Our challenge this month

Halloween has passed, Thanksgiving is yet to come. Daylight savings time has ended. The November elections have been completed and the Veterans Day holiday will be upon us. 

The winter days are heading toward us. Stores are already reminding us that Christmas is soon to be here and we are to complete our shopping as soon as possible.

While time does march unhesitatingly along, it is good to pause and to consider special meanings to this transitional month of November. 

In the Catholic Church, November begins with the celebration of All Saints Day. It is preceded, more notably, by Halloween, which in itself signifies the “hallowed eve” of the feast day. On November 1 we remember all those who have entered the Kingdom of God — Heaven.

While there are some “celebrity” saints, others exist as well. By a “celebrity saint,” I mean one who is recognized easily. Among these are St. Joseph, St. Patrick, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Jude, St. Anthony and many others. Some are specifically recognized and honored in their own country. St. Juan Diego and St. Faustina are some examples of this.

The Church continues to name “saints” after a lengthy process. This informs us that these people are surely in Heaven and that the example of their life is worthy of emulation. Recently, you will recall that Pope Francis canonized — named as a saint — Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

The Church believes, however, that there are many saints who are not “celebrity” saints, but ordinary people who have lived good lives and now share the joy of God’s Kingdom in Heaven. The feast of All Saints remembers them. Among these saints are people we have known and, perhaps, were members of our family.

It is interesting that the day after All Saints, November 1, is celebrated as All Souls Day. This is the day, in fact, the month, in which we remember the dead who have not reached Heaven. 

At death, our immortal souls are judged in three ways. We can be judged to be worthy of Heaven and enter Heaven immediately. We could be judged unworthy of Heaven, but need a time to make ourselves ready to be received into God’s Kingdom. This time and place of preparation for Heaven is called purgatory. Since God has given us freedom of choice, He will abide by our decision not to love Him in this life. He will allow our choice to be realized for all eternity when we are condemned to hell — the absence of God.

When a soul is in purgatory, it is able to receive the assistance of others to remit the time due for penance or purgation. This is why the Church encourages us to pray for the souls in purgatory during the month of November. In a sense, this is similar to our Veterans Day or Memorial Day celebrations, when we recall those who have died in the service of our country.

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (No. 1030) reminds us: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal Salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven.”

It further states (No. 1031): “The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification.” In Scripture we find references to praying for the dead. Again the “Catechism” (No. 1032) reminds us that: “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.”

Prayers for the faithful departed should be a part of our Christian life. It is believed if your prayers help a soul to attain Heaven, you will have an intercessor for all eternity assisting you. 

It is sad to see that some churches have no intentions for Masses. One would think everyone would be remembering their loved ones throughout the year. 

When I receive the Mass Book for the next year, I immediately put in the name of my deceased father and sisters in the book on their date of death. It is 25 years, on the ninth of November, since my father died. There is not a day that passes that I do not remember him or other deceased in my prayers. The deceased need our prayers.

We should also remember the priests in our life who have died. Unlike family members who die and have their children to pray for them, that is not possible for a priest. They say there is nothing deader than a dead priest. In my will I have left directions and money for Masses to be said for my soul in case no one else does it. Likewise, in my parish I offer a Mass in November in memory of all the priests who have served at the parish.

St. John Chrysostom has reminded us: “Let us help and commemorate the souls in purgatory. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offering for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

Please pray for the deceased souls in purgatory during this month of November. Especially pray for your own family and friends that they may see God and enter His Kingdom for all eternity.

This is our challenge this month. May it be a good month for you and may God bless you.

Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

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