HOMILY – ALL SOUL’S DAY
Living the Paschal Mystery
(Job 19:1, 23-27; Ps 103; 1Cor 15:20-23; Jn 12:23-26)
“Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”
Both the readings and today’s commemoration of All Souls Day invite us to follow Jesus in living the Paschal Mystery.
Jesus, in the gospel, speaks quite bluntly: unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains a single grain; those who love their life will lose it; whoever serves him must follow him, and be where he is. Surely this kind of language is an invitation to follow him to the Cross, to “die before we die,” to live the Paschal Mystery, which is the way to new life here and now.
That Paschal Mystery as lived by Jesus has six distinct stages: Passion, Death, Resurrection, Appearances, Ascension and finally, Pentecost. It is this mystery we are invited to live in our own lives as his disciples, and it can make all the difference for us.
Essentially, we are not given a spiritual ladder by which we can climb into heaven. Rather, we are given a faith-powered drill to bore fully into a spiritual spiral of passion, death and resurrection, appearances, ascension and Pentecost making heaven a present reality. To do this we need the faith of Job in that first reading, who in the midst of all his suffering he did not understand, continued to believe in God’s faithful love for him, and that he would see God and behold God in his flesh.
In the second reading, St. Paul speaks of Jesus risen from the dead as the first fruits of those who have died, and of us as those who belong to him. To belong to Jesus is to pick up our cross and follow him through his Paschal Mystery serving as a pattern for our lives:
We have all been hurt – no one goes through life unscathed – that is our passion. And whenever we are hurt, we experience some loss – that is our deaths. But we are still here – survivors – that is our resurrection. The appearances become for us a time of grieving our losses – that is what Jesus taught Mary Magdalene when he appeared to her. She was not to “cling” to him, but to have faith, let him ascend to the Father, and she would receive his Spirit to be with her in a new way, which happened at Pentecost. We also need to mourn and grieve the loss of our loved ones and eventually give them back to God so we can receive their spirit to be with us in a new way.
The ascension becomes for us forgiveness of anyone who has hurt us in any way, letting go of resentment and any desire for revenge, and communicating our painful feelings to those who hurt us with love as a way of forgiving them. In this way, we become the grain of wheat that falls into the earth, dies and rises again to a new life of serenity and even joy, because when we act like God we get to feel like God. Jesus on the cross was totally at peace, for he knew he was doing the Father’s will to reveal to the world the depth of the Father’s love for us.
Those who have the faith to live this Pascal Mystery are already experiencing the eternal life of the Kingdom Jesus came to give us. Those whose faith is weak and who for some reason resist this process, are destined to go through it after they die physically, and that leads us to the most consoling of our Catholic beliefs – purgatory. When we pray for the souls in purgatory, we are actually helping them enter heaven.
Ron Rolheiser OMI has two key definitions of purgatory – the pain of entering heaven, and a letting go of the things of the earth. It is a spiritual process of completing what was left unfinished while one was on earth, that still needs to be resolved, as we cannot drag into heaven any unfinished business – it is only pure love that can enter heaven. Ideally, we are to live our purgatory now, to deal with our dark side, now, in this life, rather than after we die.
It is painful to face reality, accept reality, and deal with reality. Self-awareness, facing our dark side, dealing with our dark emotions, negative attitudes and our addictions is never easy. Many people run away from that pain, are afraid to feel those emotions, try to medicate that pain with activity or drugs, and find no meaning in suffering, unaware this “positive disintegration,” accepted in faith, connects with Jesus’ suffering on the cross, is redemptive and full of meaning and purpose.
We are to live and to die as an optimal blessing for all who know us. When we set out on a healing journey, it becomes a spiritual spiral of passion, death and resurrection. We become aware of some painful emotion or defect of character, admit it, feel the emotions, share it with others, pray about it, either forgive, apologize, or grieve it, die to it, and rise to a life of greater freedom from it, and we are already experiencing more deeply the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
Recently, I was privileged to receive the Step 4 inventories of persons who were ready to complete their Step 5 (Admitted to God, themselves and one other person, the exact nature of their wrongs). It continues to impress me that anyone working these the steps of the 12 Step program is actually experiencing their purgatory here on earth. They receive forgiveness, healing, and a new life of serenity and sobriety that is joyful and free, opens up for them.
The Eucharist is not just a ritual, but a powerful spiritual event into which we enter and which makes present for us the passion, death, resurrection, appearances, ascension of Jesus and the new life of Pentecost, through Word and Sacrament.
May our celebration today, as we pray in a special way for all our loved ones who still need our prayers to complete their own spiritual journey of forgiveness and healing, empower us to live the Pascal Mystery in our lives, here and now, that we might live in the Kingdom of God all the days of our lives.