Fishing Season is Over.
Lessons from the Defunctorum, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
2 Maccabees 12: 43-46.
Psalm 23: 1-6.
Romans 5: 5-11.
Matthew 5: 1-12.*
The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.**
Return to ByzantineCatholicPriest.com.
9:54 AM 11/2/2014 — It's purely a twist of Providence that the feast of All Saints fell this year on a Saturday and the feast of All Souls falls on a Sunday, because it forces us into an uncomfortable position. All Saints Day is normally a Holy Day of Obligation, but the obligation is canceled if it falls on Saturday; All Souls Day has never been a Day of Obligation, but because it's on a Sunday, we have to be here. We are compelled, therefore, to reverse our natural inclinations to embrace and celebrate life, and to run away from the specter of death. All Saints Day is the feast of heaven, emphasizing our unity with the Communion of the Saints who repose in heavenly glory. All Souls Day is the feast of Purgatory; and, while our catechism tells us that the souls in Purgatory are joyful in their sufferings because they know that heaven is their ultimate destination, the idea of it still leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, because we want to go to heaven right away; but, only perfect souls can enter into heaven so, if we should die in an imperfect state, assuming we are not to be damned, we must first be purified. That's why we pray for the dead, and offer Masses for them: the souls in heaven have no need of our prayers; the souls in hell cannot be helped by our prayers; so, if the Church prays for the dead, it must mean that there are some souls which are neither in heaven or hell, souls whose salvation is assured because they did not die in a state of moral sin, but were nonetheless infected with the temporal effects of their sins, which must be purged from them before they can enter into the bliss of heavenly glory.
And, if I do say so myself, that was a very skillful summation of about ten questions out of your Baltimore Catechism. What is often missed is that both of these feasts—All Saints and All Souls—are both feasts of the Resurrection, and of that virtue that I told you many weeks ago was the forgotten virtue: the virtue of Hope, and here's why.
There's a very interesting scene at the very end of the Gospel of St. John—there are a lot of curious scenes that are recorded in John’s Gospel that aren’t in the other three, and a lot of them we don’t read about in Church because John's poetic license with his chronology tends to confuse our well-ordered view of the events of our Lord's life. This one takes place after the Crucifixion—exactly when we're not supposed to ask—and Peter and a few of the other disciples are sitting on the beach around a fire. Jesus, who had just risen from the dead, walks up to them, but they don’t know who he is. And after a while Peter gets up and says, “I’m going fishing.” It’s a significant moment, because what was Peter before he met our Lord? He was a fisherman. Jesus told him that he would become a fisher of men, but that was three years before; and, now Jesus was dead, or so Peter thought. When he gets up off the beach and says, “I’m going fishing,” what he’s really saying is, “It’s over. It was nice while it lasted, but it’s over. I’m going back to the way things were before I even met this Jesus fellow.” Jesus, whom he doesn’t recognize, goes fishing with him, and what do you think happens? Jesus repeats the very same miracle he performed when first he met Peter: the miraculous catch of fish. And, of course, with that, Peter recognizes who he is, and realizes that he’s committed the sin of losing hope.
The lesson wasn't lost on Peter, and it can't be lost on us. When we’ve reached the point where we cannot conceive of any way out of our problems—when there is just no solution that we can think of—all of a sudden Jesus provides one that we couldn’t have thought of because, to our way of thinking, it was impossible.
Take, for example, the awful truth that the celebration of All Souls Day forces before us, the ultimate fear of man: death. We fear death so because, to our way of thinking, there’s no escape from it; there’s no way around it. You can’t buy you’re way out of it, you can’t lie your way out of it, you can’t cry your way out of it, you can’t trick your way out of it. Everybody dies. We fear it because we can’t beat it. And we do everything we can possibly do to pretend that it doesn’t exist. We don’t even like to talk about it. When someone we know dies we never say that So-and-so died; we always say that So-and-so has “passed away.” And then we take the mortal remains of our loved ones who have died and we make them up to look like they’re sleeping, and we dress them in their Sunday best and give them a new hairdo—anything we can do to make it look like they’re anything but dead. Not to mention all the crazy things we do to prolong our own lives as long as possible: we starve ourselves with crazy diets and take vitamins by the truck load and invest in whatever new contraption or plan that promises to make us look and feel younger. Stay up late and watch television and you'll see all the commercials for products or potions or contraptions that promise to make you feel younger, look younger, restore your sexual vitality, etc., etc. Then we come to Church and, supposedly, celebrate at every Mass that the Resurrection of Christ conquers death. What do we think that means? Does it mean that Jesus makes it so no one dies? Of course not, because we know that people do die; we've seen it happen to people we love. What it means is something that is impossible for us to comprehend in today's culture of death, something that cannot be understood or even coped with without faith. The resurrection of Christ from the tomb conquers death not by making it so that no one dies, but by making death irrelevant. We pass from this world because this world is not our destiny.
That is what gives the Christian his hope: not that Jesus can somehow take the problems of this world and make them all go away; what gives the Christian his hope is the knowledge that this world will one day pass away and, if we have persevered—if we have been faithful to him during our time here—then we, too, will enjoy an everlasting life where the problems of this world simply do not exist. Some of us, because of the holiness of our lives, will enter into that everlasting life right away; most of us will probably need to be purified in Purgatory first, but ultimately will enter into heavenly glory.
Hopelessness is a sin precisely because it proves that we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If we believe that life truly offers no options, that there is no way out, then what we’re saying is, “It’s over. There is nothing left for me.” And how can someone who believes in Jesus ever say that?
There is an old saying that life isn't always a bowl of cherries. Whoever made up that saying must have really liked cherries. But for the Christian—regardless of whether he likes cherries—it's really quite meaningless, because the Christian is a person who understands that life in this world isn't the only fruit in the bowl.
* There are no set lessons for the Masses of this day, leaving the priest to choose at his discretion from any number of lessons provided in the Common of the Dead (the Defunctorum). Those listed here are merely the first ones indicated in the Common.
** In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, All Souls Day carries the rank of a Memorial unless it falls, as it does this year, on a Sunday, in which case the Ordinary Sunday is surpressed in its favor. In the Extraordinary Form, when this day falls on a Sunday, it is transfered to the following day and does not displace the Ordinary Sunday.