Sunday, November 01, 2015

Some Practical Implications of the ‘Communion of Saints’

(All Saints’ Day 2015: This homily was given on November 1, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12a.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints 2015]

We say we believe in it every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed.

But do we know what it means?

And, just as important, do we know the practical implications that it has for our lives?

I’m talking here about the “communion of saints”:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

I should mention here that the word “saints” in this context doesn’t only refer to canonized saints, but rather to all those who are united to Jesus Christ by the grace of Baptism.

So what, exactly, is the communion of saints?

We find the answer, not surprisingly, in the Catechism where we are told in paragraph 946 that (and here I quote) “the communion of saints is the Church.”

That, of course, is the “Readers’ Digest answer”—but it’s a good one to share in a homily (first of all, because it’s true; and secondly because it’s easy to remember!).

The communion of saints is the Church.

Which leads directly to the next question: And what is the Church?

The Church, we know from Sacred Scripture, is the Body of Christ and the People of God.  Now notice something.  Notice we don’t say that the Church is the “Bodies” of Christ (plural), even though the People of God are currently living in 3 different locations or “states”: some are already in heaven; some like you and me are here on this earth; and others are being purified at the present time in purgatory and are thus being made ready for heaven.

Jesus has ONE Body, not two or three.  And that means the Church is ONE BODY—one Body united in charity—even though it currently exists in 3 locations.

Our Catholic Faith teaches us that there is a spiritual bond of Christ-centered love that connects the Church here on earth (sometimes called “the Church militant”) to the Church in heaven (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) to the Church in purgatory (sometimes referred to as “the Church suffering”).

This truth about the Church is illustrated beautifully in today’s second reading from 1 John 3, where the apostle says:

·         “Beloved, see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are.”  [That’s a description of the Church militant—all of us.]
·         “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  [That’s the Church triumphant in heaven.]
·         “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.”  [The souls in purgatory are being made pure, so that their ultimate hope will be fulfilled.  Consequently this verse points us to the Church suffering.]

“Well, Fr. Ray, thank you very much for that theology lesson, but what does all this have to do with our everyday lives?”

Actually, quite a lot!  This very important teaching on the communion of saints has some very practical implications that we need to be aware of—and that we need to share with those who are unaware of them.

The members of the Church triumphant (whose feast day is today, the Solemnity of All Saints) have arrived at their eternal goal and need nothing from us or from anyone else.  But they have a lot to give!  They have a lot to give to the Church suffering (the souls in purgatory) and the Church militant (all of us).  For example, they give us their prayers (they intercede on our behalf); they give us inspiration (they are examples of faith for us to follow); and through the Church they give us some of their “merits” (that’s why we have indulgences).  Hebrews 12 tells us that as we go through this life we are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses”.  These are the saints in heaven (canonized and uncanonized) who love us, who want us to someday be where they already are—and who want to help us to get there!

And they will help us—if we ask them and strive to imitate them in our lives.

As for the Church suffering, they are prayed for by the Church triumphant in heaven, and they are helped by the Masses and prayers and offered-up penances of the Church militant here on earth.  And the good news is that we can also be helped by their prayers—although they cannot pray for themselves.

The point I really want to drive home in all this is that death—physical death—does not completely sever our bonds with other people.  The world says, “When you’re dead, you’re gone and that’s the end of it.  Nothing you do here can have any effect on those who have left this life.”

The Church says, “No, that’s wrong.  There’s a bond—an unbreakable bond—that exists between us and the souls in heaven and purgatory; and because of that bond (which we call the communion of saints) we can still affect one another and assist one another—even though we are living in different places.

Have you ever met someone who was extremely upset about a relative or friend who had recently died—a relative or friend with whom they were not on good terms?

People in that type of situation tend to be filled with regret and remorse:

·         “I never had the chance to tell him I was sorry.”
·         “I never was never able to tell her that I really loved her, that I really cared.”
·         “I never had the chance to tell him that I forgave him.”
·         “I never had the chance to ask for her forgiveness.”

Situations like this happen all the time—especially when the death of the person in question is sudden and unexpected.
The world says, “Well, too bad.  You blew it.  You can’t do anything about it now.  It’s too late.  They’re gone, and that’s the end of the story.  Maybe you should get some counseling to help you deal with your emotions.”

The Church says, “Yes, it’s terrible that your relationship with your friend was at such a low point when he died.  But fear not.  If he’s in heaven, he no longer has any animosity toward you or anyone else, since no sin can exist in God’s eternal kingdom.  If he’s in purgatory, on the other hand, you can demonstrate your love for him by praying for him, and having Masses said for him, and offering-up penances for him and for the repose of his soul.  And he will be grateful—eternally grateful—for all these acts of love, since they will help him pass more quickly through purgatory’s purifying fire.  Physical death has severed some of the bonds you had with your friend, but not all of them.  Some of the most important bonds remain—and they always will.”

I indicated at the beginning of my homily that our belief in the communion of saints has some very practical implications.  Well, this is certainly one of the most important of those implications.  The truth is that there are many men and women walking around right now who are depressed and burdened because of what they failed to do for people who are now dead.  And they think that at this point they’re completely cut off from these people and can do nothing to demonstrate their love and make amends.

But they can!  They can show their love; they can make amends!  And the reason that they can do these things is because the communion of saints is more than just a nice theological theory.

It also happens to be the truth.  It also happens to be reality.

And for that, we should all thank God!