Monday May 30, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Tobit 1:3; 2:1a-8) Gospel (St. Mark 12:1-12)
Today as our country takes a day off to consider those who have gone before us – in a particular way, of course, those who have died in the service of the country, but for all of our beloved dead – we ask ourselves, “Why would we remember those who have died?” It is because their souls are immortal, because they still live. Each and every one of us is endowed with an immortal soul. Our bodies will indeed die, our souls cannot. So these are people whom we loved in this life, but they are people who we still love because they are still alive. The question, of course, is always “Where are they alive?” There are only three possibilities for that answer. Either they are in eternal life with God, or they are in Purgatory preparing themselves for eternity with God, or, because they had rejected God and died in the state of mortal sin, they have tragically gone to hell, if that would be the case.
It is a duty of ours not only like Tobit to bury the dead, but to pray for the dead, to remember those who have gone before us. It is not enough for us as Christian people to remember the dead only once a year. It is a wonderful thing for the country to take a day every year for this purpose, but our task is to make sure we remember our beloved dead every day of the year. If we think about what happens at Mass every day, at every single Mass there are prayers for the dead. It is right in the Eucharistic Prayer. As we offer the sacrifice of Jesus, in the midst of that we are praying for those who have died.
We want all people to be able to see God face to face, to live with Him for eternity. If you think about a person whom you might consider in this life to be your worst enemy, all you have to ask yourself is, “Would I wish for that person really to go to hell?” We should wish no one to be in that position for eternity. Christian charity requires that we pray for the conversion of sinners. Christian charity requires also that we pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died so that we will help them to be able to get to heaven. Those who are in Purgatory can do absolutely nothing more for themselves than what they are already doing. They are part of the communion of saints. They are united with the saints in heaven, and they are united with us here on earth, if we are in the state of grace. But we can do acts of charity, of self-denial, to help them. And so it is days like this that even our secular society sets aside to honor those who have died that will help to serve for those of us who are Christian to remind us of our obligation in charity to pray for those who have died.
It is certainly a wonderful and charitable thing to go to the cemeteries, to care for the graves of those who have died, to prepare them with flowers, and to make sure that the graves are properly cared for, because, again, this is the final resting place on earth for these people, for people whom we loved. We do not want to forget them. Just because they have died in the body does not mean that they fail to be united with us. And because their bodies are the mortal remains that are part of their person, and those are bodies that will rise from the dead, we want to prepare for them and maintain for them a fitting place. While, of course, their bodies lie dead, they have no feeling, there is nothing, they are not going to be grateful in the body that we have done something for them; but their souls, if they are in the state of grace, are indeed grateful because their personality resides in the soul. So their soul remains very grateful because their person remains grateful. These are people who still love us and we need in turn to love them.
As we take time this day to remember those who have died, we need also to think forward to the day that each one of us will be called from this life. We need to look very seriously at our own lives and ask ourselves, for instance, “Are we being like Tobit in the first reading, performing works of charity, doing what is right and just even when other people think we are strange, even when they make fun of us for doing what is right?” The only one who matters is God. What does He think of what it is that we are doing? That is what our focus has to be. We must perform acts of charity, we must keep ourselves in the state of grace, and we must pray because this is not the place God has prepared for us for eternity. This is merely a place of testing and of purification. But where we choose to go for eternity is a decision we make in this life, and the way we make that decision is not a generic way of saying, “Oh yeah, I’d like to go to heaven.” Well, who wouldn’t? But it is a decision that is made in the practical order by remaining close to the sacraments, by praying, by living lives of charity in love of God and love of neighbor because the day will come for each of us when we will be the object of Memorial Day. We want to make sure that when those who remain behind after we have been taken from this life remember us, when they pray for us, that it will be fruitful, because we want to make sure that we remain united with them in the communion of saints. We want to make sure that we are going the right direction. So in this life we set our focus on God, so that in eternity we will be able to be with Him.
As we think about those who have gone before us, pray for them, not only today but every day. And then look into your own heart and ask yourself, “If God were to call me home today, would I be prepared? Would I be ready to join those who have gone before me? Have I lived my life for God? Or am I living a life that is contrary to the way that I should be living?” Pray for the dead, and ask the souls in heaven and those in Purgatory also to pray for you. In that way, the mutual charity which is ours in the Mystical Body of Christ will bear great fruit, we will help the souls in Purgatory to get to heaven, and they will help us to stay in the state of grace so that we can join them in the glory of God forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.