Tuesday November 2, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of All Souls
Reading I (Isaiah 25:6-9) Reading II (Romans 6:3-9)
Gospel (St. John 11:17-27)
As the Church takes out this day to call to mind all of those faithful souls who have gone forth from this life and yet still await the fullness of life in heaven, the souls who are being purified in the fires of Purgatory, it is incumbent upon us to first of all recognize that these are holy souls. These are people who cannot go backward; they can only go forward. They cannot sin. They are people who died in the state of grace, they are all people who will go to heaven, and they are all people who are members of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ. Therefore, we are united with them and they are united with us, just as we are with the souls who are already in heaven.
This gives us an opportunity to practice charity because there is nothing that the souls in Purgatory can do for themselves beyond what they are already doing. So it is a necessity for them that we pray for them, that we practice charity toward them to help them. Indeed, they are souls of the just who have been purified in this life to the point that they were able to die in the friendship of Christ. They are in a place where there is hope. They are happy in that way, but they are in a place of miserable suffering where all that is happening to them is that the effects of their sins are being purified from their soul. It is a purging; it is a burning that is going on, not a physical fire, but rather an interior burning that is taking place within their souls – and they want to get to heaven as soon as they possibly can. Now, because they are indeed holy souls who cannot sin, they can pray for us but they cannot do anything more for themselves. But we can. If we pray for them, we can be guaranteed that their gratitude will be overflowing and that they in turn will pray for us. It was Padre Pio who, whenever he needed something that was really major, always turned to the poor souls. They are suffering souls. They are souls who want to help. They are souls who want to do anything they can for us, but they are also souls who are dependent on us.
The tragedy is that most people do not think about them anymore. We do not hear about the poor souls; we do not have the devotion that we used to have. People used to say, “Offer it for the poor souls in Purgatory.” You do not hear that very much anymore, but it is a necessity that we help them. Just think about the number of souls who lived a Christian life, who died repentant for their sins, but did not believe in Purgatory because they were not Catholic. That is where they are now (in the place they did not even believe existed!), and because in their life they did not believe it existed and they did not pray for anybody who was there, neither do they have anyone among their family and friends who believe that it exists and so no one is praying for them unless out of the generosity of our hearts we are willing to do so. Not only do we have our own family members and our own friends who are there, but there are many, many others who have no one to pray for them, forgotten souls because some people do not even believe. They need our help. As a matter of charity on our part, we need to pray for these souls; not just today, not just for this month that is dedicated to the poor souls, but everyday we need to pray for the poor souls. We need to remember them regularly and offer up some of our sufferings and sacrifices for them. Ask for their help; ask for their intercession. These are holy souls. These are saints, not saints in the fullness of that yet (meaning that they are in heaven) but they are saints. They are in the state of grace; they are holy souls who want to pray, who want to help, who want to do what they can do for us if only we are willing to ask. That is the beauty of what the Mystical Body is about: We can help them and they can help us. We can help one another to get to heaven.
In praying for them and in doing good things for them, we will also shorten the time that we will have to spend in Purgatory, which hopefully we will not need to spend any, but we never know. It is not a pleasant place and it is not a quick place, so we need to spend our time here trying to make sure that we are not going to have to spend our time there. And we need to spend our time here trying to help those who are there to be able to get as quickly as they can to the Beatific Vision. That is the charity that we as good Catholics need to have toward our brothers and sisters who are in Purgatory, because they cannot help themselves but we can. It is a matter of charity on our part to do what we can to help those who can do nothing more. That is the opportunity God is giving to us, and as always with God if we are willing to practice the charity of helping them we will be repaid many, many, many times over. We will help them, we will merit things for ourselves, we will grow in charity, we will cut time off of our own Purgatory, and we will have a higher place in heaven. It is a win-win situation: They are helped and we are helped. But do not worry about what you are going to get out of it; that would be the wrong reason to do it. Just, out of charity, pray for the poor souls so that they will be able to give to God the fullness of glory of which they are capable by entering as quickly as possible into the Beatific Vision.
