The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if in the sight of others, they indeed be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace, He proved them, and as sacrificial offerings He took them to Himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever. Those who trust in Him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with Him in love; because grace and mercy are with His holy ones, and His care is with His elect.(P) The word of the Lord.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures He gives me repose; beside restful waters He leads me; He refreshed my soul. (R)
He guides me in right paths for His name's sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage. (R)
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil my cup overflows. (R)
Surely, goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples; "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, "Come, you are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.""
"Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirty and give you drink? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?" And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did to me.""
"Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me." Then they will answer and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?" He will answer them, "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me." And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
One evening three friends were in a pub discussing what they would like to hear spoken over their coffins at their funeral service. One of them said, "I would like the people to say: He was a loving husband and responsible father." The second man said, "That's very nice. But I would like to hear them say: He was the most generous man in town. He helped everyone in need." And the third one said, "That's great. But I would like to hear them say: Look! He's moving and he is alive."
Wanting to live forever seems a vain wish because we know only too well that life is a journey that ends in death and so, one day we all will die. We are all mortals. Death is a human reality we face every day. According to the World Health Organization about fifty six million people die each year and therefore, on an average, about one hundred and fifty thousand people die each day. Whether we like it or not, whether we are young or old, rich or poor, strong or weak, healthy or sick, our own death is inevitable. However, our Christian faith tells us that there is life after mortal death and, it is granted to all and believed by those who put their trust in Jesus Christ. That's to say death is not the end or cessation of our existence but a transition into eternal life through faith in Jesus. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die", John (11:25-26).
Today we gather, first of all, to thank God for the universal gifts of resurrection and immortality and, secondly to pray for all the dead. Why do we have to pray for the dead? From time immemorial, people of all religions including tribal religions have believed that a divine or an immortal part of the human being called "soul" lives in some form after death and, have offered prayers to comfort the spirits of the dead. The Jews, for example, believed that the souls of the dead were in a place of temporary bondage and, that they needed prayers to get their final release. Like the Jewish belief, our faith also teaches us that there is a place or state of purification for those who die with venial sins on their souls. In other words, they have gone to their eternal reward but perhaps at the moment they are still in need of purification from the power of sin. So we are encouraged to offer prayers in some way to benefit those in the state of ongoing purification.
What is the basis for our prayers for the dead? We believe that Scripture and Tradition are the two sources of our Christian faith. Some argue that there is no explicit endorsement for prayers for the dead in the scriptures and nor do the scriptures spell out clearly what happens after we die. However, there are some indirect references that could be cited. For both Judaism and Christianity the Old Testament is part of Holy Scriptures. The foundation of our faith in God is rooted in the Old Testament, and so is, that of the Jews. Some of our beliefs, including praying for the dead, also mirror Jewish beliefs. The earliest Scriptural reference to prayers for the dead appears in the second book of Maccabees. The book tells us how Judas Maccabee, a Jewish leader, who had led his army into a battle in 163 years before Christ, "collected the bodies of his troops for burial and then offered sacrifices for the dead so that the dead might be pardoned for their sin", 2 Maccabees (12:39-45). This is the first indication in the Bible of a belief that prayers offered by the living can help free the dead from any sin that would separate them from God in the next life. Jesus and the apostles shared this belief and passed it on to the early Church. Saint Paul, for example, shared the belief at the death of his friend Onesiphorus and, prayed in his letter to Timothy, 2 Timothy (1:18), "May the Lord grant him mercy on that Day." And also prayer requests for the dead have been found inscribed on the walls of the Roman catacombs. The early Fathers of the Church encouraged this practice which they believed had been inherited from the Apostles. By the fourth century they began to encourage the believers to offer prayers for the dead as though it was already a longstanding custom. For instance, Saint Augustine in his book, "Confessions", says that he used to pray for his deceased mother, remembering her request: "When I die, bury me anywhere you like, but remember to pray for me at the altar". The Catechism of the Catholic Church recommends that we gain indulgences, do penance, and especially perform works of charity and exercises on behalf of the dead. Therefore, the practice of praying for the dead is rooted in our Christian belief and tradition.
Today we have an opportunity to consciously and lovingly remember the dead, each one by name with great devotion, whether they have been close relatives and friends or just acquaintances, baptized or not baptized. Let us pray that all the departed souls, even those unknown to us may experience the love of Christ who frees them from their imperfections and sinfulness.
Praying for the dead is as important as praying for the living. Whenever we read or hear or remember the names of the dead let us say, "Through God's mercy rest in Peace.", and whenever we read or hear or remember or meet the living let us say, "May God bless you!", so as to make them feel blessed and be at peace.
Last but not least, it is also a time for us to contemplate on our own mortality and always pray the last line of the Hail Mary: "Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death" and, prepare ourselves each day for eternal life when the Lord would say to us as Jesus says in today's gospel, Matthew (25:31-46), "Come, you are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."(P) Amen.
God Bless You!