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November holy days, death and Church unity

November is the month in which the Church remembers the departed—those who have gone before us into the mystery of death, earnestly hoping for resurrection in Christ Jesus.

On Nov. 1, we celebrate the feast of All Saints—a memorial for all of those who already enjoy eternity in heaven; living in abundance the inner life of the Most Holy Trinity. On Nov. 1, the Church asks for the prayers of all those who live eternally in heaven, beginning with Mary, the queen of all saints. We are all called to holiness and to be saints. The saints remind us that sanctity is possible for each of us.

On Nov. 2, we celebrate All Souls Day—the commemoration of all the faithful departed. On this day, we remember the holy souls in purgatory—those who are being prepared to enter into the heavenly kingdom through purification from all sinfulness. In an audience last January, Pope Benedict XVI explained that purgatory is the soul’s correct response to the perfect love of God. “The soul that is aware of the immense love and perfect justice of God consequently suffers for not having responded correctly and perfectly to that love.”

Of course, apart from the canonized saints, we can’t know who among the dead enjoys the fullness of heaven, or who is being prepared for redemption through the process of purgatory. And so we spend the month of November praying for all those who have died. We hope that all souls, upon encountering God’s love, will accept it, receive it, and ultimately will live in that love forever, in heaven.

In the month of November, we remember the dead—we pray for them, and ask for their prayers. In this month, we have a clear sense of the unity of the Church; a unity that is not overcome by death. In the month of November, the Church on earth, the Church Militant, stands squarely beside the Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in heaven. We observe this unity in the eucharistic prayers prayed at Mass.

In November 1959, Servant of God Dorothy Day observed: “We are one flesh, one family, one brotherhood. And God is our Father, giving us what we ask, bread, not a stone, life, not death, freely, with love, not because we deserve it. He will save us, in spite of ourselves! Because Christ has, once and for all, overcome Death, the enemy.”

Last week, our nation suffered the tragic devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Millions of Americans have been injured, some have died, and others lost their property and livelihood.

On Friday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan noted that “our hearts are broken when you see the loss of life, the grieving families, the devastation, the ruination.” We are united in the love of God, and so we have an obligation to stand with those who have suffered. We should pray for them, and commend the souls of the dead to God. But if we wish to express the unity of God’s love, we should also support their efforts to recover and rebuild. We can do that through donations to the disaster relief efforts of Catholic Charities USA. I pray that all of us will consider such donations—in unity with those who departed in Hurricane Sandy, and in memory of the all the dead whom we honor.

We are united as sons and daughters in the love of God. Death cannot interrupt the unity of the Church. In Jesus Christ, those who are triumphant, like the souls in heaven, stand beside those who are suffering, like the souls being purified in purgatory. Let us stand beside those who suffer, and pray for those who have died, as we live the eternal unity that comes from the love of the Trinity.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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