All Souls Day [Jn 11:17-
(Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed)
02 November 2014
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
Readings: (1) Wis 4:7-
N.B.: These reflections can be adapted to any of the optional readings given for this day in the Lectionary or Liturgical Calendar [‘Ordo’].
1. Theme in brief
Living in spite of death
2. Focus Statement
Jesus gives the gift of divine (or eternal) life to those who believe in him and those who receive this gift shall never die spiritually, even if they die physically.
3. Explanation of the text
Raising Lazarus from death by Jesus in today’s gospel text gives the message that he has the power to free those who believe in him from the bonds of spiritual or eternal death. This freedom is the gateway to the full blossoming of eternal life (since for John it already begins at baptism) and the hope of the final resurrection.
Jesus’ dialogue with Lazarus’ sister, Martha, is meant to reveal his identity as "I am the resurrection and the life" (11:25). Already in the beginning of his gospel John has stated that Jesus has the life of God in its fullness, because of his oneness or unity with the Father (1:4). That is why he is the Life itself (14:6). And that life of God (called eternal life since God himself is eternal), he shares with those who "believe" in him already in their present life. But the complete blossoming of that life will take place when Jesus will raisethose who believe in him on the last day, that is, will give them a share in his own resurrection after death (6:44,54).
Jesus brings the gift of divine life to those who believe in him so that those who receive it shall never die spiritually, even if they die physically (11:26). Physical death is not the end of their life, but a gateway to another life (spiritual and eternal). The believers share not only in divine life here on earth but also, because of his triumph over death, in his resurrection hereafter also. In other words, believers in Jesus will experience resurrection because, death cannot defeat the life of God (1 Cor 15:53-
4. Application to life
For many Catholics, All Souls Day is a day of prayer for the ‘eternal rest’ of the dead in their families. If we ask any of them, the reason for such prayer, naturally many of them would say that their prayer helps the dead to go to heaven from a state of purification called purgatory. Of course, this is true according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. But besides this, there are other reasons – not sufficiently emphasized or known to many – why we should pray for the faithful departed:
(1) Our prayers for those who have died marked with the sign of faith are an expression or sign of ourclose relationship or bond that connects us with them even after death. They are an expression of our faith that death cannot break the spiritual relationship we establish with our Christian brothers and sisters at the time of baptism. All the faithful departed, though dead are still spiritually living with us. In the tribal society of my region, this communion with the dead is expressed in symbolic and anthropomorphic ways, such as offering of food and drink to the dead, calling back the spirit (or shadow) of the dead and enthroning it at the fireplace and (if they are not Christians) offering of animal sacrifices in honour of the dead on important occasions. Jesus has only purified the traces of immortality already present in many cultures. He has explained that the departed ones do not possess a physical body like us but spiritual bodies like angels that require neither food and drink nor need to get married (cf. Mt 22:28-
(2) Secondly, All Souls Day is a great day of remembrance and loving gratitude. Our prayers and Eucharistic Sacrifice are signs that we have not forgotten the love and service of our departed brothers and sisters when they were with us, and are united with them with an unbroken bond. Especially today we recall to mind all that they did for us, for our families/ the Church / Religious Congregations/ human society and praise God for it. At the same time our prayer and Eucharistic Sacrifice are the best ways of showing our love and gratitude towards them. They are no more with us physically, but the love and service we received from them lives forever in our hearts. As Jesus has said in his dialogue with Martha, even though they have died, they never die in spirit; they live forever in our memory (11:25). The values they lived and proclaimed (both in words and deeds), the sacrifices they made, the positive influence they exerted on us continue to live far beyond their death. Hence, All Souls Day opens for us a floodgate of memories. We can only exclaim: "How great is our God who has done wonderful deeds for us through so many loved ones from generation to generation!"
