Saints working for our souls

Today (November 1) we begin a month of remembering our beloved dead. On this day we thank the Lord for all the saints who are in Heaven, all those people who said “yes” to Christ’s invitation to try to love God with their entire being and to love their neighbors as themselves. All of them would be first to point out that they are in Heaven thanks to God’s mercy, not merely due to their own merits.

Tomorrow (November 2) we remember the souls in purgatory, as we observe All Souls Day. On Oct. 30, 2013 Pope Francis spoke of our close connection to the souls. “All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great family. This communion between earth and Heaven is realized especially in intercessory prayer.”

We intercede for the souls in purgatory through our prayers and sacrifices — the most important of which is Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary offered for them through the Mass. The saints in Heaven intercede for them, as well as for us, since they perfectly love them and us. Their love for us all mirrors Christ’s love. Their love helps us to feel uplifted and to thus love better.

Pope Francis last Sunday in his homily spoke about an attitude which was not similar to the love the saints have for us — the attitude of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. “[H]e boasts because he fulfills particular commandments to the best degree possible. But he forgets the greatest Commandment: to love God and our neighbor (cf. Mt 22:36-40). The tragedy of this man is that he is without love. Even the best things, without love, count for nothing, as St. Paul says (cf. 1 Cor 13). Without love, what is the result? In fact, he asks nothing from the Lord because he does not feel needy or in debt, but he feels that God owes something to him. He stands in the temple of God, but he worships a different god: himself.”

The saints during their lives on earth knew that they were nothing without God’s help and God’s love. The Pharisee thought that he was really something — and someone a lot better than the publican he spied praying behind him. “For the Pharisee, his neighbor has no worth, no value. He considers himself better than others, whom he calls literally ‘the rest, the remainders’ (loipoi, Lk 18:11). That is, they are ‘leftovers,’ they are scraps from which to keep one’s distance,” the pope preached.

The Holy Father then discussed the conflicts which occurred during the weeks of the Synod of Bishops for which the Sunday Mass was the concluding event. “We saw this during the synod when speaking about the exploitation of Creation, of people, of the inhabitants of the Amazon, of the trafficking of persons, the trade in human beings! The mistakes of the past were not enough to stop the plundering of other persons and the inflicting of wounds on our brothers and sisters.”

This is a time of a lot of division within the Church. People argue about whether we need to follow what the pope preaches. The pope has not taught a new doctrine, but has brought new emphasis to certain areas of Church teaching. Writing about the synod on his blog, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., offered, “The formal name given to the synod was: ‘Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology…’ It is such an important region because the Amazon forest represents 40 percent of the world’s tropical forests, and their territory contains one of the richest and most complex biospheres on the planet. Yet, the whole area is endangered because of the destruction of the forests and pollution of the water and land due to mining, logging, and other activities. So, it really is a threat to the health of our planet.”

Our former bishop then applied the synod to our own lives. “One of the purposes of the synod is to invite people to experience a conversion in their own lives about how we use the resources of nature. I think that, in the United States, being a country that has such wealth and technology, we tend to act as if all the resources of the planet are limitless and we do not focus on the importance of having sustainable energy and resources. The Holy Father is constantly talking about the culture of waste — of wasting resources, of wasting food — and all this is something that we, as believers, need to consider. We need to consider how we are being responsible stewards of the gifts that have been given to us.”

The cardinal then warned that if we do not heed the warnings about what we need to do about the environment, then we will be faced with more moral dilemmas (which would turn the tables ideologically). “My fear is that, as more and more of the resources of the planet are wasted and our rain forests are destroyed, the solution that many people will embrace is that we should reduce the population of the world, so that we can maintain our high standard of living without making sacrifices or embracing a simpler form of life. So, this ecological question has many ethical dimensions that we, as believers, must reflect upon.”

Just as in our national politics the “hot button” or symbolic issues get all the attention (such as, who is hanging out with whom at baseball games), so also in coverage of the Church the flash points get all of the attention, instead of how we can spread the Gospel. In his Angelus address after the Mass, Pope Francis discussed our need to be evangelizers. “The Apostle Paul stimulates us in this,  ‘The Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it’ (2 Tim 4:17). This is Paul’s final wish: not something for himself or for one of his own, but for the Gospel, that it may be proclaimed to all nations. This comes first of all and counts more than anything. Each of us must have asked ourselves many times what good might be done in one’s own life. Today is the time; let us ask ourselves: ‘Me, what can I do that is good for the Gospel?’ In the synod we asked ourselves this question, wishing to open up new paths for the proclamation of the Gospel. Only what is lived is proclaimed. And to live by Jesus, to live by the Gospel, one must come out of oneself.” 

The saints are in Heaven because they lived the Gospel. How do we live it? How do we share it with others?


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