Friday, October 30, 2009

Saints and Souls

This weekend, November kicks off with one of the church's great "two-fer" moments -- All Saints' Day on Sunday, followed as ever by Monday's commemoration of the faithful departed, All Souls' Day.

To better reflect on both, here below you'll find English translations of the twin catecheses B16 gave on the days last year.

First, the Pope's reflection on Ognissanti -- All Saints...
Dear brothers and sisters!

With great joy, we celebrate today the feast of All Saints. Visiting a nursery garden, one remains taken aback at the variety of plants and flowers, and spontaneously begins to think of the Creator's fantasy that made the earth a marvelous garden. These same sentiments come to us when we consider the spectacle of holiness: the world appears to us as a "garden," where the Spirit of God has sustained with remarkable wonder a multitude of saints, male and female, from every age and social condition, of every tongue, people and culture. Each is different from the others, with the uniqueness of their own personality and their own spiritual charism. All, however, were marked by the "seal" of Jesus, the imprint of his love, witnessed upon the Cross. All now are at joy, in a feast without end as, like Jesus, they reached this goal across toil and trial, each one encountering their share of sacrifice to participate in the glory of the resurrection.
The solemnity of All Saints became recognized in the course of the first Christian millenium as a collective celebration of the martyrs. Already, in 609, Pope Boniface IV had consecrated the Pantheon in honor of the Virgin Mary and All the Martyrs. But this martyrdom could be interpreted in a wider sense, that of loving Christ without reserve, a love expressed in the total gift of oneself to God and one's brothers and sisters. This spiritual measure, to which all the baptized are called, is accomplished in following the way of the evangelical beatitudes, that the liturgy offers to us on today's solemnity. It's the same path traced by Jesus and that the saints pushed themselves to follow, always aware of their human limits. In their earthly existence, in fact, they were poor in spirit, pained by their sins, myths, starved of and thirsting for justice, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for righteousness' sake. And God himself gave them a share in his own happiness: previewed in this world and, in the hereafter, enjoyed in its fullness. They are now consoled, have inherited the earth, are sated, pardoned, see the God whose children they are. In a word: "theirs is the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3,10).

On this day let us revive in ourselves an attraction toward Heaven that calls us to carry on in our earthly pilgrimage. Let us lift in our hearts the desire to always unite ourselves to the family of the saints, of which we already have the grace to be a part. As a celebrated "spiritual" song says: "When the saints go marching in, oh how I'd want, Lord, to be in their number!" May this beautiful aspiration burn in all Christians and help them to surpass every difficulty, every fear, every tribulation! Let us place, dear friends, our hand in the maternal one of Mary, Queen of All Saints, and let ourselves be led by her toward our heavenly homeland, in the company of the blessed spirits "of every nation, people and language." And let us unite ourselves in prayer already recalling our dear departed ones who we'll commemorate tomorrow.
(The above photos are, of course, taken from John Nava's celebrated tapestries of the Communion of Saints which line the nave of LA's Cathedral of Our lady of the Angels.)

...and the meditation for All Souls:
Dear brothers and sisters!

Yesterday, on All Saints' Day, we dwelt upon "the heavenly city, Jerusalem, our mother" (Preface of All Saints). And today, our souls turn again to these last things as we commemorate all the faithful departed, those "who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and sleep in peace." It's very important for us Christians to live our relationship with the dead in the truth of faith, and to look at death and the afterlife in the light of Revelation. Already the Apostle Paul, writing to the first communities, exhorted the faithful to "not be downhearted, like the others who have no hope." "If in fact" he wrote, "we believe that Jesus died and rose, so also God, by means of Jesus, will gather up with him all those who have died" (1 Thes 4:13-14). It's necessary even today to spread the message of the reality of death and eternal life -- a reality particularly subject to superstitious and syncretic beliefs, for the Christian truth cannot risk itself to be mixed up with mythologies of various sorts.

In my encyclical on Christian hope, I myself investigated the mystery of eternal life. I asked: even for the men and women of today, the Christian faith is a hope that can transform and sustain their lives? Even more radically: the men and women of our time likewise desire eternal life? Or maybe their earthly existence has become their only horizon? In reality, as St Augustine already observed, everyone wants the "blessed life," that happiness. We don't know what it is or what it's like, but we feel ourselves attracted toward it. This is a universal hope, shared by people of all times and places. The expression "eternal life" gives a name to this insuppressible expectation: not a progression without end, but the immersion of oneself in the ocean of infinite love, where time, the beginning and end exist no more. A fullness of life and of joy: it's this for which we hope and await from our being with Christ.

Let us today renew our hope in eternal life, one really drawn in the death and resurrection of Christ. "I am risen and now I am always with you," the Lord tells us, and my hand sustains you. Wherever you might fall, you will fall in my hands and I will be present even at the gate of death. Where none can accompany you any longer and where you can bring nothing, there I await you to transform for you darkness into light. Christian hope is never something merely individual, it's always a hope for others. Our lives are deeply linked, one to another, and the good and bad each one does always impacts the rest. So the prayer of a pilgrim soul in the world can help another soul that continues purifying itself after death. And for this, today the church invites us to pray for our beloved dead and to spend time at their tombs in the cemeteries. Mary, star of hope, make stronger and more authentic our faith in eternal life and sustain our prayer of suffrage for our departed brothers.
As both All Saints and All Souls are observed as Vatican holidays -- and to catch up on some back-office work and a bit of rest -- expect a lull in posting 'til Tuesday... and more on that in a bit.

PHOTOS: Archdiocese of Los Angeles(1,2)/L'Osservatore Romano(3)