Today’s solemn commemoration of the faithful departed, besides praying for their eternal repose, should generate in us thoughts about our own death. The Church reminds us that when we die, we too, like the faithful departed, shall complete the process of dying with Christ and rising to new life begun at baptism. She invites us to reflect on this paschal character of our death and gives us the hope that we shall be with Christ and share in the glory of his resurrection forever. This hope helps us cope with life, since it can sustain and support us in times of suffering and crisis. It gives a meaning to all the suffering, sorrow, pain and struggles of life. We firmly believe that our sufferings will not be in vain and an unimaginable reward is awaiting us. As St. Paul says, they are not worth comparing with the glory to come (Rom 8:18). If we hope for the ‘Gold Medal’ (heavenly reward) in life’s race, we have to go through a rigorous exercise of trials, suffering, struggles and hardships. Suppose we have no hope of getting any reward, why should and how can we suffer with serenity at all? It will be a harsh and horrible suffering with nothing to hold on.
This reflection makes us realize that this world is not our permanent home, and our earthly life is a pilgrimage to God. The impermanence of earthly life makes us ponder about the meanness or foolishnessof getting excessively attached to worldly possessions, and putting our full trust in them, instead of God who alone is our security. Considering the shortness of our earthly life, we have to wage a continuous war against evil and ungodly ways, and always be prepared to meet the Lord whenever he calls us. As we live, so we die! Our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ begun at baptism spurs us to go on dying constantly to our sinfulness and selfishness, so that we can fully participate in his resurrection at our death. When we profess our faith in the resurrection of the body we proclaim that both our body and soul are destined to find fulfilment in God. Our faith in the power of Christ’s resurrection enables us to invoke its power when forces of death (such as calamities, trials, temptations, loss of job or loved ones) close in on us.
Our profession of faith and hope in eternal life, especially on this day, should motivate us to live our earthly life as best as possible, because it is a preparation for eternal life with God. If so, we should always aim atqualitatively different type of life, different from merely working, earning, eating, drinking and making merry. Quality of life is not measured by the quality of our goods, furnishing, machinery and latest electronic gadgets, but by the quality of our love, service, dedication, relationships and contributions to human life or society. What is the use if the quality of our material goods goes higher and higher every year and the quality of our relationships and commitment goes lower and lower? We should not be satisfied with mere physical existence, but have a passion (a strong feeling or commitment) for life, peace, truth, etc. We are here to find fulfilment, to be happy (joyful), to radiate love, to love with a passion, and to share that love. If we do not live a life of purpose, and do not live it enthusiastically, we should be guilty of living a wasted life.
Jesus himself becomes our resurrection by his promise to liberate us from spiritual or eternal death and raise us up to everlasting life. St. Paul describes spiritual death as "being alienated from the life of God" (Eph 4:18) or lacking God’s life. Serious sins cause spiritual death – separation or alienation from God’s love or death of divine life in us. Jesus is the Resurrection since he has the power to give spiritual life to the physically dead. He is also the Life since he prevents spiritual death of those who put their faith in him. Our faith in the power of Christ’s resurrection gives us strength to win a victory over eternal death, just as Christ has won at his resurrection. A person who accepts Christ as the resurrection and the life cannot live a meaningless, loveless and hopeless life. Just as Jesus asked Martha, he asks us today: "Do you believe this" (Jn 11:26)? In other words, he asks us whether we put our trust in him and his promises. Echoing Martha’s reply, we say: "Yes, Lord, I accept in total trust that you are the revelation of God’s boundless love for me and commit myself wholeheartedly to you as the one coming into the world" (cf. 11:27).
5. Response to God's Word
How strong is our communion with the faithful departed? Does our faith in eternal life and resurrection of the body motivate us to run the race of life with full vigour or to fight a good fight of the faith (1 Tim 6:12) in order to win the prize or crown of heavenly reward (2 Tim 4:7-
6. A prayer
Remember our brothers and sisters, O merciful God, who have fallen asleep in the peace of Christ. You alone have known their faith. Admit them to rejoice in the light of your face and in the resurrection give them fullness of life. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. When our earthly pilgrimage is done, grant that we too may live with you for ever in communion with all the saints. Amen.