We remember our beloved dead today in our prayers, at Mass, and by visiting their grave sites at the cemetery. They have entered the final leg of their journey to heaven, and while they do continue to suffer they are already guaranteed the victory Christ won for them. That is the big difference between them and we who are still on our earthly pilgrimage. Suffering and purification are a necessary component of our salvation. Part of being saved is being transformed and changed by God’s grace and mercy. Once we have turned our lives over to our Lord Jesus Christ and received his Love and Mercy, we begin our journey to heaven. That journey is complete when nothing in our hearts remains attached to sin, to worldly pleasures and pursuits, to vice or to evil.
With God’s help and grace, we can hope to complete that part of our transformation while still in this life. Human weakness and the other spiritual enemies of our souls are relentless however, so God will faithfully lead those who sincerely turned to Him for help through the final purification before eternity should they die still in need of transformation. It is a great encouragement to know that God’s mercy is provided in abundance, but it is also an important reminder about our most important task in this life. If we are not advancing towards God, we are walking away from Him. If we are always advancing towards God, even if we are not perfect when we die, He will bring us the rest of the way as through fire.
The good God, showing his great and varied providence, not only ordained all of creation, unfolded the heavens, spread the seas, enkindled the sun, caused the moon to shine, gave the earth to be inhabited and offered all the resources of the earth for food and for the sustenance of our bodies, but he also gave us the relics of the holy martyrs. After taking their souls (“The souls of the righteous,” it says, “are in the hand of God”), he left us their bodies in the meantime as an exhortation and a comfort, so that, drawing near to the graves of these saints, we might be moved to zeal and to imitation and that seeing them we might keep the memory of their good works and of the rewards associated with them.1
Where do we think these saints are? In a place where they are doing well. What more do you want? You do not know the place, but consider what it truly is. Wherever they are, they are with God. “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God; no torment will touch them.” They passed through torments to reach the place without torment. Through narrowness and constriction they reached the place of freedom. Therefore, those who are heading toward such a homeland should not be dismayed if the way is difficult.2
CASSIODORUS: “My life is always in your hands, but I do not forget your law.” Because the soul of the righteous is persecuted by the wickedness of thieves, who want to seduce it with various traps, it very wisely says that it is placed “in the hands” of God. No violence of its adversaries can reach there, as it says, “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no fatal torment will touch them.” And also, “My sheep listen to my voice,” and a little later, “No one will steal them from my hand.” He added “ever,” so that it would be understood that at no time is the soul left to the mercy of its foes. When it then says “in the hands,” it means that God acts with power, since he keeps safe those who show themselves to have acted according to his judgments. Why then does he say that his soul is placed “in the hands” of the Lord? Because his law is not taught to someone who forgets. Therefore, we are under his protection if we do not stray in anything from the saving precepts. This is what is asked of us at all times and what we are commanded in particular here: to return to the law, and not to stray from the law.3
PELAGIUS (?) (via PSEUDO-AUGUSTINE):
But someone will ask, “Why do we see that the good die along with the bad?” The former do not perish but escape, because they are freed from commerce with the wicked and from persecution, and they are brought to rest. The others die and truly perish, because what awaits them when they depart from this world is the torment and punishment of a terrible judgment. The good are called before their time, so that the perverse will torment them no more. The wicked and godless are taken away so that they would no longer persecute the good. The righteous are called from difficulties, tribulations and anguish into rest. The godless are dragged from luxury, abundance and pleasures to punishment. The former go to judge, the latter to be judged. The former, to receive their due, the latter to receive their punishment, as it is written, “The righteous, even if he dies prematurely, will find rest.” And also, “Because he lived among sinners, he was taken away.” And also, “His soul was pleasing to the Lord. Therefore God took him quickly from the wickedness around him.” And still, “They go to death together with the godless, but they are in peace.” You see therefore that this disintegration of the body is rest, not punishment, for the righteous and for those who worship God. In decay, rather than perishing, they are freed. Thus the faithful do not fear decay, nor are they overawed by it, but they desire and long for its coming. They understand that through it they will arrive at rest, not punishment. The perverse, the godless and those who are conscious of their crimes rightly fear decay, because of a natural disposition by which they cannot fail to judge themselves. Consequently, having received and understood this explanation, we must not sin at all, especially because we are not unaware that there is a judgment of sinners in this world, which remains in the future one.4
God said earlier that those who sincerely repent will be saved and that after they have received the remedy of forgiveness, we must think of them as stars. Indeed, those who have merited to be numbered among the saints shine like the nighttime stars of this creation. But as much as it might seem to us that there are many, many of these in the church, God has counted every one of those who will have the joy of participating in his kingdom. The fact that we can think of the stars as holy people is attested to in the passage of Genesis that says, “I will make your descendents as numerous as the stars of heaven.” And Solomon says, “The righteous will shine like the stars of heaven.”5
- BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTIONS 7.1. Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 58). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 298.3.3. Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 59). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPLANATION OF THE PSALMS 118.109. Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 59). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE CHRISTIAN LIFE 5. Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 60). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPLANATION OF THE PSALMS 146.4. Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 62). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.