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord looks at Martha and says to her, Your brother will rise again. And Martha, acknowledging the faith that not all the Jewish people had, was willing to say, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Now this is something that was relatively new for some of the Jews. In fact, to this day many of the Jewish people completely disregard the concept of a resurrection. Yet, at the same time, Martha is recognizing the promises that Our Lord Himself had made about the resurrection from the dead, but at this point she did not quite understand that Our Lord was the resurrection. And so Our Lord puts the question to her and says that anyone who believes in Him though he should die will live forever. He tells her, I am the Resurrection and the Life, then looks at her and says, Do you believe this? And she acknowledges what is the truth: “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe.”
That is exactly what we have to be willing to do as well. We have to understand, number one, that our souls are immortal. It does not matter what we do to ourselves; we cannot kill our souls. They will live for eternity because that is the way God created them. They have a beginning in time and they will have no end. And we know that there are only two possibilities for eternity, and that is heaven and hell. Purgatory, again, is the place of purification. It is a temporary place and all the souls in Purgatory will go to heaven when their purification is complete. But we also have to understand that our bodies are going to live. Our bodies will lie in death until the day of the Lord, until His return. On the day of the Second Coming, when Our Lord calls all to Himself, that will be the day of the resurrection. This very body that is sitting here – your body, my body – will rise from the dead. We are not going to get some new, little, sleek body; we are going to get a glorified body and it is going to be your own body, the one that God gave you, not another. That is critically important for us to understand, first of all, the dignity we have right now in both body and soul, and, secondly, it would not be you if it were not your body. God loves you for who you are, so He is not going to give you a fake body. He is not going to give you somebody else’s body, He is not going to give you some sort of a replacement, but He is going to give you our own body because you are defined as a composite of body and soul. The fullness of who you are includes not only your soul but your body as well.
The souls in heaven, as well as those in Purgatory, await the resurrection of their bodies. Their bodies will rise and they will be reunited with them. They will live for eternity both body and soul in heaven. For the souls in hell, they wish that their bodies would not rise – but it will – and they will live in the absolute horror of the fullness of their humanity in hell, body and soul, for the rest of eternity. So we realize that in God’s mercy He Who made us to be fully human is going to keep us that way. Because of our choice to choose death instead of life, our bodies and souls will be separated temporarily, but they will be rejoined and they will live together for eternity.
For now, we must pray and we must seek to live the proper kind of life, recognizing that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul says, Do you not know that anyone who destroys the temple of the Spirit, God will destroy him? Your body is that temple. So it is not something where we can treat the body badly and then say, “Well, it’s no big deal because it’s just going to die and my soul isn’t.” No, both body and soul are united. We need to recognize our dignity, the fullness of our dignity as human persons, and we need to live accordingly. If we have violated ourselves in either body or soul or both, then we need to get that taken care of, to get to Confession and be forgiven so that we can glorify God even now in the fullness of our humanity. That is just mere preparation for eternity. That is what the saints are awaiting. That is what the souls in Purgatory long for. And that is what we have an opportunity now to prepare for, to live a life of holiness in body and soul in preparation for a life of holiness for eternity in both body and soul; and, in the meantime, to use our bodies as Saint Paul says to glorify God, to offer them as a living sacrifice to God our spiritual worship so that our bodies share fully in what it is that we are doing here in our attempt to glorify God even in this world, because the more we glorify Him here, the more we will glorify Him in heaven. That is our opportunity now as we look forward to the reality of death to be able to know that death is merely a passage and that it is only – even for the body – temporary; for the soul, it is never even touched by death unless we have chosen it, unless we choose mortal sin over God and we choose to enter into eternal death. Even then the soul does not die; it simply is separated from God, which is the most horrifying thing we can imagine. So we live in this life, striving for perfect union with God, striving to live lives of holiness in body and soul, so that we have prepared ourselves then for what we will do for all eternity: to worship God, to glorify Him in the fullness of our person – both body and soul.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.