Communion of saints and our dearly departed
In calling the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy a year ago, Pope Francis emphasized that “The Church lives within the communion of the saints.” The Holy Father pointed out that: “In the Eucharist, this communion, which is a gift from God, becomes a spiritual union binding us to the saints and blessed ones whose number is beyond counting.” Today, All Saints’ Day, the Catholic Church reminds us once again that the communion of saints begins here on earth and includes all the baptized, both living and dead. Tomorrow, All Souls’ Day, we are also united with our loved ones who have departed from this earth.
Pope Francis also reminds us that two realities are meant by this expression “communion of saints: communion ‘in holy things’ and among holy persons.’’ The latter meaning should console all believers, “since it reminds us that we are not alone but that there is a communion of life among all those who belong to Christ,” “a communion that is born of faith.”
According to the Pope, the Catholic Church, “is communion with God, intimacy with God, a communion of love with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which extends to brotherly communion.” He describes this relationship between Jesus and our Father as “the ‘matrix’ of the bond between us Christians: if we are intimately part of this ‘matrix,’ this fiery furnace of love, then we can truly become of one single heart and one single soul among us. For God’s love burns away our selfishness, our prejudices, our interior and exterior divisions. The love of God even burns away our sins.”
Pope Francis then points out how the communion of saints “goes beyond earthly life, beyond death and endures for ever”; “it is a spiritual communion born in Baptism and not broken by death, but, thanks to the Risen Christ, is destined to find its fullness in eternal life.”
As for our loved ones who have gone ahead of us, the Holy Father reminds us of the “deep and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world—us—and those who have crossed the threshold of death and entered eternity.” Thus the Church taught us this eternal truth: “All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great Family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in intercessory prayer.”
Christians are called to be joyful, to be filled with the joy of having fellow believers walking with us in this journey, sustained by the help of those who are taking the same path toward heaven; and also by the help of those of our loved ones who are in heaven and are praying to Jesus for us. As Father Jeffrey F. Kirby wrote a few days ago in the Crux website: “The baptized are brought together and held in communion as one body and are then sent out to be a salt of goodness, light, and a leaven for unity within the entire human family.” Fr. Kirby also pointed out that the communion of saints does not end with the living “holy ones” on earth; “It is not suspended by death, but empowered by it as death nurtures hope and points to heaven.” Hence, the communion of saints also includes our dearly departed, “who have passed from this life into the next” and “who are still in a time of purgation being prepared for eternity, and those who have received their reward in paradise.”
Saint Bernard points out that the saints do not need to be honored or praised. Our devotion to them and the celebration of their feast days, including today’s commemoration, does not add “the slightest thing to what is theirs.” But if we do venerate their memory, its because such celebrations help us immensely. According to Saint Bernard: “Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints... When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory.”
Going now to the celebration tomorrow of All Souls’ Day, Saint Ambrose exhorts us: “Let us die with Christ, to live with Christ.”
From this perspective, death is gain and life is loss. The good bishop quotes Saint Paul: “For me life is Christ, and death a gain.” Bearing this in mind. we are called to be familiar with death, yes to even desire for death. Death is not a cause for mourning, but in fact is the root of our salvation.
According to Saint Ambrose: “Death is not something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity, nor did he seek to escape it.
Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.”
In these days when we celebrate the saints and our dearly departed, Saint Paul’s words in his first letter to the Corinthians are most appropriate:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
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