Hard to believe but next Tuesday is the feast of all saints and the month of November begins, a month of remembrance. The second of November is the feast of All Souls, and I would like us to reflect a little on this feast.
We were never intended by of creator to live out our lives in a vacuum, cut off from the benefits of human companionship and the encouragement, the support, the help that brings into our lives. The great truth that is underlined for us on the feast of all souls is that human growth simply does not stop with death. The call that God gives us to open ourselves to salvation, to cleanse ourselves of our closedness, does not end with death. On a certain level nothing really very important ends with death. Those who have died in the midst of their struggle to choose God’s way continue that struggle.
I have never much liked talking about souls in purgatory as it creates a barrier in a sense one step removed. There are people there – not angles, not pure spirits, – human beings really pretty much like they always were and, in one respect at least exactly as they always were. The people in purgatory are still social creatures, still dependent on other human beings for support, for encouragement, for help.
Praying for the dead, lighting a candle, having a mass said is really nothing so terribly different from praying for, and with, the living. It is wishing them well, giving them support, calling up the action of God’s grace in their lives, always, a mysterious thing for anyone, dead or alive.
So, our prayers for the dead must never be simply a sort of memorial, a sort of nostalgic brooding of what these people once were. That would be a disservice, really, and certainly isn’t going to make them feel any better. Rather, those prayers must always be an involvement in what these people are now, human beings growing into the company of the Father, human beings who need to hear from us, who need to know that we are with them. That we are learning from their example.
Use the image of a person who had a dear friend struggling with some personal challenge, something deeply involving a real personal choice, the sort of thing where you know you can’t go into the other person’s life with a crowbar and solve it for him/her. All you can really do is stand back and watch it happen, stand back prayerfully, supportively, encouragingly, always available, but still necessarily removed. It is, after all, the other person’s struggle.
And then imagine you know the person fairly well. You know they are made of good stuff; they have sense. They will struggle, certainly, but will work it out successfully.
So, while those who watch may feel for those who are struggling, they don’t fear for them. Their prayer is a confident thing. Impatient perhaps, frustrating perhaps, maybe even a little lonely sometimes. But never fearful. That is how we should pray for the dead. With a confident concern. We have, after all, helped each other through a lot of purgatory already, and we shall continue to do so, just as long as it takes.