What about the Holy Souls by Mgr. Paul Watson
by Brian Ingram
For along time now we’ve had the tradition of praying for the Holy Souls during November. We tend to have in mind our own loved ones who have died, although setting aside this month reminds us to think and pray also for those who perhaps have no one who thinks about them or ever prays for them.
But do the Holy Souls need our prayers? What difference does it make? All sorts of questions and issues start to arise when we think about it. What state exactly are the Holy Souls in? What is God going to do with them? And what part do we play, and why?
The Scripture readings that were part of the Liturgy for this Sunday (6th Nov) were right on the nail, and have some very significant things to say, and light to shed. But as always, there is an unveiling that needs to take place. The light is not always that clear or obvious. Questions need to asked – and genuine questions at that.
Interestingly, in the Gospel today (Luke 20:27-38), the Sadducees came to Jesus with a question about the Holy Souls – not that they would have put it that way! In the first place, their question was not actually a genuine or honest question. In fact, they didn’t believe in an after at all. The idea of the resurrection of the dead was laughable to them. Notions of resurrection, after-life, angels, spirit and soul, were all fairly new ideas in the Jewish religious faith. They dated from late Jewish history around the time of the Maccabees and the period between the last of the Old Testament books and the time of the New Testament.
So, as we all tend to do when were discussing a position that we really disagree with, the Sadducees tried to present a scenario that made the position of believing in the resurrection of the dead look ridiculous. A woman marries 7 different husbands – whose wife will she be in the resurrection?, they sneeringly ask. When you think about it, it’s not that different when people question today the existence of God. Look at all the suffering, they say, especially the innocent suffering, in the world today. How can you say that there is a God, especially a loving God? It’s often a sneering question. But, at the same time, it needs answering. Just as Jesus, in the Gospel, answered the sneering Sadducees. The only answer I can think of is that they would be right, if not for the fact that the same loving God entered into our suffering world and took the suffering on Himself! And thereby completely changed the suffering into a revelation of Himself and of his love! It doesn’t change the fact that people suffer, but it does change the way we think of God. And when we consider that He took on himself my suffering – and my sin – it does change the way that I actually experience God. I start to experience and know (yes, know!), the love of God. And know the love of the Father!
So back to the Sadducees. How did Jesus answer them? Well, he said that in the resurrection there is no giving and taking in marriage. Why? Because, in the resurrection they can no longer die; and because they are like the angels; and because they are sons of God. On the face of it, how does all this answer the question, and how does it explain that there is no giving and taking in marriage?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that, during this life, marriage is essentially an exclusive relationship – notwithstanding the fact that the relationship is deep, intimate and loving. And it is exclusive, particularly for the sake of children – not only their birth, but also for their raising and nurturing. Husbands and wives continue that role really up to their death. Also they continue to be loving and intimate – indeed, revelations to each other of God’s love – until death. After death, there is a sense in which marriage is no longer needed. Children are not born in the resurrection. Moreover, in the resurrection, everyone will know the love of God, the love of the Father, in the very same way that Jesus knows it. So we wont need that exclusive relationship called marriage in the resurrection. In a real sense, we will be like the angels – knowing God, but as sons and daughters.
So far, so good. But that doesn’t answer the question about the relationship between those who were, during this life, partners in marriage; or particular loved ones – children, parents, siblings, relatives, friends. Will those relationships continue and be known in the resurrection?
I believe that we can know the answer to that those questions by asking a different question. Namely, does Jesus know and have a special relationship with his mother in heaven? It is unthinkable that any of us would suggest that Jesus didn’t still know and love, and by loved by his mother in heaven. By the same token, it is unthinkable that we would not know and love, in heaven, those whom we have known and loved on earth! Simply unthinkable!
However, there are some other words of Jesus (Luke 11:27-8, Matthew 12:46-50 )that add a whole new dimension, and a whole other aspect to our thinking about the after life. One day a woman, in the crowd listening to Jesus, shouted out: “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts that suckled you!” The woman was rather poetically saying: “Your Mum must be really proud of you!” In one sense, she was really saying something about Jesus. The woman was obviously deeply touched by Jesus and his words, yet spoke about Jesus’ mother. We’ve often heard people saying something similar. What is really significant is the reply Jesus gave her. “Yes, but more blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it”. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t excluding his mother from this. Who, more than Mary, has heard the word of God and kept it? And precisely for Mary, hearing and keeping the word of God, was about Jesus being the centre of her life.
On another occasion, Jesus said: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said: “Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Putting all this together, we have a picture of the resurrection. While there is no doubt that the intimate and loving relationships we have known on earth will continue, there is also a transformation of all of our other relationships. All the other relationships will be raised to a whole new level. In fact, to something of the same nature as our most loving and intimate earthly relationships – as Jesus said: “here are my mother, my brothers and my sisters”. He was speaking of everyone who does the will of his Father in heaven. “In heaven!” One thing we can say about heaven is that it is precisely wherever the will of the Father is being done and experienced by everyone – angelic or human. And that, in heaven, everyone will experience everyone else as Jesus described it – as mother, brother, sister, or in other words, in the deepest possible relationship.
Perhaps, the only glimpse of this that we might have already experienced on earth is when we first discover that we are truly loved by someone, and when we really love (or are in love) with someone. Not counting here, parents, siblings, family and relatives – but someone we did not know, and now, we love her/him, and he/she loves me. Isn’t it the case that when this happens, and perhaps in the flush of it happening – we feel that we sort of love everyone; we love everyone we meet, because we are so filled with love, that it just overflows. True, it doesn’t often last that long – the overflow to everyone, I mean. But the experience is real enough. And perhaps it is a glimpse, a foretaste of what heaven is like. Knowing the love of the Father, through his Son and the Spirit, we shall be so filled with love, that we really will love and be loved by everyone else. Furthermore, it will last, and forever! And in the midst of that, we’ll still know love for and be loved by those who were our special loves during our earthly lifetime.
It’s mind-blowing! Who wouldn’t be looking forward to it? It’s the best of all worlds.
Just one post-script. The Holy Souls! Why pray for them? Well, we understand that they haven’t reached the resurrection life yet. For one thing, there is Purgatory. In Newman’s vision of it – it is a place/time of cleansing in restful waters. Other visions suggest fire! In the end, any vision is poetic and grasping at the truth. The Holy Souls don’t yet have resurrected bodies. Their former bodies have returned to dust and ashes. Neither fire or water can directly touch or effect a soul. But there will be a cleansing – of all that remains of the former self-life; all that remains of sin and its effects. It is the love and mercy of God that brings about that cleansing, purification and transformation. The souls do not, indeed cannot, do it for themselves. However, in his love and mercy, God does permit our prayers and love to assist God in the process. And, again in Newman’s vision in the “Dream of Gerontius”, the Holy Souls will be aware that we are praying for them, and will experience our love and prayer as propelling them forwards on their final journey into God’s loving arms. So let’s use this month of November lovingly for the Holy Souls!
November 13, 2016
October 25, 2016