From the Bishop - November 2021
The leaves have changed, and the light is falling. Fall is upon us. Soon, we will be preparing for winter. November is that quiet time of little light when the Church asks us to think about the end of life, the reality of death.
This year, the thought is even more profound as we still find ourselves in the midst of our pandemic. This past September, we reached a sobering milestone: over 1,000 Maine people have died of COVID-19. Among them, we count friends, family members, and perhaps even someone with whom we shared a smile during Mass.
For us, as Catholics, the thought of death, though not something we seek, is part of life. Faith gives us a perspective on death. We believe in the innate dignity of the human person, soul and body. Our faith tells us that in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we are promised eternal life. In that spirit, each year, as we begin November, we commemorate All Souls’ Day on the 2nd of the month, praying in a special way for all our beloved dead, a spiritual work of mercy which continues through the month.
This special commemoration of the dead encourages prayer for the souls of those who have died and are still in purgatory being prepared for the eternal peace of heaven. Our Christian hope is never just for ourselves, something merely individual; it is also a hope for others. We believe that we remain connected with members of the Church after death and that we can help those souls in purgatory through our prayers.
But All Souls’ Day also recalls the way in which we are most connected with those who have passed away. That is, of course, the Eucharist, a source of light in darkness. When we gather at Mass for the Eucharist, we are united with the whole Church, not only the living but the dead as well. We join our humanity to the offering of the Risen Christ and celebrate that Jesus is as present today as He was in the upper room with His disciples, on the cross, and risen in glory at the right hand of God in heaven. All of us are alive in Jesus and in the promise of finding our way into the eternal peace which Jesus won for each of us.
The Eucharist, then, connects us with our departed loved ones and provides a moment to remember their effect on our lives, their kindness, and their love. When we do this remembering at Mass and in the very presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, we are joined with those whom we mourn in the Lord and can commend them to God’s merciful care. We continue to love them in prayer, which arises out of our own trust in the promise of Jesus that he would be faithful to those whom the Father had entrusted to Him. The greatest prayer we can offer for the departed is at Mass when we join our own personal prayers to Christ’s saving sacrifice. Our faith sees eternal life as a continuation of our personal relationship with the God who created us out of love. Jesus assures us in the Gospel that His mission is to gather all those who believe in Him to eternal life.
Jesus came among us to reveal God’s love for us. In that love of God that we continue to share with our departed loved ones, we find our hope. God’s love is eternal as God is eternal. And in that love, we find life and life eternal. We find our belief that, in God’s love, death is not the end of life.
Each time, in fact, we gather for Mass we are in communion with God, and in His love, we are in communion with all God’s people. We call this “the communion of saints.” In God, we can help, with our prayers and our good works, those who have died. And they, in turn, can bring our intentions and needs before God. This gives us a reason to hope, even amid our feelings of loss.
So, as winter approaches and the pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, let us find inspiration in the hope of eternal life for our dear departed and for ourselves. Jesus offered up His life on the cross for all of us. If we believe in Him, His power, and His love, we will rise, and our loved ones will rise. This is our hope, and our hope will never disappoint because our hope is in Jesus who has conquered sin and destroyed death.
What we believe is summarized well in this invitation to prayer from the funeral rites: “My brothers and sisters, we believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death. Confident that God always remembers the good we have done and forgives our sins, let us pray, asking God to gather all our deceased loved ones to himself.”
We pray, then, that all our departed loved ones might rest in eternal peace.