All Saints is a great feast. It can open up conversations about just what makes a saint. This is, after all, what we are engaged in – the making of saints!
Most people are interested in what happens after death – there is an interest in the paranormal and many people are drawn towards reincarnation, feeling that this offers a way to grow through a series of lifetimes when, often, just one does not seem enough.
All Saints – and All Souls – in fact, the whole of November, gives us a way of responding to these interests in the paranormal and reincarnation and helping people to see how the teaching about the communion of saints and what happens after death is, in fact, very positive and full of hope. In our understanding of life after death, it isn’t necessary to go right back to the beginning to relearn life’s lessons. Instead, our journey continues from where we have left off.
Most of us die with unfinished business – with things said or done – or not said or done… with relationships that were far from perfect. So, one of the first things that gives us hope is the Catholic idea of preparing for death. It’s not done to frighten people but to give us ways of facing the inevitable and to be as ready as we can for it. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one way of dealing with some of the things that burden us – and encouraging us to put things right while we have the chance. The Sacrament of the Sick – though no longer just an extreme unction – also gives spiritual strength and energy to deal with the physical and mental suffering that can go with the final stages of our earthly lives. It may not seem to be an easy topic to talk about but the chances are once you start, you will find that people are keen to share their stories and to hear what hope the Church offers them.
Then, of course, we tackle that other reality – of what happens when we die with that unfinished business and burdens of guilt. Well, again, we can introduce – or affirm – that sense of physical death leading to a new stage in the journey. We don’t need to hang around as ghosts – or start a whole new earthly life – we have another stage. For some people, the word “purgatory” comes loaded with punishment and suffering. No one knows, of course, but it is a fact that, in our earthly life, being forced to face up to our wrongdoing and put things right or pay them back is often painful.
One helpful way of looking at it might be to think about the Prodigal Son when he got home. Remember, he had turned up expecting to be taken on as a servant – he would have been pretty filthy and smelly – he would have been totally ashamed at being seen in such a terrible state. The last thing he would probably have wanted would have been his father putting a fine robe on him. And so, it’s likely that his father would have given him time to get cleaned up – the pig dirt scrubbed off him – nails scoured – matted hair cut and washed – and so on. It would have been painful – embarrassing – but all the time, he would have heard the feast being prepared – and been reassured that, whatever had happened and however long it took to make him feel ready, there would come a moment when he would be able to walk into the banqueting hall and put the former life behind him and bring his life and experience into a new life.
And that, of course, is the destiny promised to all of us. That one day, we will join that heavenly banquet – that we will be part of the communion of saints that we profess every Sunday and feast day in the Creed. It’s also what we remember just before the Holy Holy – the song we sing “with all the angels and saints…” And one day, 1 November will be our feast day!
Quite a thought – and real good news for those embarking on the Journey!