The meaning of life and death

The meaning of life and death

Archbishop Julian Porteous

This is the homily given by Archbishop Julian Porteous at Cornelian Bay, Tasmania, on All Souls Day, 2 November 2013.

Each November we Catholics turn our attention towards the final things: Death, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. November is the month of the Holy Souls. Not only today – All Souls Day – nor even the fact that we are here in this cemetery, but throughout this month we remember the holy souls.

Naturally we first remember our own loved ones – our deceased relatives and friends. Our thoughts are for them and our prayers are directed for them. We have Masses said for the repose of their souls.

But within the Church we also want to remember all the faithful departed. Our prayers, as members of the Church, ascend for all those in purgatory. We the Church on earth still in pilgrimage intercede for those who have died and await final glory, the souls in purgatory.

The month of November begins with the joyful Feast of All Saints. The Feast invites us to lift up our eyes towards heaven, and to contemplate the saints in glory. It is appropriate that we begin a month remembering the Holy Souls, by fixing our gaze firstly on heaven. We are reminded of our own destiny, but also the destiny of all those who have died in the Lord.

The Mass for the Feast of All Saints which we celebrated yesterday gives us a vision of heavenly glory with the first reading being taken from the Book of the Apocalypse. St John describes the wonderful vision of heaven:

"After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands."

In our imagination we can picture this scene: An immense sea of people dressed in white, focused on Christ, the Lamb. There before the throne those in heaven are able to see the glory and splendour of God.

This vast crowd, "impossible to count", as St John says, are those who have been faithful. They are the "ordinary" saints. People like those we have known. This is a most encouraging picture. Heaven is filled with people, ordinary people who have been faithful to God during their lives.

And the vision of St John in the reading today invites us to taste the exultant spirit of the saints. They cry out, "Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."

They have triumphed. They have triumphed over their own struggles, frailties. And finally they have triumphed over death. They are now experiencing the glory of being before the throne of God, seeing God "face to face". Their hearts are full of joy and the focus of their joy is God Himself. They can't help but praise Him.

Heaven is the triumph, too, of God. It is the triumph of the love and mercy of God. It is the triumph of the saving work of God. It is the triumph of grace over sin, of love over hate, of light over darkness, of life over death.

It is good for us on this Mass for All Souls Day to think of heaven as we pray for our deceased relatives and friends, and all the faithful departed, that they may experience heavenly glory. We celebrate All Souls in the light of the Feast of All Saints.

Sober reminder

On this day there is also a sober reminder of the reality of death. We are here at a cemetery. The headstones, the vaults, remind us of those who have died. Their earthly pilgrimage is ended.

When we consider death we do so from the attitude of faith, our Catholic faith. We know that death and life are central to our faith. At every Mass when the priest invites us to announce the mystery of faith we say: "We proclaim your death O Lord and profess your resurrection." We proclaim both death and resurrection. This is the central Christian mystery.

For the Christian, death gives meaning to life.

The ancient fathers of the faith urged us to keep the moment of our death before our eyes. Contemplating death enables us to have wisdom and insight into how we should live our lives.

For the Christian a focus on death is done in relationship to the death of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Each of the Gospels gives a long and detailed account of the death of Christ. Describing the passion and death of Christ takes up one-third of the Gospel of St Mark.

We know why this is the case. The death of Christ was not just a tragic end to his life and ministry, it was its climax. The death of Christ was the ultimate purpose of his coming. It was the moment of the redemption of the human race. It was the triumph of love and mercy over sin and death. It was God's definitive act to save us from death and open for us the way to eternal life.

The Christian approaches death, not desperately clinging to the last vestiges of life, but as a transition from a mortal existence on earth to entry into communion with God in heaven. It is a letting go of the imperfect to move to the perfect.

St Paul descriptively captures this in his second letter to the Corinthians: "If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens."

This Mass of the Commemoration of All Souls takes us beyond our daily concerns to look at the full vision of reality. To think of death and to contemplate heaven brings a true perspective to daily life. It nourishes our hope.

Let us take a moment during this Mass to commend to the love and mercy of God the faithful departed who have been part of our lives. Let us also lift our prayer as a member of the Church here on earth and pray for all the souls in purgatory.

May the souls of all the departed through the mercy of God rest in peace and rise on the Last Day to heavenly glory.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.