Saints, Souls, and Sinners

“I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

The Apostles of the Interior Life recently offered a women’s retreat at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas that I was fortunate enough to attend.  The retreat was based on a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven.”  (Mt. 13:11)  Spending the majority of the weekend meditating on Heaven was a unique experience, as I admittedly don’t ponder heaven as often as I should.   From the beautiful words the Apostles spoke, I was reminded that Heaven should never be far from my thoughts.  After all, how can I truly live my life with the hope of ending up in a place I know nothing about?

Upon returning home, I decided to look for guidance and wisdom from holy people who, while on earth, did indeed keep Heaven in the forefront of their minds and attained eternal rest there.  The saints are wonderful role models for us to follow in regards to pursuing a heavenly home.  While reading and reflecting on the lives of some of my favorite saints, I noticed a common focus.  Their lives were based on prayer, sacrifice, and a deep concern for the salvation of others.  They understood clearly that we are one body in Christ, a Communion of Saints, in which each member contributes to the good and shares in the welfare of all.  This mystical body is not limited to the living, but also includes the souls who are in Purgatory and all the saints in Heaven.

As Catholics, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate this spiritual union of saints, souls and sinners on two feast days.  All Saints Day is celebrated each year on November 1st, and is a Holy Day of Obligation.  All Saints Day is an ancient feast, dating back to the fourth century, to a time of great persecution in the Church.   A day was set aside to celebrate the martyrdom of all saints, known and unknown.  All Saints Day still holds the same meaning for us today. We take this opportunity to honor these men and women, wonder at their holiness, celebrate their lives, value their example, and ask for their intercession.

All Souls Day, celebrated on November 2nd, oftentimes resides in the shadow of All Saints Day, but shouldn’t.  The purpose of this feast is for the Church to commemorate and pray for the holy souls in Purgatory, undergoing purification for their sins before entering Heaven.  The souls in Purgatory are assuredly going to end up in Heaven, but their purification experience depends largely on how far they had to go when they got there, as well as on our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf.  The impact of our offerings for these poor souls won’t be known to us while we’re here on earth, but will bring us many blessings when, or if, we are in Purgatory ourselves.  Offering up our pain and suffering for others, whether they are in Purgatory or on earth, creates great change in their soul and ours.

Like the saints that have gone before us, we too must recognize that we are all one body in Christ, eternally connected to those who are living and dead.   Our concern for the salvation of others, particularly for those who are in the state of purification, must be great and always growing stronger.  For it is through our offerings for the sake of others that we get little glimpses of Heaven on earth!  Only then can we begin to realize “what God has ready for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9)