Monday, November 3, 2014

Eternal Rest, Grant to them O Lord

Commemoration of All Souls 2014:
All Souls day is one of the great days of the year.  It is one of the reasons why I am so glad to be a Catholic.  It’s a day where we remember all those people who have died.  All the Souls who have gone before us.  You might be wondering why I think it is such a great day.  It can be a day of grief and morning.  This can be a day that is sad.  But, I think it is a great day, because, as St. Paul says, we do not grieve like those who have no hope.  We do have grief, and pain, and sadness, but we do not grieve like those with no hope.  We know that sadness is turned to joy.  We know that while we suffer here and now, while we experience the pain and anguish that death might bring, this is not the end.  Not even close to the end.  Christ came to set us free.  All Souls is one of the great days of the year because it helps us to remember the very heart of the gospel: Jesus Christ died so that all of us might live.
It has been a longstanding tradition in my household to “offer it up.”  My mom always encouraged us to “offer it up.”  Mom I hurt my arm: offer it up.  Mom we’re out of milk: offer it up.  Mom, I broke my leg and it is only hanging on by a thread: offer it up.  As a kid, I guess I never really knew what I was offering it up for.  This longstanding tradition comes from offering pains and sufferings for the poor souls in purgatory.  There are many prayers and customs in the life of the church aimed at praying for the poor souls in purgatory.
Nowadays it is not too popular to talk about purgatory.  Why would God make us suffer after we die?  But, that is the wrong question.  God is not the one who needs purgatory.  Purgatory is not a place where God inflicts his wrath upon sinners, don’t have that idea.  Rather, purgatory is the place where sinners can go to receive the purification they need to be in the presence of God.  Say for instance I stole 100 bucks from someone.  I went out and spent it on something foolish like golf balls or something…  But, then I started to feel bad about stealing the money.  So I go and I ask for forgiveness.  Now the person instantly forgives me.  But, no matter how much the person forgives me, I will always know that I had stolen from him.  I won’t feel right in his presence.  I would want to make it right by trying to pay back the 100.  I think purgatory is like that.  God forgives our sins.  But purgatory is the chance for us to be purified so that we can stand being in the presence of God.  One of my professors in seminary explained purgatory this way.  When you die, God welcomes you into this large spacious room.  He is seated on a nice couch and has a big bucket of popcorn.  He invites you to sit down and join him.  There is a big screen TV on the wall: what are we going to watch?” we ask.  God says: oh, this is the story of your life.  We are going to see how your sins impacted others around you, then we are going to see all the good you didn’t do.  All of us would have a long video to watch.  God doesn’t show this video to embarrass us or to shame us.  But, this video helps us come to grips with the forgiveness we have received, helps us come to grips with our imperfections and our weaknesses.  After we watch a video like that all of us are like the good thief in the story today: Lord we deserve this condemnation, but please remember us.  Then Jesus says: Today you will be with me in paradise.
This is why we pray for those who have died.  We pray that God would forgive their sins.  We pray that they become the kind of people who are able to say with all their heart: remember me Lord when you come into my kingdom.  We pray for those who have died because it is a way to remember that they were not perfect people, but that God is full of mercy.
For some reason people are hesitant to pray for the dead.  I notice this very often in my pastoral ministry.  I’ll say: let’s pray that God will welcome them into heaven.  Very often the response I get is: “Oh Father, my mom is already there.”  Well I certainly hope so.  But, we need to pray.  Very often these days people have “celebrations of life,” instead of funerals.  I think this is because it is difficult to come to grips with the loss of those that we love.  If we focus on the great things of their life, it makes it easier to deal with the sadness of their loss.  So, in one sense, I get it.  But, when I die I don’t want people to celebrate my life, I want them to pray for me. I want them to beg almighty God that I might be made worthy to share the lot of the saints.  I want them to beg God to be merciful on me, because I know I’m a sinner.  Don’t celebrate my life on earth, pray for my life in heaven. 
The beautiful thing about praying for those who have died is that they will, in turn, pray for you.  If our prayers and sacrifices help a brother or sister enter into the heavenly banquet they will certainly pray for you.  Fr. Bob said to me the other day: as a priest we send many people to heaven, I hope they are praying for us there.  How true! 
So, today, on this commemoration of All Souls, pray for those who have gone before us.  Really, we should pray for them all the time.  Tomorrow marks the 8th anniversary of the death of my uncle Louis Tippmann.  He died at the age of 34 from skin cancer.  It was a tough loss for all in my family.  It was one of the first times that someone so close to my own age died like this.  I think about him often.  Every time I do, I pray that God would welcome him into his kingdom.  Over the years I have added other names.  As a priest I very often celebrate funerals in difficult situations, I carry those names with me too: Jimmy Langin, Joe Becker, Ray Sanfrey, I pray for these people all the time. 

Today is one of the great days in the life of the Church because it is ok to pray for those who have died, it is ok to be sad, to mourn their loss.  But, we do not grieve like those who have no hope.  Even our prayer of grief today is lined with hope.  We know that the God to whom we pray is full of love and mercy.  Eternal rest grant to them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

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