We are people of hope. We celebrate the feast of All Soul's because we are people of hope. Most of us have experienced pain, and loss and loneliness because of the death of one of our loved ones. For some, death came early, with no warning, suddenly, unexpectedly, filling us for a time with anger and resentment and unanswered questions. For others, it came after long illness, or to persons who were elderly, still leaving our lives sad and empty.
But we come to this feast in faith because we have learned to believe in, to hope in God's promise of eternal life. So, despite the pain and the loss that the death of our loved ones brings, we are able to listen to the Words of Scripture and know that our God is not playing games with us, not making promises that will be broken, not toying with our trust. That's what hope means.
We believe that the deaths of those gone before us were not the end of their lives, but just a moment of substantial change. We believe that, like Jesus, they have been called by God to resurrection and fullness of life. That means that we envision them as fully alive, not in some state of suspended animation. We see them enjoying the vision of God, face to face, without pain, without frustration, with all of their hopes fulfilled.
We know that hope, like faith, is a gift of God. We can't earn it; we can't arrive at it by intellectual searching. We must pray for the grace to believe in Jesus as the final and fullest revelation of God's love for us. We must come to know and trust Jesus as our God-given way and truth and life. We must cherish every detail of the Gospel story and see how Jesus embraces every aspect of our earthly journey. We see him as fully human, nurtured in a family, loving and being loved, experiencing sadness, suffering and death in others - and then completing his mission on earth by accepting misunderstanding, false judgment, physical torture, and an agonizing death on a cross.
But through it all, He never lost hope. He trusted His father's promise. He always looked beyond the limits of His life and journey here on earth to that other kingdom where He would go to prepare dwelling places for all those who would believe in Him.
As a community of faith, we do not sit in the shadow of the tomb, without hope, grieving without solace. The symbol of our hope is the empty tomb of the Risen Christ, the dramatic evidence that our God does indeed lead us through the jaws of death to fullness of life.
We don't act out of fear of death, or fear of the second coming of Jesus. We act out of faith and love. We nourish ourselves on His Word, on the sacramental life of the Church, in our prayerfulness, and in our daily acts of love and service to our neighbors, in whom we see the image of God. At least, we try to do this. We don't always succeed. There are the difficult moments, the times of weakness and compromise, the times of selfishness and forgetfulness. So we do need reconciliation, we do need reminders. We need to have "spot-checks" . . .moments when we interrupt the flow of habit and routine to take an unexpected look at what we are about.... to check out our Christianity in action.
This can happen on our own initiative if we learn to break up our day with brief, quiet moments of prayer...of reminding ourselves of the nearness of the Lord. We can evaluate the holiness of our lives in our night prayers, or while we are at Mass on Sunday, or when we frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We test the strength and health of our faith when a loved one or a friend dies suddenly, or is stricken by serious illness, or when we suffer a bad disappointment or failure. We take measure of the quality of our love of God when we are called on to forgive someone who has hurt us badly.
The point is: we don't have to walk around with signs saying the end is near.... we don't have to be crepe-hangers, always reminding ourselves and those around us about death and judgment. But we do have to be prepared, always. We do have to live each day trying to imitate the love of Jesus as perfectly as we can. We do have to repent NOW, ask forgiveness NOW, say "I'm sorry" NOW... say "I forgive you" NOW - and not wait until it's too late. We do have live as people of faith, as people of hope.
This hope, and this faith, leads us to celebrate the Feast of All Souls - those who have lived their Christianity, have experienced the touch of the Risen Lord and who now share fully in His Kingdom of Glory. From them, we have learned the faith, we have grown in the faith and we have come to know The Lord a little more fully.
We not only pray for them, but we ask their continued guidance as we continue our journey of faith. Who better to guide us home?