Friday, October 31, 2014

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell: A Homily for All Souls' Day

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

November 2, 2014
All Souls’ Day 

The leaves have fallen and the trees are bare. The summer flowers have surrendered to the chill and have wilted away. The cold northern wind has already begun to blow. The days are getting shorter and it’s getting darker and darker. Nature is preparing itself to die the death of winter. This yearly occurrence, written into the very heartbeat of the earth by God the Father, is a reminder to us…a stark and poignant reminder that death is an unescapable reality. There is no one too good who may avoid it and no one too clever to evade it. Like winter, death hurls itself into our lives without consultation…it asks no permissions and seeks no forgiveness…and what’s worse is that it often comes without notice or forewarning. But every good Mainer, especially those nestled up in the north, knows that, with or without warning, winter will strike…and to survive it, it must be prepared for. Wood needs to be chopped and pellets purchased; food must be stored and winter tires must be installed; you all know the drill. And if these preparations are not made, devastation will ensue. The same is true for death. We cannot thwart it, but we can, in fact we must, prepare for it. And this doesn’t just mean pre-planning our funerals or buying life insurance. As human beings with immortal souls, death, as tragic as it is, is only a gateway…a gateway into eternal life or eternal damnation. We tend not to want to think about this…we have an amazing human ability to avoid thinking about anything that is unpleasant and certainly anything that is frightening. But in doing this, we’re not doing ourselves any favors. Just as the man who pretends that winter will never come, or who underestimates how severe it is, sets himself up devastation, so too does the person who spends no time thinking of his finality, or who simply takes for granted God’s gift of salvation.

Today, the Church places before us the Commemoration of all the faithful departed, more commonly called the All Souls’ Day. Yesterday we celebrated the great Feast of All Saints, wherein we rejoiced and gave thanks to God for all those faithful men and women who, without being officially declared Saints by the Church, have nonetheless attained the victory of Heaven. Today, however, is noticeably more somber. Today we face realities that are more unpleasant and less a cause for rejoicing and more a cause for reflection: the realities of death and judgment, of heaven and hell. These realities, commonly called in our Catholic tradition the “Four Last Things” provide us, in reflecting upon them, the impetus to prepare ourselves for what awaits us all. We will all die…we will all be judged by Christ Himself…and we will, each one of us, be admitted either to the glories of heaven or to the pains of hell. How these four “last things” go for us is dependent upon our cooperation with the gift of grace that Christ has given us. Salvation is indeed a gift, and as any other gift it must be received…it must be accepted and it must be wanted. We accept and evidence our want for this gift by how we live our lives – by how we believe, by how we hope, and by how we love. Christ makes this abundantly clear in the gospels – and He is constantly warning us that to reject His gift of salvation is to reject all that is beautiful, all that is good, and all that is true. When you strip life itself of God, all that can be left is hell. Heaven is a gift, and hell is a sentence…but each is also a choice. Today we face this stark reality head on and pray for the grace and strength to actually want, more than we want anything else, a life of love in God so that we can be with Him for all eternity.
The Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell
Humanity is so fickle though. Our legitimate wants and desires for what is good and holy can so often and easily be overcome by the power and lure of sin. On the one hand this is due to human weakness effected by original sin; but on the other hand, this is due to a battle that exists and is fought over every human soul. God, who made us in His image and likeness, fights for our love…He showers us with His mercy, He heals us with His Sacraments, He sustains us with His grace, He pours out His very blood for us and for our love. But the Devil, who is as real as you and me, fights for our hatred. He works tirelessly and cunningly to inspire within us a deep hatred for God and for each other…and he does this by stirring up within us a disordered love for ourselves. He tempts us with sin, and eases our consciences so that we’ll continue to sin, telling us that it’s okay and that we can live however we want. He tempts us with the lie that God and His Church really just want to make us miserable, to enforce all sorts of restricting rules and regulations to make life less enjoyable and more difficult. He tempts us with doubt…doubt about the Faith, doubt about God’s goodness, and doubt about God’s love for us. He tempts us with the bad things that happen in life, which sometimes occur by his own doing, in the hope that it will cause us to reject God and to trust only in ourselves. And once he’s succeeded, once he gets us to turn away from everything, he abandons us too…leaving us alone, with only ourselves, and the enduring hatred he has managed to convince us to have.

This life is indeed a battle. It has its ups and downs…its periods of joy and of fear…its periods of success and failure. But we are not in this alone. Remember and believe that you were made for God, that you are His, and that He will fight with and for you the entire time. When you fall, He will pick you up through the Sacrament of Penance. When you become weak and weary, He will heal you through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. When you are hungry and need the strength to continue, He will feed you with His own Body and Blood. When you are lonely, He will comfort you as your friend and companion. When you are uninspired, He will open up the Scriptures to you. When you doubt, He will open your eyes to faith. But He can only do these things if you let Him into your battle and allow Him to be the Lord of your life. And you will, He promises, victorious.

But, like any battle that is won, there are still tears, and regrets, and wounds. Though we fight this battle well with Christ, and I trust that each of us is indeed trying to do so, most of us do not come out of this unscarred. Christ Himself still bears the wound marks of His crucifixion. These wounds of ours, caused by our fallings and our failures, need to be purified and transformed. This is why there is a Purgatory – where the fire of God’s intense love ignites us and purifies us like fire-tried gold. Today, and often, as we ponder and consider seriously these mysteries, we pray and offer our gift of love to the holy souls in Purgatory – to those who have been victorious in battle and who are now having their wounds cleaned and their tears wiped away so that they can meet their God face to face…without shame and without regret…only with a burning love.

I wish I could get up here and tell you that there is only springtime and that winter is just in our imagination…that sin is only a mirage and hell unreal. But if I did that, I would be a liar. I say what I say because this is what Christ has revealed to us to be true…and it is our duty to accept it and then to trust in Him to help us make our way through this valley of tears. But if we are faithful to Him, if we prepare well for the death of winter, then Christ will be faithful to us, and we will indeed live to see a springtime that is eternal. Today, let us pray for the strength to be faithful, as the holy souls who have gone before us have done. And in faith, in hope, and in love, we beg God to grant them eternal rest, to let perpetual shine upon them, and to grant them peace.