Sermon for All Souls Day
By Father Kyle
At the end of the movie Schindler’s List, Oscar Schindler, a Catholic business owner in Germany who had been working to get as many Jews working in his factory as possible during the Holocaust, is surrounded by 1100 Jews who survived because of him. Oscar was gradually affected more and more by this horrific event as time went on, and at the end of the movie, he feels deep regret that he did not save more of them. He looks at his car and the golden pin on his suit jacket and realizes he probably could have bought at least another 10 or 12 people who were being sent to the concentration camps. As he thinks about this, he begins to break down in tears, and many of the Jews he saved try to comfort him and assure him of the good that he did for so many of them. Nonetheless, he is crushed by the simple fact that he didn’t save more of them in the face of one of the most horrible genocides in history. It is a very moving scene that makes us think of those moments in our own lives when we are crushed with regret that we could’ve done more, that our love and generosity could’ve been greater towards God and others. When people are in critical condition in the hospital or the nursing home, they sometimes feel this regret when they look back on their lives. When we are at funerals for our loved ones, we sometimes feel this regret when we think about how much better we could’ve been and should’ve been to them during the time we had with them in this life.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “I believe that most men and women are quite unconscious of the injustice, the ingratitude, and the thanklessness of their lives until the cold hand of death is laid upon one that they love. It is then, and only then, that they realize (and, oh, with what regret!) the haunting poverty of their love and kindness.” Death makes us confront what is lacking in our own hearts towards God and towards other people He has placed into our lives, and it seems to be the cut-off point for our charity. Death appears to be the boundary for the love we can give to people, but Fulton Sheen asserted that Purgatory is both the place where the love of God tempers the justice of God and the place where the love of man tempers the injustice of man. Purgatory is the place and state of being in which God prepares us to enter into the glory of eternal life with Him. He does away there with all the imperfections and impurities that clung to us from life on earth, so that we can behold Him in the fullness of His glory. His love therefore tempers what His justice demands from us, namely, the punishment for our sins. Purgatory, however, is also what enables us to surpass the boundaries of death and time with those people in our lives who have gone before us. The people in our families and among our friends, as well as those strangers in need who we encountered along the way, are no longer physically with us after they have died, but for those of them who are in Purgatory, we can still help them in a very profound way. We can pray for them, especially in the Holy Mass. We can mortify ourselves and make sacrifices for them, not just during Lent, but all the time. In God’s design, these prayers and sacrifices help the souls in Purgatory to reach their final destination in heaven, where we hope to one day be with them forever.
This, in turn, is why Purgatory is such a great sign of God’s boundless love for us, why it is such a great gift from God to us sinful human beings who often need more time to prepare for something so great as the life of heaven. This is why we have a Book of Remembrance during the month of November, and this is why we have funeral Masses. It is not just to remember those people in our lives who have died and to honor their memory. The primary reason for these practices is not to benefit us here on earth, but to benefit those who have died and journeyed beyond this life. We have the Book of Remembrance for them, not just for us. We offer funeral Masses for them, not just for us. We believe, and the Church teaches us that our prayers and sacrifices for the dead are those last great acts of love and kindness that we do for our loved ones who have gone before us. They do not cease to exist when they die, and not everyone goes straight to heaven (or goes to heaven at all, for that matter). We are still connected with them, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. On All Souls Day, we pray in a special way for the souls of all those who have died, especially our own family members and friends, as we should be doing all year round. We may not have always loved them enough here on earth, but we can still love them, even beyond the grave. As Fulton Sheen said, “[Purgatory] enables hearts who are left behind to break the barriers of time and death, to convert unspoken words into prayers, unburned incense into sacrifice, unoffered flowers into alms, and undone acts of kindness into help for eternal life.”