Friday, November 02, 2018

The Communion of Saints: We’re All Connected!

(All Souls’ Day 2018: This homily was given on November 2, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  It was given at a Mass for those who have lost loved ones during the past year.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Souls 2018]

The popularity of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is pretty easy to explain: People want to stay connected.  They want to stay in touch with family and friends—with the people they love.

And that’s the big problem with death (at least it’s the big problem with death when you look at it strictly from a human perspective).  Death destroys the connection between us and those we love.  Our ability to communicate with them, and influence them, and interact with them is taken away, sometimes suddenly.

And it hurts.

All of you have known this experience during the past year—and probably many times before that.

But notice what I said.  I said this is the case when we look at death from a strictly human perspective.

However, we’re not supposed to look at anything in this life from a strictly human perspective, and that includes death.

Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.  He suffered, died and rose again from the dead, and that has changed EVERYTHING!  Everything—including our relationships with those who have gone before us in faith.

As Catholics, we say we believe in the “communion of saints”.  (We say that in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”)  The Catechism tells us that the communion of saints is “the Church”—which means the whole Church, the entire People of God: some of whom are not here on this earth at the present time.  Some of God’s people are already in heaven with the Lord, others are being made ready for heaven by passing through the purifying fires of purgatory, and the rest are here with us. 

So the whole Church exists in 3 different “states” or conditions: there’s what’s called “the Church triumphant” (that refers to those in heaven); there’s “the Church suffering” (that refers to those in purgatory); and there’s “the Church militant” (that’s us).

And we’re all connected!  That’s the good news!  Spiritually speaking, nothing—not even physical death—completely severs the bond between those who are in Christ.  The Catechism puts it this way in paragraph 955: “So it is that the union of the wayfarers [that’s us here on earth] with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods.”

This is why we ask the saints in heaven to pray for us.  We believe that their prayers before the throne of God can bring us graces here on earth.  And they can!  They can because we’re still connected to them in the spiritual realm. 

We also believe that our prayers and sacrifices can directly benefit the souls in purgatory—helping them to be purified and thus get to heaven more quickly!  This is why we have Masses said for the dead: it’s to help our deceased brothers and sisters who are currently in purgatory!  Remember, those who are in heaven don’t need our prayers because they’re already in the kingdom, and those in hell can’t be helped by our prayers because hell is eternal.

The only ones that we in the Church militant can help are those in the Church suffering—and vice versa.  The souls in purgatory, according to many of the canonized saints, can also pray for us; they just cannot pray for themselves.  They need us to do that for them.

And if we do pray and do penance for the holy souls, they will know it!  They will be aware of the fact that we are helping them—which can also be a great help for us, especially if our relationship with a certain deceased relative or friend was not all that it should have been.

You see, if you’re a Christian it’s never too late to make amends; it’s never too late to demonstrate your love for another person.  You know, every once in a while someone will say something to this effect: “I never told my dad I loved him before he died,” or “I never asked my mom for forgiveness for what I did.”  They say these things as if they’re totally cut off from their deceased loved ones.

But that’s not true!  As I’ve hopefully made clear, if their loved ones are in heaven or purgatory, they are not totally cut off from them.  If their loved ones are already in heaven they’re perfectly happy and have no animosity toward anyone; and if they’re in purgatory they will be blessed through the prayers and penances that are offered up for them, and they will be incredibly grateful to the people who are offering those prayers and making those sacrifices.  And they will no doubt pray for those persons while they’re still in purgatory and later on when they finally get to heaven.

So it’s never too late to touch other members of God’s family and of our individual families, even if they’ve gone home to the Lord.

And in a similar way, as I indicated earlier, they can help to bring God’s blessings to us by their prayers. 

Let me give you an example of this from my own personal experience.  As some of you know, my mom died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 60.  In the years before her death my mom had two great loves: the priesthood and young people.  She served a number of good priests for many years as the secretary at the parish I grew up in in Barrington; she prayed and offered her sufferings for priests; and she did a lot of work with young people, especially on youth retreats at the local CYO center. 

I had been in Westerly a little more than two years when mom died, and those two years were pretty normal.  Nothing really extraordinary happened in my priestly ministry.  But after my mother died some truly incredible things began to occur here.  Youth ministry exploded.  Young people started coming to our youth group from all over the place, and a number of them discerned a call to the priesthood and/or religious life.

Now perhaps that’s all a coincidence.  I’m willing to admit that possibility.

But I’ve never thought so.  I’ve always had the sense that Dolores Suriani has had something to do with all the good things that have happened here, spiritually, in the past quarter century.

I can’t prove it, but I believe it—because I believe in the communion of saints.

So as we pray for our deceased loved ones tonight, we should also ask them to pray for us, that we will be faithful to the Lord during our remaining time on this earth, and someday join them in the Church triumphant, the kingdom of heaven, where all of God’s people will get together—and stay together—forever.