Wednesday November 2, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of All Souls
Following is the Homily from the First Mass of the Day
Reading I (Wisdom 3:1-9) Reading II (Romans 6:3-9)
Gospel (St. John 6:37-40)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans that when we were baptized we were baptized into the death and the resurrection of Christ, and as such we became members of the Person of Jesus Christ who share in His life; and if we share in His life and we share in His person then we also share in the inheritance which is His, and that inheritance is nothing less than God Himself–it is eternal life in heaven.
But what we are celebrating today are the souls who have gone before us, just souls, as we hear in the first reading, yet souls who are not yet in the Beatific Vision. They are not yet in that face-to-face vision with God. We call them, oftentimes, the “Poor Souls” but we need to remember that they are holy souls. These are people who died in the state of grace. They are people who all will go to heaven. As Saint Paul said, a man who has died is absolved from sin. Once you die, you can sin no longer. So if you die in the state of grace but you are not yet perfect then there is a purification that must take place. That is what the word “Purgatory” means; it comes from the same root as our word “purge;” it is to be purged of everything that is not of God. That is why in this life we would willfully and even joyfully accept our share in the Cross, to suffer with Christ so as to live with Him, as Saint Paul says. If we are willing to do that, we become purified here and then we do not have to do it there. If we are purified here, there is merit involved, which means that we are able to love God more and we gain a higher place in heaven for eternity. In Purgatory, all it is is being purified. There is no merit, there is no growth in grace, there is no growth in love. The amount that you will love for all eternity is fixed at the moment you die. And so these holy souls cannot love God any more than they already do.
We can. We can grow in holiness if we are willing to do so. We can love God more so that when we die we will be able to love Him more. It is not a matter of trying to compete with anybody to see if we can get a higher place in heaven than they, but rather it is a matter of love, that we want to love God as much as we possibly can because He deserves to be loved as much as we can possibly love Him. That is what we want to be about. I find it very frustrating when people want to see if they can love God as little as they possibly can and still get into heaven. For those who are married, just look at your spouse and say, “On the day I got married, did I want to love this person as little as I possibly could for the rest of my life? just enough to make sure I don’t get kicked out of the house? But I certainly don’t want to push it any more and see if I can love this person more.” It is a pretty selfish attitude, isn’t it? But that is what we do to God. “Oh, if I can just get the last rung in Purgatory. If I can just get the lowest place in heaven.” If you do, praise God! But do not aim for it. Why would you want to see if you can love God as little as you possibly can for the rest of eternity? It does not make sense to me.
God is love. He deserves to be loved. The souls whom we honor today are all holy souls who love God, but they were not made perfect in this life. So they are poor souls in the sense that they are suffering. The greatest suffering of all is to know that if they would have accepted a greater share of the Cross in this life they would be looking at God face-to-face right now. But they are not. They cannot do anything to help themselves, but we can help them. They are members of the Communion of Saints, so they are praying for us. We can pray for them, and we must. It is a matter of charity on our part to make sure that we do not forget those who have gone before us.
It is one of the great tragedies, if you go to a funeral these days, that they canonize the person on the spot. “Oh, they’re already in heaven.” Well, that is just rank Protestantism. “They believed in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, therefore, they’re already in heaven.” That is nonsense. It does not say that in Scripture. The Church has never taught it. Christian people never believed that until more recently. And the Church still does not believe it. We need to make sure that we pray for those who have gone before us. Hopefully they are in heaven, but we do not know that. If they are, your prayers are not wasted anyway; God will give them to somebody else who needs them.
So continue to pray for those who have gone before us. Remember that they are praying for us. They are holy souls. They are saints, not yet in the Beatific Vision but soon to be there. We need simply to keep them in our prayers so that we can help them get there sooner. Remember that they will not forget that you helped them; they will pray for you. Do not do it selfishly just to see if you can get somebody to pray for you, but rather make sure that you do it out of charity, that you are praying for them out of love to get them to heaven, so they can love God with no imperfection, so they can see Him face-to-face and enter into eternal life. That is what we want for these holy souls. In turn, they, in charity for us and in gratitude for what we have done, will pray for us so that we do not have to endure what they are now enduring (or at least that we will not have to endure it for as long as we would have), so that we can be purified in this life, so that we can love God more perfectly. And that greater perfection of love translates out of this life and into the next where we will be able to love God even more for all eternity.
