Tuesday, 29 October 2013
Holy Souls: Who Are They?
We begin a month of intercession for the Holy Souls this weekend. But just who are the Holy Souls? In today’s Ordinary Form reading at Mass St Paul reminded us, “We must hope to be saved, for we are not saved yet” (Roman 8v25). Many Catholics do not seem to know this; many seem to fail in making the distinction between the fact that we have been redeemed by the Passion of Christ, but that we are not yet saved, the attitude of many being that we’ll all go to heaven. Even regular Mass attendees say “they’ve gone to a better place” about those who have died in a civil marriage and those who have never crossed the door of the Church for years and never taken up the invitation to return. At every death I attend and someone says “They’ve gone to a better place” or “They’re out of their suffering now” my reply is always the same: “That’s our hope for everyone; God is good”. I cannot say “Yes, you’re right” –because I do not know that is the case. Further, in every funeral I celebrate I ensure our intercessions pray “that all those who died in God’s grace will, aided by our prayers, have a speedy journey through purgatory; an assured entry into heaven”. This may seem pedantic, but I cannot presume the deceased is in heaven, nor glibly affirm the mourners in that assumption.
In my opinion we have given a distorted picture of the love and mercy of God to the people since Vatican II, and to the detriment of their souls in that God is now seen as so loving and merciful that everyone will go to heaven; that no response to God’s grace is necessary in order to enter heaven at the last. And in this, a kind of universalism is being promoted. God is indeed infinite in love and mercy; there is no sin repented of that is too bad or too big to be forgiven, and the greatest sinner saved will be the greatest evidence of God’s love and mercy. But therein lies the rub: no sin repented of is beyond God’s mercy. But can we say the sin of hard-heartedness is repented of when there is a continuing refusal to help the oppressed and the poor? That contraception is repented of when it is a continuing practice? That adultery is repented of by those who continue in irregular relationships? That abandoning the sacraments is repented of when people die lapsed? We must admit that none of us can say where the soul of a particular person will be in eternity since God alone judges the human soul, but we can say that those living a life contrary to the law of God are likely on the wide road that leads to perdition, which many are taking (Matt. 7:13 -I don’t say that easily since my sisters and a number of my nephews and nieces are in irregular relationships). I once remarked that a deceased person had been described as ‘devoted to his family’ and was rebuked by “Which family, Father? This one, his previous one, or the one that might have come after?”
In that we cannot know who is saved and who is lost, I make it my business to ensure the parish remembers to pray “that the faithful may be strengthened; the lapsed return and the sinner be converted”. Indeed I pray as much for these as I do for the Holy Souls so that they may indeed be, when they leave this world, among the holy souls; that die turned towards God even in some small measure so that having walked a mile toward Him, He will walk two miles to them (to us?)
So, to answer our question: the Holy Souls are all those (and only those) who have died even in some small way in a state of grace and who are being purified in Purgatory before their entry into God’s presence. Our prayers can assist their journey.