A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Our forebears in faith

by Fr Kevin Head sm

by Fr Kevin Head sm

One of my earliest memories of being in church is of All Souls’ Day, long before I made my first communion, and of trying to ensure that I got as many souls out of purgatory as I possibly could by making visits to the church and saying many Our Fathers and Hail Marys. I later learned that it was all to do with something called ‘the economy of salvation’ and I admit that self-interest was a distinct motive: if I didn’t do my best for the Holy Souls, then on the basis of ‘what goes around comes around’, maybe no one would pray for me when I died, and I would be left in purgatory for an inordinate amount of time (a hell of a long time, one might say!).

Did I believe all of that? Of course I did! It was what Sister taught us in the primers. It was the same as if the teaching came directly from the parish priest, the Pope or God.

So what about now, more than 50 years on?

I still believe in praying for those who have died, that they may see God face-to-face without delay, and live in the fullness of God’s reign of peace, joy and love. I also believe that it is worthwhile  to continue praying for all those who have died, even though they died a long time ago. They entered eternity – the everlasting now – at the moment they died. The prayers I pray for them now, in time, had effect for them at the moment of death, no matter how long ago it was.

As those who have died are, so shall we be, and the Church’s honouring of ‘those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith’, on All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, reminds us of that.

As for those whom we have known and loved on earth, will we know them again? We’ve no way of knowing for sure, but I don’t see why not. The love we had and have for them came from God, and it is our faith that in heaven our friends and relations who have died live in the fullness of that same love. Just as one of my Marist confreres, who, when he was told he might have only a short time to live, said, ‘Good, I’ll see Mum and Dad again’, I look forward to meeting my parents again. And meeting my grandparents, all of whom died before I was born; and my great-grandparents, all eight of whom are buried within fifty kilometres of one another on the West Coast, and whose graves I visit as often as I can; and all the forebears I know about and those I don’t ... if that’s what God wants for us in heaven.RIP

Certainly the first two days of November are days on which it is appropriate to think about what heaven will be like. Beyond our wildest and most inspired imaginings – hinted at in those moments we have now and again when we feel a sense of deep contentment, when we are at peace and our world seems absolutely wonderful and gorgeous; that exhilarating feeling that suffuses our being when all is well and seems to be well with us. It happens only rarely in my experience, and it may happen anywhere – on the sports field, listening to music, looking at a painting, in the midst of the family, in prayer, or in church. It’s a deep conviction of joy and peace that is indescribable, really. That, I think, is a whisper of heaven, God’s reign, which will be a trillion times more intensely wonderful.

As our friends and family, our ancestors in the Faith, are – All Saints and All Souls – so shall we be. In the fullness of life and peace and joy with God and wrapped in God’s love forever and ever. Amen! 

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