Following is the Homily from the Second Mass of the Day
Reading I (Job 19:1, 23-27a) Reading II (Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39) Gospel (St. John 17:24-26)
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that they know Him. Jesus knows the Father, and these disciples of His know that the Father had sent Jesus. This is precisely what the souls in Purgatory are fully aware of: that they are saved only through Jesus Christ and that they are completely dependent upon the grace of God. These, remember again, are holy souls. They are members of the Communion of Saints. They are praying to be able to get to heaven. And Our Lord desires, as He says, that they would be with Him so that where He is they also may be. They understand, as Job says, that their Vindicator lives and that they will see Him face-to-face and even one day in the resurrection they will see Him in the body because their bodies will be reunited with their souls in the resurrection of the dead. At that point, they will be in the fullness of life in heaven, so in their own bodies they will see God. This is a guarantee, and a beautiful guarantee that we know these souls will go to heaven and they will one day look at God face-to-face.
There are people who in our day want to be able to suggest that the Church no longer believes in Purgatory. Purgatory is an infallible teaching of the Church. It is not something that can change, even if somebody would want it to. It is not a point which can be denied or even ignored, any more than the Resurrection of Jesus or the Assumption of Our Lady can be ignored. Those also are infallible teachings. Scripture is very clear with regard to Purgatory. It never uses the word, but it does not need to; the concept is certainly there. You can see it in 2 Maccabees, but, of course, those who are not Catholic would deny that because they have removed 2 Maccabees from their Bible. But it is in Colossians where Saint Paul tells us that even after this life there will be a purification as if in fire. Jesus speaks about it when He talks about how you will be handed over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the jailer, and you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. There is no release from hell; that is eternal. So the only place where you are going to be paying off your debt, and the only place where you can possibly be released from is Purgatory. No one is going to be released from heaven because they would not want to be. No one will be released from hell because they cannot be. But all of those who are in Purgatory will be released after they have dealt with the purification they need to undergo. So it will happen. But as for the teaching regarding Purgatory, as we see, Scripture is very clear, the Church is very clear, and we need to be very clear. It is an infallible teaching of the Church. It is part of the deposit of faith. It cannot be denied or rejected in any way.
If we are going to truly be Catholic, we need to embrace the fullness of the faith, and Purgatory is part of it. Thanks be to God it is because the Book of Revelation tells us that nothing imperfect or impure can enter into heaven. Shall we take a poll and ask ourselves how many people here think they are perfect and ready to go straight to heaven? Or even if today, of course, you are not going to die, do you think you will be perfect by the time you get there? If it was required that we be perfect at the moment of death to enter into heaven, heaven would be very sparsely populated and hell would be bursting at the seams. So God in His mercy has given us a place where we can be purified even after we have died, so that we can go to heaven, so that we can be made perfect.
Understand, this is part of God’s mercy. When a soul dies and stands before Jesus and they look at His absolute perfection and love, if they themselves are not made perfect they are the ones who will say, “I cannot enter in here yet. I cannot stand to look upon the absolute holiness and perfection because I am not able.” Until we are made perfect, we cannot look upon perfection. Therefore, they themselves willfully choose to go into Purgatory in order to be perfected because, having once been able to have even a glimpse of the perfect love of Jesus, what they want is to be able to love Him perfectly and they know with the imperfections on their soul that they cannot. So this is purely part of God’s mercy, not a punishment, not anger, not hatred, not being mean or anything like that. It is pure mercy so that more souls will be able to go to heaven, that more souls will be able to love God perfectly and receive the love that He wills to give to them. That is what He created us for and that is what He wants for us. He is not trying to devise ways of keeping us out of heaven. Instead, what He has done is to find a way to make sure that the most souls possible would be able to get to heaven.
