Note: The following homily was given to the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm at St. Teresa’s Motherhouse in Germantown, NY during All Souls Day Mass as delegates gathered to begin preparations for the 2020 Congregational Chapter.
My dear Sisters in Christ and Our Lady of Mount Carmel –
From really old traditions in the Church, changed and adapted from different cultures and customs, the Annual Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed comes down to us as All Souls Day. This is a day for prayer and remembrance, for memories and hopes and faith, and for intercessions and suffrages offered on behalf of our deceased relatives and friends, brothers and sisters in Carmel, and those whom we have known and or served. In your work with the Aged and Infirm, and as every priest might say, we have a daily familiarity with death especially in our ministry, and as we mature, we come to know death more and more in our family and community. Death is part of living, really. Death is part of the great Christian mystery to which we have pledged our lives in the following of Jesus Christ. Always, we proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ until He comes again in glory. The Church makes it very clear to us that there should be a crucifix near the altar lest we ever forget the truth, “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” And …”But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In His blood is our salvation. And so near the altar even if the image is of the Risen Christ, it must always show the five wounds on His body. God never forgets the cost of our salvation, but we can forget.
As a child, I used to think of this as a dark day, a sad day as we went to Church and the cemetery. I no longer think of All Souls Day in this fashion because even though my mind, maybe our minds and hearts can be filled with memories of this or that person, another part of us is filled with hope and peace. The Good Shepherd has and is continuing to care for his own, the sheep of the flock. Jesus declared that he had come not to do his own will, but the will of Him who sent him and, it is the will of Him who sent Our Lord, that none should be lost but all should be raised on the last day. This is incredibly good news: the announcement of the power of life, and eternal life, over death. This is the source of our hope which, as St. Paul says, does not disappoint. And, all of this comes about because of the incredible love that God has for each of us, each of His children. This brings peace. Yes, we are sorry about the death of those whom we have known and loved. It is only natural and Jesus himself wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. But we don’t grieve like the pagans who have no hope. We grieve with faith and hope.
It is important, the Church also reminds us, to pray for the dead. Many of the funerals we attend today have become “celebrations of life” or announcements that this or that person is already a saint in heaven. All Souls Day reminds that this is not the way to look at Christian passing. Our funeral rites and prayers are about hope, and victory – yes. They are about resurrection and completion – yes. But they are also realistic. None of us dies in perfection. All of us need the prayers and offerings of our brothers and sisters to walk us through until the gates of heaven are opened to us. You all have Mass offered for those who died – yes, because the power of the Eucharist helps to cleanse and prepare us for the beatific vision. Today is First Saturday, and there is a long tradition regarding Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the scapular coming to the aid of the poor souls. In your homes, you are so diligent to pray with the dying and invest them in the scapular, and to accompany their passage through death to eternal life with prayer. Our Catholic funeral customs and theology show our reverence for God, reverence for death, and deep faith in the promise of eternal life given us by Christ. Our biblically based theology teaches us that we are always sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness and even in death with the aid of the prayers of the faithful, and the mercy of God, purification and wholeness can come. These days, I am sad not so much for believers, but for those who have no faith, who live only for today, who do not consider the eternal weight of life, and what the true reality of existence is. For them too, we must pray.
May eternal rest come upon all those whom we lift up in prayer today. We pray for the souls in purgatory, and for those who have no one to pray for them as we are one with them in the body of the Church. We have come to know and believe in the love that God has for us, and for our beloved dead…and so, we pray with great confidence and peace today.
Father Mario Esposito, O.Carm.