All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day make a sort of autumn Triduum. As the dying leaves fall to earth, as the daylight fades, as the wind turns colder, the Church helps her children make sense of the inevitable and confusing fact of death. Each of us will grow older, grow feebler, and die, what the poet Homer 3000 years ago called “hateful old age” and “miserable death.” In the last words of Ecclesiastes: “the silver cord is snapped, the golden bowl is broken, the pitcher is shattered at the spring, the pulley is broken at the well, the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it.” The autumn triduum of October 31, November 1, and November 2 point to a truth deeper than death: the life breath will return to God, who gave it. “For in him,” Jesus declared, “all things are alive.” The saints are those who live and die in Him.
Those of us who still live on this side of the grave must realize that we are only the tip of the iceberg. The Church consists of three parts, of which we are only the smallest. We make up the Church Militant, those in daily combat against the destructive powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But above us, below us, and all around us a great multitude fills the air, invisible to us, but more real than anything on earth. The saints in heaven (the Church Triumphant), and the holy souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering), have entered into real life, and we are shadows compared to them. We are the ghosts; they are the living--substantially alive in Christ Jesus. “After this,” St. John writes in our first reading, “I saw a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” We believe in the other two worlds, and we depend on the strength of their intercession, even as we intercede for the souls in purgatory.
Destined for Purity
And yet earthly death saddens and frightens us. Death is dirty and putrid and loathsome. We avoid it like the plague and scrub our hands after touching a corpse. But, in fact, the carnal impurity of death is only a consequence and manifestation of spiritual impurity. Before sin, there was no death, and after sin, there will be no death.
“Who are these” asks St. John, “wearing white?” The angel replies: “These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We hope that one day we will be so washed, that the sadness of sin will never again touch us. “Everyone who has this hope based on Him,” writes St. Paul in the Epistle, “makes himself pure, as He is pure.” “We are God’s children now,” he continues. “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.” Jesus directs us to this purity in the eight beatitudes: poverty of spirit, meekness, thirst for righteousness, and cleanness of heart. Only the pure of heart can see God, and can see him in other people. The pornography epidemic, for example, ruins human relationships, especially marriages, because one addicted to pornography can no longer see God or his image in other people. Holiness is first and foremost purity of heart, so as to see God in every person and in every circumstance. One day, in heaven, we will be absolutely pure, absolutely holy, absolutely content.
Saved in and for Community
God reveals himself in the people around us, and God saves us with the people around us. We are the Church Militant, but we are saved with and through the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. We are One Church, and no one is saved in isolation. “There is no isolation in heaven,” writes Pope Benedict, and the Communion of Saints begins on earth, to be perfected in heaven. St. John’s vision of heaven in the Apocalypse is “a great multitude,” crying out with one voice: “blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be to our God forever and ever.” “We are God’s children,” writes St. Paul, all members of his family. We have a Father in heaven, and we have a Mother in heaven. As we think on the fact that we all must undergo our own death alone, and the hope that God will sweep us up into the glorious multitude of saints, we put ourselves into our Holy Mother’s arms. She will lead us over the waters of earthly death and bring us at last to her Son and his kingdom, where we will live with the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, and all of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen.