Friday, November 9, 2012

The Importance of Praying for the Dead: Fr. Andersen

This is Fr. Eric Andersen’s homily from All Souls' Day.

Given at Sacred Heart/St. Louis in Gervais on November 2nd, 2012

Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum
All Soul’s Day is a reminder of the importance of offering Holy Mass for the dead and of obtaining plenary indulgences for the souls in purgatory. How powerful is the Mass on behalf of the dead? Here is a story about St. Teresa of Avila to illustrate:

“On the Feast of All Souls, Don Bernardino de Mendoza had given a house and beautiful garden, situated in Madrid, to St. Teresa, that she might found a monastery in honor of the Mother of God. Two months after this, he was suddenly taken ill, and lost the power of speech, so that he could not make a confession, though he gave many signs of contrition. ‘He died,’ says St. Teresa, ‘very shortly afterwards, and far from the place where I then was. But our Lord spoke to me, and told me he was saved, though he had run a great risk; that mercy had been shown to him because of the donation to the convent of His Blessed Mother; but that his soul would not be freed from suffering until the first Mass was said in the new house. I felt deeply the pains this soul was enduring, that although I was very desirous of accomplishing the foundation of Toledo, I left it at once for Valladolid on St. Lawrence’s Day.

“One day, whilst I was in prayer at Medina del Campo, our Lord told me to make all possible haste, for the soul of De Mendoza was a prey to the most intense suffering.

“I immediately ordered the masons to put up the walls of the convent without delay; but as this would take considerable time, I asked the Bishop for permission to make a temporary chapel for the use of the sisters which I had brought with me. This obtained, I had Mass offered; and at the moment I left my place to approach the Holy Table, I saw our benefactor, who, with hands joined and countenance all radiant, thanked me for having delivered him from Purgatory. Then I saw him enter Heaven” (Schouppe, Purgatory. pp. 232-233).
This account written by St. Teresa herself points out to us the necessity not only to pray for the dead but to have Masses offered for them. Many people believe that everyone automatically goes straight to heaven. But the Church has never taught that. The Church does not teach that today. The only person whom we know went directly to heaven was the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her path was direct because she never committed one sin in her entire life. Therefore she would not have even passed through purgatory because she did not need purifying. That is what Purgatory is: a place of purification. Purgatory is not a second chance.  
All those who are going to heaven pass through purgatory as preparation for Heaven. That is why we call them the holy souls. They are holy. St. Paul tells us why in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

“For the foundation, nobody can lay any other than the one which has already been laid, that is Jesus Christ. On this foundation you can build in gold, silver and jewels, or in wood, grass and straw, but whatever the material, the work of each builder is going to be clearly revealed when the day comes. That day will begin with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If his structure stands up to it, he will get his wages; if it is burnt down, he will be the loser, and though he is saved himself, it will be as one who has gone through fire.  
Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.”

St. Paul is speaking to Christians about the very real possibility that those who were temples of God are not guaranteed salvation. They must pass the test. This feast reminds us then to consider our own final end. God has given us our faith and the sacramental life so that we can go to heaven and be with Him forever. We are not called to go to purgatory, but to heaven.  
Let us treat our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit and live our lives in a way that aims for heaven. Let us not be satisfied with merely getting into purgatory. Sure, we know that if we are in purgatory, we are on our way to heaven, but why shoot for purgatory? Let us aim for heaven. And let us pray with charity for those holy souls in the Church suffering in purgatory. 

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