This Saturday we celebrate the feast of All Saints, all those who have died and are in glory, seeing God as God is. On Sunday we commemorate All Souls, the faithful departed in purgatory, undergoing purification to prepare them for the vision of God. Both groups are at peace with God through Jesus, but the latter group still needs purification from imperfections that make them unsuited for the presence of God. Our prayers for them help to accomplish this purification.
All of the readings present the hope of Israel and of Christians for life after death. The readings do not speak specifically about the situation of the faithful departed in purgatory. However, the life after death that the readings talk about is basically what we want for the souls in purgatory. The fullness of this life is glory in the presence of God.
The reading from the book of Wisdom explains how the hope for life after death helps us understand some of our mysterious experiences. The suffering and death of those who try to live uprightly can make their efforts seem foolish. If death is simply the end of human life, and both the just and the unjust suffer and die, God does not seem to care for the just any more than for the unjust. However, the hope for life after death allows us to see God's apparent abandonment of the just within a larger framework. God will ultimately take care of them. Their suffering and death can be seen as a purification or as a sacrifice that will be followed by the great blessing of abiding with God forever.
The reading speaks explicitly about the suffering and death of this life. However, what it says about them also applies to the suffering of purgatory. This too is a purification that will be followed by eternal blessedness.
The reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans argues that our hope for future blessing is very sure. Since Christ died for us while we were sinners, we can be sure that he will complete our salvation now that he has set us free from sin. If God's love for us as sinners was so great, how much greater is his love now that we are no longer sinners. The love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit is the basis for our hope.
The reading from the gospel according to John shows in another way how Jesus gives us sure hope for the future. Jesus is the Word of God who came “down from heaven” to do God’s will. God’s will is that Jesus lose nothing of what God has given him, but rather raise it up on the last day. The will of Jesus' Father is that “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” Jesus keeps those who believe in him safe from ultimate harm; even death cannot harm us. We know that he will raise us from the dead on the last day.
Like us, the souls in purgatory have died with Christ and await resurrection with him. Let us pray for their purification and our own.
© Terrance Callan