2 Nov 2016
Solemnity of All Souls
Every night when our day is over, we turn out the lights and go to sleep. The light of the sun is reflected in the soft glow of the moon. The stars twinkle above in the black sky. We put our head on a pillow, and God looks down on his sleeping children. Sometimes the darkness is just a time of rest; there’s nothing to be afraid of. And the blackness of night is just part of the experience of peace and quiet, and rejuvenation.
When the day is done, we go to sleep to wait for the light of a new day. And today we remember all the faithful departed who have gone into the sleep of death and wait for the light of a new and unending day—the Light of heaven.
Yesterday the Church celebrated those who have died and who already see that Light, the Light of God’s glory. We celebrated the Saints who have gone into the house of God and are enjoying the banquet of heaven. Today, though, we celebrate and we pray for those souls of the faithful departed who are on the porch, who are in the front hallway of God’s house.
They already went through death and are there, getting ready to go into the fullness of what their faith has promised them, what Christ has promised them. We pray for our brothers and sisters who sleep the sleep of death by the soft glow of the moonlight. And even though they sleep under the twinkling stars of the dark sky, they can hear the feast going on. They can see the Light of God’s glory shining from under the dining room door. We pray for them, for those who have been faithful . . . the faithful departed who haven’t yet finished their journey of faith.
They aren’t in a bad place at all; they’re closer to heaven than we are. Christ is their Shepherd and he’s led their souls right to where they should be. And for some of us, that is very comforting and encouraging. But for others, well, we’d rather have them back here on earth with us. It depends on how they died, and what age they were, and what the circumstances were.
In many ways it’s almost easier to celebrate the Saints, especially the big ones: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Joseph, St. Vincent, St. Nicholas, and so on. We only know them as Saints, as people who have always just lived in heaven, it seems. It’s harder for us to mourn them and their passage from this life to the next—because we never looked into their eyes. We never heard the sound of their voice. We never heard them laugh or saw them weep. And so, they’re a bit more removed from us. Even the more modern Saints can seem distant and almost unreal.
But those faithful departed—our loved ones, our friends who have died . . . they aren’t so removed from us. We know their names. We know their faces. And they knew ours. Even if they had died at a ripe and old age and had lived a good life, there’s a part of us that might still mourn the physical separation that death brings.
Regardless of our experiences of death—whether they were tragic, unexpected, or seen as a blessing—this Solemnity of All Souls and this time of the year reminds us of the frailty of human life. And it reminds us of the importance of faith, and the importance of being there for others and praying for others, especially the dead.
As we go outside and see the Autumn leaves strewn all over the place, it’s good to remember that not that long ago they were lush and green, high in the trees. And then Autumn came and they turned into their burning golds, oranges, yellows, purples, and reds. But now they’ve completed their short life. They’ve turned brown and dry, and have returned to the earth to help get ready for next year’s Springtime.
When we visit the graves of loved ones, or think about them, or go outside and see the bare trees and the fallen leaves, it’s hard not to remember the frailty and the shortness of human life. And we can see death either as something to be afraid of, or as something to wonder about and even peer into with childlike curiosity. As Christ says: The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as those who are like little children.
We faithful people here on earth are curious, we wonder about things, we wonder about death and our faith tells us there’s more there than meets the eye. Of course, the faithful departed would tell us: There is. Indeed, there is. As we heard from the Book of Wisdom: “The souls of the just . . . seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.”
People around us may not believe in life after death. Or they may be afraid to admit their own fears of death. But we are a people of faith. We believe that with death, life is simply—or dramatically—changed, but not ended. Life is never ended, unless we choose it to be.
Christ asks the blind man and us the question: “What do you want me to do for you” [Mk 10:51]? Of course, the answer comes from our soul, not from our mouth. The blind man living in the darkness of death said, “I want to see.” And so it happened. Eternal Light and life is ours—if we want it. We already know that “the will of [the] Father [is] that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.”
The faithful departed answered that question in the same way: They want to be with God and their loved ones in the full ecstasy of heaven. That longing was in their soul, and God knows the truth of our soul. Of course, no one longs for God and for heaven perfectly. That’s why the faithful departed are on the porch and in the front hallway of God’s house.
They’re already there. They can see the Light from under that dining room door. And they can hear the feast going on. And we pray for them, that God bring them into what they have longed for. And, of course, we pray the same for us. They may be the faithful departed, but we are the faithful here on earth. And even though we’re not yet at the doorstep of God’s house, we too can hear the singing and the music of the heavenly banquet.
We too can see a dim glimmer through the darkness of death. There’s something there where Christ has gone before us. No, life doesn’t end with death. It only changes. And the only thing the faithful suffer is anticipation. Anticipation of heaven. Anticipation of what our earthly life will change into when we ourselves will pass through death and stand at the doorstep of God’s house. Anticipation of what it will be like to be counted among the faithful departed.
In the meantime, we keep in mind the moon’s soft glow at night when we lay our head to rest. The stars twinkle above, and God looks down on his sleeping children. There under the black sky, we dream dreams of heaven, and we rest up and get rejuvenated for a new day. We may not yet be departed, but we are still God’s faithful. And that’s what the faithful do: they dream of heaven.