9 years ago I was blessed to spend a short time in France where I had many memorable opportunities, which while unintended, helped solidify my faith and probably sowed some of the seeds of my vocation. I toured the art in the Lovue, attended Mass at Notre Dame, visited Versailles and much more, but one of the most lasting impressions from that time in France was my trip to Normandy. As I looked out over the countless graves marked by crosses I could not help but be grateful for the sacrifice so many of the greatest generation made for our country, and I wondered where they found the strength to march straight into almost certain death?
While I know many of these heroes willingly gave their lives for our country out of bravery and love of country, I simply cannot imagine many of them storming the beach without a deep faith, a faith that sadly many people in our time are missing. It seems to me that in the world today many people fear death. While there is certainly a natural fear of death, today, the feast of All Souls, gives us pause to reflect on our lives and on death.
Why do so many of us fear death? I think many of us fear death because we fear the unknown, but for us as people of faith, death is not the unknown. While many people think the story of life is simply birth, live life, to the fullest and death, we as Christians know it is different, we know we are born, we die and if we have been faithful to Christ we share in His resurrection and eternal life. Death is not the end of the story it is the middle. The end of the story is the resurrection and eternal life. “Death is redemption, a blessing, because in it this unrefined existence, which is prone to sin and so ill disposed, is renovated and reworked into a new one.”
Some of us may fear death because we fear the final judgment. While this fear can certainly be healthy it must be tempered through the lens of faith through which we know that the whole aim of our life on earth is to prepare to enter into eternity with the Father, who created us and sustains us in love. If we stop to think about the true meaning of this life how can we not look at our own death with great anticipation for the only thing we have to fear is sin, since it is only our freely committed acts of sin that will keep us from sharing eternal life with the God who loves us.
I think many of us also fear death because we fear leaving behind our loved ones While death may seem to be the end things our faith helps us to understand that death is only a temporary separation because unless we have permanently separated ourselves from God’s love through mortal sins which have not been forgiven, we remain a part of the Church here on earth, in union with those who are a part of the Church in heaven and those awaiting final purification in purgatory.
Growing up my parents drilled into my brain the belief that the bond of blood I share with my family is sacred. While this blood tie is certainly very important, in Christianity there is a tie that is stronger than blood, the bond of Christ Himself. You and I, as baptized members of the Church, have been incorporated into the body of Christ. We share a bond that is rooted not in our own blood, but in the very person of Jesus whose Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity we will receive today in Holy Communion, the same Jesus who shed His blood so that we might merit eternal life through that same sacrifice which is represented here today at Mass.
Yesterday, on the feast of all saints day we celebrated the great truth of our relationship with each other united in Christ and we understood that we pray to the saints not because we want to go around Christ, but because they are one with Christ. They are our family, united to us by Christ Himself. Today as we gather to pray for our brothers and sisters who have died we recall the doctrine of purgatory. We gather with the belief that unless we have separated ourselves from the love of God, through mortal sins that have not been confessed, we can be purified of our imperfections even after death and enjoy the eternal happiness of heaven. I don’t know about you but I find this teaching very comforting because I know that regardless of how hard I try to live the teachings of the Gospel, at the moment of my death their will be some imperfections in me that need purification and so for me purgatory is not a teaching I fear but rather a teaching of hope. Knowing the truth about the death and the reality that some of our brothers and sisters may be in purgatory undergoing purification so that they may enter eternal life spurs me on to come to their assistance, through the offering of this Mass, and through my prayers and sacrifices. And so today as we offer this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we offer our prayers for our brothers in sisters in need of our help, our brothers and sisters in purgatory, with the hope that one day, we too may share eternal life with them.
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg. 252.