The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

The “souls of the just are in the hand 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. But they are in peace.”[1] This passage from the Book of Wisdom notes that to the foolish the dead have been afflicted with their own mortality and have simply ceased to be, that there is nothing left of their essential being, nothing more beyond the still and silent dust that fills the spot where what remains of once a living human being has now been laid to rest.

In the hand of God

In the hand of God

But if there is nothing more to life than what we experience while among the living, then where is the sense of it? Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is the meaning of life? Is there nothing more?

If there is no God, no heaven, nothing more beyond this life for which we are to aspire to reach, then are we not diminished, reduced to so much reconstituted matter, which for the briefest span of time, appears self-animated and barely cognizant of its own existence?

Without moving toward the horizon of the infinite, without a sure and certain faith in a life that lies beyond this mortal one, there can be no hope, no reason, no purpose, and no goal for which we are to strive to do our best, no impetus or force upon which we seek the good and reject the bad, no desire to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If there is no God and no hope for an existence greater than that in which we at present find ourselves, then we by necessity lose an essential part of our humanity and deny the very existence of our immortal soul.

An existence delineated by the ethology, “you’re born, you live, and then you die” denies any possibility for eternal life in heaven with God and places uncommon difficulties on those so believing. Absent any hope for heaven beyond this life, we are compelled to focus all our efforts on acquiring heaven in the here and now. Reliance on ourselves and others for a heaven here on earth is an exercise in futility that is doomed to failure. Nothing and no one but God can provide you with a life filled with happiness, satisfaction, joy, fulfillment, and love.

A dream of heaven on earth is but a dream for there is no perfect life; that dream dies with the dawning of each new day. Our desires, our hopes, our dreams will never match the reality that circumscribes our mortal lives. The undeniable truth that must ultimately be confronted by each of us is that there is no heaven this side of eternity.

Our lives, more often than not, are defined by moments of tension and stress, pain and suffering, frustration and depression, anger, bitterness, and even hatred. We suffer through highs and lows, laughter and tears, love and loss, joy and sadness. No life is ever completely filled with peace, contentment, and love. No life is ever fully satisfied, no potential fully met. No life is ever a perfect performance. A life without the certitude of an eternal after-life can never be complete, for the possibility of perfection is humanly unattainable.

When we consider the multitude of souls, who seek their heaven in the here and now and refuse to journey toward the infinite horizon that marks the entrance to the gates of heaven, we can begin to understand the reason for the ever rising levels of vitriol, hatred, and violence that exist in this world today. Without accepting the perfection that a heavenly existence portends, we find ourselves relegated to accepting an imperfect heaven here on this earth, a heaven that can only be obtained by the self-indulgent demands we place on those around us, demands which they can never hope to meet because those demands can only be granted by an all-loving God.

How often have we heard that God is love and that He created us out of love to love Him in return? When we deny God or turn away from Him and look for heaven in all the lovely things which He has made, we are, in truth, denying and turning away from His unbounded and merciful love. And if there is no God who loves us, if we have no God to love, how can we possibly hope to love ourselves or one another?

Despite the narcissistic diatribes and philosophical nonsense contrived by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche who confidently declared that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him[2] we can with even greater confidence and assurance proclaim that God is very much alive and that in fact Nietzsche is well and truly dead. The irony of this was depicted in a cartoon some years ago using two sheets of paper. On one was written: “God is dead, signed Nietzsche” and on the other was written: “Nietzsche is dead, signed God.” It should be noted that although Nietzsche declared himself to be an atheist – someone who denies the very existence of God – he could not help but contradict himself by declaring the death of a God whose very existence he so ardently denied.

The certainty of God’s existence likewise assures us that there is life beyond the grave because God, through his only Son, Jesus Christ, has promised each of us a place in his heavenly kingdom. Jesus tells us, “For this is the will of my Father that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”[3] That should bring great hope and consolation to us all.

During our lifetimes each of us have “lost” loved ones, those for whom we hold a special place in our hearts and we are comforted by the thought that our beloved dead are in heaven basking in the glory of God. And yet, our dearly departed remain ever dead to us, absent from our midst, and gone forever from among the living.

We tell ourselves that “they are in a better place,” perhaps to ease the pain inflicted by their loss or to lessen the grief we feel for our own, even as we recognize and acknowledge that we are still here and they are not. They have gone and left us here and nothing can relieve us of the emptiness that pervades.

Lest we begin to lose ourselves in maudlin sentimentality, we should remind ourselves of the final words that Jesus spoke to his disciples just before he ascended to the Father, “And behold, I am with you always, till the end of the world.[4] And let us also remind ourselves that those departed souls whom we have loved and love so much are forever in the loving arms of Jesus. And if Jesus is with us always, then so too are our beloved dead for they are, as we believe, with him. They have not left us any more than has our Lord and Savior. And for that we can thank Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Wis 3:1-3

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125.

[3] Jn 6:40.

[4] Mt 28:20.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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