Sunday November 2nd, 2014

Today is All Souls Day and we pray for the souls of the faithful departed. What is a soul? It is that spiritual part of our being that continues to exist after we die. We can control our soul now while it is united to the body. We make the decision to fill it with good or evil. When we die, we no longer have control of our soul. So if we fill it with good it is like helium in a balloon. It is ready to float up to heaven. If we fill it with evil then it is like a heavy weight that plunges us down into the darkness.

That is why God wants to fill our souls with his love. God is perfect love who sent his Son to the world so as Jesus said “that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” Most believe in him but imperfectly. They follow him sometimes and sometimes not. For humans it is easier to love ourselves or other human beings or others things like money, pleasure, and power more than God. These weigh down our soul. Jesus invites us to fill our souls with good: with love, with his saving grace that comes through the sacraments. Grace is the oxygen of the soul that allows it to breath with divine life. We need this grace to go to Heaven. Grace makes our souls healthy and full of life.

The saints had healthy souls. The 10 Commandments help us because they are like an X-ray for the soul to reveal the sickness, the disease, the injuries from sin. They need healed. The healing comes from the Divine Physician in Confession. If we have venial sins, we can confess them outside of the confessional. This is like having a common cold which is self-managed. You don’t have to visit the doctor. But if there is a mortal sin, you have to see the priest in confession to have that healed. This is like having a broken arm. You have to go to the hospital and see the doctor. No one likes going to the doctor but we lose all fear when there is a serious illness, injury or danger of death. So it is with Confession. As the doctor gives medicine to help us get well, the priest gives a penance to help heal our soul so that we may love more perfectly.

One day our body will die. When we die, if we have allowed Jesus to perfectly heal our soul and fill it with the grace of his love, then we go straight to Heaven. If we did not confess all our sins or if we did not take all our medicine that our spiritual doctor gave us, do our penance, then God puts us in a waiting room after we die where we can be healed of all the illness in our soul, all the attachment to sin. This is what purgatory is. It is an act of God’s loving mercy. Most Christians that die probably go to purgatory. And that is why we as Catholics have the tradition for praying for the dead. In the Bible, the Jews prayed for the dead. The early Christians prayed for the dead. Does this mean we deny the Resurrection of the Dead by doing this? No. Jesus makes it possible for us to go straight to Heaven after we die, and yesterday we celebrated All Saints Day to celebrate all those who have gone straight to Heaven. But if we are not completely faithful to Jesus then we need to be purified. That is why today we pray for the souls of the faithful departed to help them go to heaven.

So when someone dies we should pray for their soul. The greatest thing that we can do for the dead is to have a Mass celebrated for them. That is why we have funerals. It is common to hear these days that funerals for deceased are “a celebration of their life.” Well, it is a time to have good memories. Certainly, good memories console us. But a funeral Mass is much more. The funeral Mass gives the grace from Jesus to help the soul go home to God. We hope that they go straight to Heaven but we cannot know for sure because only God knows. So we pray. We can pray novenas and offer sacrifices for the dead to make up for the penances that they did not complete on earth. This helps them to have less time in purgatory. When my mom died I hoped she went straight to Heaven. My mom was a great woman but I knew that sometimes she wasn’t so perfect. That’s why I prayed and offered sacrifices for her and continue to do so. I do believe she is in Heaven now but I still offer prayers for her. If we offer sacrifices for souls that already are in Heaven, God takes those sacrifices and gives them to others souls in need. So someone is benefiting.

We should also bury the dead. It is very common these days to cremate the remains of the dead. That’s o.k. as long as the remains are treated with respect. The Church teaches that we should bury them just like we would bury a casket. We wouldn’t keep a casket in our homes. Neither should we keep boxes or urns with the remains of loved ones. Why? Because burial is a corporal work of mercy – it is an act of giving them completely back to God. We heard the first reading say “The souls of the just are in the hands of God.” If we hold on to them with our hands, Saint Padre Pio says the soul gets confused. It wants to hang around here on earth. So it is an act of love to bury the dead. To give them a resting place. If we don’t, how can they rest in the arms of Jesus?

It is good to mark the place of burial with a tomb with Christian symbols. It is good to visit the tombs of our beloved dead or visit cemeteries to pray for the dead. Today if we make a visit we can gain a plenary indulgence – this removes all temporal punishment/all time off of purgatory when also we go to confession and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father. We can keep this indulgence for ourselves or offer it for a deceased soul.

So it is good to respect and do favors for the dead in hope that they are living with God. All cultures have always had some form of respect for the dead, even pagan cultures. In Mexico, there is the Day of the Dead when the Indians remembered their dead. There is a cartoon movie called “The Book of Life” that makes fun of this cultural belief. But it is evident that all people want to continue to have life after death. Even people who don’t know God recognize that they have a soul and want to live forever. Personally, when I die I don’t want to come back to earth and eat my favorite food, especially if I’m eating at the Banquet of the Lamb in Heaven. But we can still have an altar for the dead as long as we use it with Christian faith to pray for their souls.Because now with the Revelation that Jesus Christ has given us we know the truth of what happens after death.

We celebrate the Resurrection of the Dead for those whose names are written in the true Book of Life in Heaven. But the souls of the faithful departed can pray for us also. So you can ask your loved ones who have died to pray for you. St. John Vianney, who is the patron of all priests said: “If people only knew how great is the power of the souls in Purgatory and how many graces we can obtain from God through their intercession, they would not be so forgotten. Let us pray well for them, so that they may pray for us!”  

The Youth group has been learning about St. John Vianney and have been using his Icon to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Today also begins Vocation Awareness Week. Please use this time to pray for young men to answer the call to be priests and religious, for more young women to answer the call to be brides of Christ as religious sisters who work in the world to spread the Gospel of Love and Life. Pray for more people to enter the monastery as monks and nuns who give themselves over to a life of prayer and sacrifice for souls here on earth and the souls of the faithful departed. Parents teach your children that God calls people to sacrifice marriage to follow him in these special vocations.

What parent would say “no” to our Lord if He were to call their son to be a priest or their daughter to be his virgin bride as a nun? It is a grate sacrifice but it is a great blessing and honor! Priests and religious men and women represent on earth the way souls live and love in Heaven. In Heaven there will be no more marriage but only pure love of God, and everyone will be brother and sister. Let us pray today that more men and women may follow God’s calling in a vocation of sacrificial love. And let us pray for all the souls of the faithful departed and ask them to pray for us so that we may all be reunited in that perfect love of Heaven.

Eternal Rest grant unto them Oh Lord and let perpetual life shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Father Timothy J. Gallagher


St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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