November 3, 2010 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 49, No. 28 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
This week we opened the month of November, as we do every year, with two complementary observances. The first is the Solemnity of All Saints. The second is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed or “All Souls’ Day.” Both speak to us important truths. Both offer moments for renewed hope and deep rejoicing. Both are essential to understanding the faith that is ours and both enjoin on us a deepening of the bond of love which makes us one with one another as the Church on earth and one in love with the Church “triumphant.”
What we celebrate on these two days, we carry through the whole month of November. That applies in a particular way to the commemoration of the faithful departed. The pious custom of praying for the dead is found clearly expressed in both the Jewish liturgy and in pre-Christian Jewish practice recorded in the Book of Maccabees. To God who is the giver of life we commend those we love that they might know the peace of eternal life. For us the promise of eternal life has a character and a substance that is revealed to us by the Resurrection of Jesus whose every word proclaimed the Kingdom of God as God’s gift. Jesus who is salvation offers us the Kingdom in fulfillment of God’s promise. We experience the Kingdom in many moments of our lives on earth but never more keenly or more profoundly than when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we always remember those who “have died and gone before us marked with the sign of peace.”
That we who are sinners — and all of us are — need the support of the prayers of the Church should be self evident. We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. We are thus made members of His Body, the Church. The bond of the Spirit that makes us into this one Body, the Church, is more real, more profound, more intimate than any other bond of life or love that we have, including our own personal families. To pray for the dead is then the pious responsibility of us all because we know that love can only be made perfect when it is purified of imperfections and transformed by the loving, cleansing power of divine love. By our prayer we help “open up” one another’s lives by seeking the transforming power of divine love to prepare those who have died to be embraced fully in the divine life that is union with God, a life that, because it is from God, can never end.
In the same Eucharist we celebrate as the Church on earth, we know we are “surrounded by a bright cloud of witnesses.” The early Church fathers have taught us that the Divine Liturgy, the Mass we celebrate as Christ’s Body on earth, is sustained and accompanied by the presence of Mary and the angels and the saints. When we proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord in the Eucharistic prayer, we consciously do so by joining our voices to theirs in the ancient chant, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the Highest.”
Most of us have been baptized with the name of a saint, one who has preceded us into heaven and is a witness of the triumph of grace in human living. First and foremost of course is the Mother of God, conceived without original sin so that she might be ready to give her free and love-filled response to the angel: “Be it done unto me according to your Word.” But God’s grace did not triumph only in this chosen vessel of His love. His grace triumphs time and again in the lives of human beings in every age and every place whenever they, or you, or I, freely open ourselves up and let the Lord’s love transform our hearts and direct our lives. How many are the saints we can count on! How much they reflect in their own very different lives on earth the richness and the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!
A brief look at the Church calendar just for this month of November gives us St. Martin de Porres, the son of a Spanish father and native mother of Peru who learned medicine, became a Dominican and used his gifts to heal the sick poor in Lima. St. Charles Borromeo, priest, bishop, cardinal who was a zealous pastor of his diocese of Milan, reformed the seminary and his tepid clergy, and preached and guided a whole renewal of the moral lives of his people. St. Leo the Great was the fifth-century pope and bishop of Rome whose preaching remains a model for all us priests and who led the Church of Rome, defending the city and its people against the Huns and defending the Church and her doctrine against enemies within. St Martin of Tours was the first non-martyr to be hailed as a saint for his love of the poor and his charity towards all. Legend speaks of his giving his cloak to a blind beggar who truly represented Christ to him and for him.
Four great women grace the pages of the lives of the saints this month. St. Margaret of Scotland in the eleventh century was married to the King of Scotland and bore eight children. She was a devoted wife and mother whose charity extended beyond her family to all near and far. St Gertrude of Thuringia in the thirteenth century was a brilliant philosopher and mystic whose life as a contemplative nun became known throughout the world, remembered just last month by Pope Benedict in one of his weekly audiences. St. Rose Duchesne was an active religious whose apostolic commitment brought her to St. Louis where she taught young women. As a Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus she remains one of the great gifts of sanctity for the Church in our country. Finally on November 22 the Church of Rome and the Church universal remembers a beautiful young Roman, Saint Cecilia, whose story, “The Passion of Saint Cecilia,” tells of a perfect example of Christian womanhood who embraced a life of virginity and suffered martyrdom for Christ in ancient Rome.
Every month of the year tells us so many stories of heroic Christian life, of virtue and courage, of holiness and sanctity in every circumstance and every walk of life. Throughout these celebrations of the saints the Church links them and us with many opportunities to honor Mary, the Mother of God, in her various titles. They are all stories of saints who acknowledged their need of God. In fact every saint recognized in life the reality of sin and the need for God’s grace. They became saints because they began just like you and me. May we end by being just like them as we pray for one another in this life and ask God to bring to perfection those holy souls in purgatory who await the moment of joining the saints in glory.