We can do our Purgatory here or we can do it there. As I mentioned before, here we merit, we grow in love, we grow in grace; there you do not. Either way, we have to be purified before we can get to heaven. So we pray for the souls who are in Purgatory, but we need to choose to do our Purgatory now so that we will not have to do it later, and that we will be able to see God face-to-face much sooner and be able to love Him more perfectly.
Following is the Homily from the Third Mass of the Day
Reading I (Lamentations 3:17-26) Reading II (1 John 3:1-2)
Gospel (St. John 12:23-28)
In the reading we heard from the Book of Lamentations, we hear that this is the reason for hope: that our Redeemer lives and we shall see Him face-to-face. That is the greatest reason for anything we do. So when Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading that He is troubled now but He asks, What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? He says, No, this is the reason I came. Father, glorify Your Name. That, again, is what each one of us needs to be about. When we look at the struggles and the difficulties and the sufferings of this life (or those in Purgatory, for that matter), we do not want them. Yet we can look at it and say, “There is a reason why I will accept them. There is a reason for hope, and it’s not me–it’s Him–that I will be able one day to see Him, that I know He lives and absolutely everything that happens in my life is part of His providence.” Like Jesus in the Garden, we would all like to be able to say, “Lord, if this cup could pass me by,” yet we need to remember the second half: Not my will be done, but Yours.
Remember that if we are willing to suffer with Christ then we are going to be glorified with Him. Also remember that if we are not completely perfected in this life, we are not abandoned in the next. If we go to Purgatory, our guardian angel is with us all the time that we are in Purgatory and all the way into eternity. If, of course, we abandon Christ, our guardian angel will drop us off at the gates of hell. But if we are faithful and if we die in the state of grace, God will not abandon us and our angel will not abandon us. We are going to have the mercy of God extended to us. But if we are willing to die to ourselves, we will be able to produce great fruit. As Jesus told us in the Gospel: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it just remains a single grain. If we get all caught up in ourselves, that is as far as we go. If we get caught up in Christ then we are going to be able to produce abundantly. That is what Jesus is looking for. He is looking for souls who love Him, and who love Him enough to be willing to share in His suffering. Are we willing to do that? It is worth every bit of it when we stop to think of what the reward is: to be able to see God face-to-face and be able to love Him for eternity.
I should also point out, with regard to the Masses that we have today, that the Church does allow three Masses for each priest on All Souls’ Day. The first Mass can be said for any intention that the priest wills. That is the one that was published in the bulletin. The second Mass must be prayed for the souls in Purgatory. The third Mass is prayed for the intention of the Holy Father. The intention traditionally was for all of the Masses that were stolen when Henry VIII had all of the churches and monasteries of England sacked and stole all of the Mass intentions and stipends that were there. All of those Masses need to be said. People had asked for them to be said, and the Church realizes the obligation in justice to make sure that they are said. That is what the third Mass is for, to be able to make up for all of those Masses that the paperwork had been destroyed and we do not know who they were supposed to be for. Have they all been said over the years? Perhaps. If so, then it is for the Holy Father’s intentions, whatever those may be. But if they have not yet been completed then that is what the Mass is offered for. So it is not just a multiplication of Masses for the fun of multiplying Masses, but rather it is with a very specific intention, done, once again, out of pure charity; charity, first, for the souls in Purgatory; charity also for those who have asked that Masses be said for their loved ones and yet, because of the situation of the criminal act that took place, those Masses have not been said. That is what the Church desires is that out of charity and out of justice everything will be made right.
As we continue on now with the Mass, remember in a special way all of those who have gone before us, all of those who are in Purgatory, right now so intensely grateful that we are here praying for them. Always remember that they are praying for us. And keep in mind always the union that we have with them, that souls who are all in the state of grace are united in the bonds of the love of God. The souls in Purgatory, the souls in heaven, and all of us (provided we are in the state of grace), are all united in that Communion of Saints. We want them to be able to get to heaven as soon as possible, and they want us to get to heaven as soon as possible. So there is the charity of the Mystical Body, where each member prays for one another, each member helps one another, and in that way each member glories in the good of one another.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.