Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Souls Day - homily

With all of the seriousness of the election, I thought it would be good to start off with a joke about politics which a friend of mine sent me. One day, a U.S. senator suddenly and tragically died. He went up to the heavenly gates and met St. Peter. St. Peter greeted him by saying, “welcome, Sir! We don’t see to many high ranking officials here, and we have some different rules for you. We need you to spend a day in Hell and a day in Heaven, and then choose where you’d like to spend all eternity”.

The senator said, “St. Peter, I already know that I want to be in Heaven forever.” St. Peter said, “Please, just follow our rules”. The senator agreed, and was taken to an elevator that went down, down, down to Hell. The doors opened, and the senator saw a beautiful golf course and clubhouse. All of his friends were there, dressed beautifully, eating caviar, drinking champagne, dancing, having a great time. The Devil was even friendly. After 24 hours of a great time, the senator got back in the elevator to go up to Heaven.

When the elevator doors opened to Heaven, he saw angels and saints, heard beautiful hymns, felt very much at peace. He spent 24 hours there, and then met up with St. Peter again. St. Peter said, “So, what is your choice?” The senator said, “You know, I never thought I would say this, but I’d rather be in Hell.” So, the elevator took him back down to Hell.

When the doors opened, Hell looked like a dump – there was garbage everywhere, his friends were all wearing rags and were miserable, and it smelled really bad. He walked over to the Devil who was smiling. He said, “I don’t understand. Yesterday, this was a gorgeous golf course with champagne and caviar. Today, it’s a dump!” The Devil put his arm around him and said, “Yesterday, we were campaigning. Today, you voted”.

Two additional points about the election. First, on the Maryland state ballot, there is “Question 2” which has to do with slot machines – using slots to raise revenue for the state. The Maryland Catholic Conference has issued a statement opposing Question 2. I thought it would be good if we all knew what the Conference’s statement was so that we can make an informed choice about this amendment. (To read the statement, please go to

The second point is a reminder for all those who approach the election through the lens of social justice, through the lens of this Gospel we just read (Mt 25) – outreach to the poor: to the sick, the hungry, the thirsty. It is a beautiful and admirable approach! The reminder is that innocent, unborn children are the poorest of the poor in our country; the bishops say that they are “the weakest in our midst”. Mother Teresa who lived Matthew 25 and social justice her whole life said, “abortion is the greatest poverty…it is the greatest destroyer of peace today”. It is my opinion that it is the greatest social injustice. The Holy Father reminded us in July that “concerns for… justice and peace… are of vital importance…but that “they cannot be understood apart from a profound reflection on the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death”. True social justice begins when life begins: at conception. It includes and starts with protecting innocent, unborn children.

Today’s feast is All Souls Day where we pray for those who have died – all the faithful departed. Many people think that everyone who dies goes to Purgatory; this isn’t true. All those who die in a state of Grace – in close friendship to Christ – go to Purgatry which is on the way to Heaven. Jesus also reveals something in this Gospel (Mt 25) about Purgatory: it is nor eternal. He talks about at he end of time there will be only two states: Heaven and Hell. Purgatory, then, is temporary; it is temporal punishment. It is tough for those there, but they are filled with joy because they know they are going to Heaven.

When we think of loved ones who have died, we are filled with hope that the first reading (Wis 3) applies to them: they are the “souls of the just” who are in the hand of God and are at peace. We hear so many things from that reading which describe them: hope, trust, truth, faithful, and holy. We have great confidence that they are either on the way to the Kingdom or are already there; we believe that they are among the souls of the just…the souls of the saints.

Until they are canonized saints – until we know for sure that they are Heaven – we will pray for them. We will pray for them on All Souls Day, during the month of November, and all year long. The best way to pray for someone who has died is Mass. But, the Church also gives us a chance today to gain a plenary indulgence for someone who is in Purgatory. A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment; it sends the soul straight to Heaven. We can gain a plenary indulgence for someone who is Purgatory today by visiting a Church or oratory (chapel) and reciting an Our Father and the Creed. We have to satisfy the three conditions of a plenary indulgence, of course: 1) receive Holy Communion, 2) go to Confession, and 3) pray for the Holy Father (usually an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be). We have to do all three things within eight days before or after All Souls Day in order to gain the indulgence. I will be hearing Confessions at the end of all the Masses today.

Finally, one of the greatest teachings in our Church is the communion of saints. We believe that the saints in Heaven, the saints on Earth, and the saints in Purgatory unite, most especially in the Eucharist. When the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus is truly present on the altar. Where there is the Son, there is the Father and the Spirit, all the angels and saints. In a few minutes, then, this Church becomes like a chamber of Heaven. We won’t be able to see them, but our loved ones will be with us spiritually. This brings us great comfort. They are still with us. We believe that they are among the souls of the just and that they are in peace. But, we ask God to have mercy on them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.


At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that you write not all souls go to purgatory. When I have lost loved ones, I have had sometimes great, constant urgency to pray for their souls in purgatory. I once asked a priest how do I know when they are released to heaven? He said that the urgency to pray for them in purgatory would dissipate and I would feel a sense of peace. This is exactly how it has happened for each soul that I have prayed for.

My father died last year. I was blessed to be at his bedside holding his hand when he was taking his last breaths. He was a man of great faith, confessed his sins to near scrupolosity, received sacrament of the sick, and said good bye/expressed personal love to each and every family member.

A nurse called me into his room when she saw the signs that he was about to die. I felt an incredibly strong sense of the Holy Spirit present in the room. His eyes were closed and I asked him if he felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. He nodded. I asked him if he felt at peace and ready to to go to God, the Father. He nodded. I told him I loved him and it was okay to go.
He smiled at me and turned away from me. He opened his eyes and his gaze turned upward, he took his last breath. I sat with his body and will never forget the look in his eyes. It was a look of someone who had seen something so divine, a look of ectasy/complete joy. I will never forget it. I never felt called to pray for his soul in purgatory. It was simply the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

That joke is a long-time favorite among HR professionals, except when we tell it the punchline is "Yesterday we were recruiting."

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who decided that a person can free someone from purgatory with a plenary indulgence? What is the source of it? I have a hard time believing in it because it sets out a very mechanical list of things to do in order to accomplish something so profound as sending someone to heaven. It reads like a "to do" list that you might stick on your fridge. Isn't it a little antequated?

At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

Indulgences are acquired "through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the Saints" (quoting the 1968 Manual of Indulgences).

Nothing antiquated about that.

I'd say the to-do list impression comes from the fact that a plenary indulgence is the kind of request that will only be heard from someone who is in a state of grace and in close communion with Christ's Church (freedom from attachment to sin and reception of the sacraments ensure personal sanctity, and the prayer for the Pope signifies union with the Church).

Partial indulgences are granted, more or less straightforwardly, for all sorts of things. All you have to do is ask.

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, 1968 would seem antiquated to anyone under 30!


At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tom. Your comments about indulgences show me that there is more substance to it than the "to do" list would suggest. Free from all sin, including venial, and in close communion with Christ's Church? That's a tough standard for most of us.
Unrelated: Has anyone ever felt that they are actively resisting faith but at the same time are seeking it?

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:01 AM anon,

In terms of faith, I thank God that He seems to have built that characteristic into my DNA; yet, don't think there aren't areas that I seek yet sit on the periphery when it comes to their acceptance. There are. I do believe we each have a cross to bear - and - I also believe it changes in weight.


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