Reflection 1st November 2017

A Reflection for The Feast of All Saints

MT 5:1-12A ( )

Some people were not too happy with the “fast-track” canonisations of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.  I think they were of the opinion that, as well as beatification, a certain ‘beautification’ would be necessary to prepare them for canonisation.  They felt that many human frailties were displayed by both, and that a certain amount of amnesia would be helpful to airbrush the memory of those frailties from history so that the canonisations would be more edifying.  I must confess to have had a certain sympathy for their stand.  But, now I think I was wrong.  Saints, as we know from the apostles in the Gospels, share many of our human frailties.

Taken for granted in all of this is the question of the after-life, something which many are not taking for granted anymore.  They voice their opinions over the airwaves as if they had made a new and certain discovery.  They would be surprised to learn of the non-belief in the after-life seen in the early parts of the Bible.  Also, many of the canonised saints had great doubts about the existence of God for great parts of their own lives. 

Recently, in a graveyard of all places, I was asked if I believed in life after death.  I referred to an article by the former Irish politician Gay Mitchell in a recent book, “Catholicism and Me” in which he briefly mentions the idea of resurrection and the after-life.  He says that it is reasonable to at least think of the possibility of life after death.   After all, if we have one form of life now, why should it not be possible to begin a new form of life again?  A 100 years ago where were any of us?  Yet here we are today, part of a wonderful world and of lives that can be extraordinary in many ways.  As we have the possibility of going from “ashes to ashes” it is also imaginable that we go onto something greater – the ‘caterpillar to butterfly’ scenario.  Then I referred to the teaching of Jesus – “in my father’s house there are many mansions.”  There are many other examples, such as the judgement parables, and most of all, the resurrection of Jesus.  Yet, many who have no difficulty in accepting the ethical teachings of Jesus with regard to this life put much less stay on his teachings regarding the life to come.

At this time of year it has been part of our tradition to pray for the dead even if less devotedly nowadays than in the past.  People also ask "Why do we pray for the dead? They're dead, so why do they need our prayers?"  The most direct and simple answer is that they are not dead.  They still live, although in a different way.

In the Preface for the Dead we say “that life is changed not ended.”  Their life goes on, even if in a way that we do not know.  In the Eucharist we pray for those “who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.” 

Also we, and they, are part of eternal life now.  Eternity covers not only the hereafter but also the here-and-now as well as the heretofore.   

As we celebrate the memory and the lives of “All Saints” and “All Souls” we remember them with affection and inspiration, full of hope that we will follow in their footsteps.

I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Martin Kelly C.S.Sp. - Ordained in 1974, Fr. Martin ministered for over 25 years in Ethiopia.  He also served as part of the formation team in the Irish Spiritan Province.