The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day)
(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)
Mark Twain once said about the Bible, “Most people are bothered about the verses that they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” He meant that the word of God challenges us to assist others more and please ourselves less than we likely do. The consequences for not meeting those challenges, the Bible warns, are not at all reassuring.
And so we have All Souls Day to pray for the many people who had difficulty getting beyond pleasing themselves. They were not necessarily big sinners but people like most of us here, I am afraid, who could not pass up the opportunity to share a bit of gossip or to watch television rather than visit the lonely. Catholics have long placed these souls in Purgatory, a state not described in the Bible but logically deduced from squaring the prevalence of sin with belief in a merciful God.
We may have grown up thinking that Purgatory is punishment for venial sins. As far as one is prevented from enjoying what she comes to want more than anything else, there may be frustration to the point of pain involved in Purgatory. But the Eastern Church, what Pope John Paul II was fond of calling Christianity’s other lung, probably is closer to the mark when it sees Purgatory as a time of purification. In Purgatory we will work out our selfishness like a mother living in misery picks lice out of her children’s hair so that we might enter the presence of God without a blush of embarrassment. Our prayers today beseech God to expedite the process.