The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)
John 6:38: “I have come down from heaven….” Romans: 6:3-9: “baptized into his death….”
I wonder how many people think of Heaven – and Hell. If asked about God, well sure, most people I think would say – yes, there is a God who created and sustains the world, and who will lead us to heaven after our lives on earth. That sort of all just happens automatically. Meanwhile, in actual practice, at least here on the San Francisco Peninsula, well, it looks like heaven is already an attainable reality, judging from the number of European SUVs on the road, and the way those chariots are driven on the freeways. At least everyone is racing somewhere, and each one will be first to get there. Heaven is just as the ads say it is….on earth.
Ah, but it is not that at all. No. Or else why would Jesus have come from the place called heaven – and enter into our world to suffer every imaginable injustice, indignity, poverty, exclusion, and finally torture and death? It didn’t get better and better for Him as he went along: it got worse and worse, until He died. This was, as Socrates would say, the fate of the just man in this world. Jesus’ fate reveals what happens to heaven when it comes to earth: not a pretty picture, in the short run. His life and death reveal the tremendous price at which salvation from the fallen world’s natural downward slope toward hell was bought. Yes, His Resurrection opens the gates of Heaven for us: but at what a price!
It is the Catholic belief that we are saved by grace, a free gift to be sure. But the gift means for us to be grafted onto the life and death of Jesus. And that is to say, if we are to follow Him into Heaven, we must take up our Cross and follow Him on earth. The way of the disciple is the way of penance, of a lifelong conversion to a beauty so great it is worth sacrificing everything we hold dear on earth. The perfection of God reveals the inadequacy of all else, and though He wants us to share His perfection, He has chosen to work with our freedom. And so this takes time, both in this world and in the next – purgatory – as we move ever more deeply into His purifying love, His light. So let us pray for the souls in purgatory, and ask for their prayers, as we, one joyful, hopeful family in the Lord, let our grip on the good things of this life loosen so that we can be open to receive the gift that is Heaven.