A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Rejoicing in the Communion of Saints

Fr Kevin Head SM

This month we celebrate All Saints and pray for the souls in purgatory.
The people we love who have died probably had as many shortcomings, quirks, neuroses and downright failures as we do. I find that a consoling thought. Because they persevered in living their faith, which gives me hope that I can and will do the same. When I think of individual family members and friends, I do not doubt at all that they suffered from being down in the dumps. They endured autumn doldrums and winter blues. Some of them lived with depression that sometimes paralysed them. So I continue to take my hat off to them and love them all the more because they persevered. Through thick and thin, assailed by endless doubts, they held on to their faith and trust in God, and they now enjoy perfect peace and joy in heaven.
Part of our ancient Creeds, the Christian doctrine of the Communion of Saints, expresses our faith that there is a real connection with family members and friends who have died. They remain themselves and continue a living, conscious, and loving bond with one another and with us.
That is what we mean by heaven. That is, after death, we continue living. We will be aware, self-conscious, communicating with others who have died before us. We will be in spiritual union with those we left behind on earth and in an intimate relationship with God.
A touching example of safety, tranquillity and comfort is that of a newborn baby sleeping in its mother’s arms. What happens to us when we die and enter the fullness of everlasting life is like a mother cuddling and holding her newborn baby to her heart. When we die, we do so into the embrace of God. We enter into a new life with the kind of love, tenderness and gentleness we received from our mothers when we were born. And infinitely, incomprehensibly, mind-bogglingly more than that! We will be reborn into God’s arms, welcomed into infinite loving-kindness, gentleness and acceptance.
Such thoughts may be comforting, but they do not lessen the pain of the death of a loved one. The end of the life of someone we love wounds our hearts because love inevitably hurts us in this way. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, God keeps it empty and thus helps us keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain. … The dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves." *
During November, we rejoice in and celebrate those we loved who have died. May they rest in peace and joy in the Risen Lord.
* Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter from Prison,
Christmas Eve, 1943


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