that he will not repair what he or she damaged through sin. Hence CCC says: “The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains” (1473). Those who were not able to be purified here on earth of the temporal punishment due to their sins do so in Purgatory. This should not be seen as a punishment but as an expression of God’s love for us sinners. It is to make our souls ready for his kingdom, cf. Prov 20:30. This is what we commemorate today. It is left for us either to pray for the dead or do not pray just like the man who did not pray for his deceased mother and also banned others from doing so. The road to eternal life is longer and harder than what many think it to be and as a result, there will be surprises on the last day.
Finally, praying for the dead is an explicit belief in purgatory. That place the souls of the deceased are while prayers are offered for them is what is called the purgatory. Catholics believe in purgatory partly because of some of the reasons already given above and again purgatory is part of the teaching the apostles handed over by word of mouth. And these are as binding as what are contained in the bible, cf. 2Thess 2:15; 2Cor 10:10-11.
Bible Reading: 2Macc 12:32-45; Lk 12:41-48; 1Cor 3:14-15.
Prayer: How often do you pray for the dead?
Let us pray: Eternal rest grant to them O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace – Amen.
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