The weekend that it was started me thinking about a whole lot of issues connected with life, death, dying, the universe and everything. By the time I reached Sunday evening I can honestly say that I realised that I am glad that to be a Catholic.
Sitting in the chapel last Saturday morning listening to the priest say Mass was when I got my first glimpse of what the weekend was about. I don’t know what the priest said or what brought it to mind but I became aware of the fact that our faith teaches that those in heaven, purgatory and still on earth are all part of the one big family.
We all have our dead. On Saturday morning as I walked into the chapel there was a small queue of about three people waiting to write down the names of friends and relatives in our parish’s Book of Remembrance.
I added three names to the list, my daughter, my brother and my wife’s father. There were other people adding more names after me and I noticed that by the time the book was brought to the front of the altar that the page was full.
We are all aware of saints in our lives; good, decent, hardworking people who have lived out their lives and done the best for their families and moved on to the next world. We know in our bones that they are still there; they have not moved very far.
Love, real love that people have for their parents and children and their spouse, does not die. In the turmoil of the world their memory fades from time to time but when we sit in the chapel and hear the priest talk about our connectedness to the next world we soon appreciate the feelings of longing growing in our hearts.
All Souls Day came on Saturday and we remembered all those who have gone before us and were not quite ready to see the glory of God in an instant. These are the people who lived ordinary lives and died ordinary deaths and who are not too good and not too bad but need a little more purifying before they get into heaven.
When you think about it, the teaching on purgatory makes a lot of sense. Here is a question to reflect on for a minute.
If we died tonight, how many of us would be ready to stand in the presence of the Almighty, Most Holy and Pure God?
Not many of us; but it is not all bad news.
On the other hand, if we died tonight how many of us hate God enough to refuse his mercy?
Again, not many of us; so there must be someplace where we can go to be purified of all the attachments that we still have to this world.
The Church gives us All Souls Day to remember those in the inbetweenzees place. And we are encouraged to pray for those poor souls who are in this place of cleansing. When we were young we were encouraged to ‘offer it up’ for the souls in purgatory.
As I get older that idea is becoming more appealing and I am beginning to wonder if there shall be many who will ‘offer up’ their daily trials for me.
When we begin to understand Sunday as the feast day of the resurrection we begin to grasp how important in the lives of Catholics the teaching of the resurrection should be.
That’s what I like about being a Catholic; the church covers every moment of my life from conception to the resurrection. The church gives meaning to this life and the afterlife.
Then I remembered that I heard a man that I knew to be a Catholic being introduced on the radio last week. He was referred to as a ‘commentator’ and after a few minutes talking about his subject I realized that this commentator was no longer making comments but was speaking in a mocking tongue.
Of course he had to say something flippant about God and I was immediately struck by the fact that it is now so easy to dismiss God as an irrelevance and that it is the shortcut to getting yourself liked in the popular media.
You see, mocking God, proclaiming atheism and belittling anyone who says that this life has meaning has become the modern answer to thinking about serious issues.
When confronted with serious argument atheists resort to mockery and fun making. It is all they have.
I have said this before and I am sure I shall say it again; every person who says that they are an atheist can tell you why and when they became one. This means that at some point they believed and made a decision to stop believing.
That’s the important bit. Atheism is a choice. It is now a lifestyle choice: I am for me and my wants and I have the right to this and that and no one can stop me having it. It is my right!
What a lovely world the atheist inhabits; a world of his own making and where he is the centre of everything.
Listen to what an atheist says: “I don’t believe in God!”
Think about that for a moment.
The atheist is expressing an opinion. Everyone else knows there is a God but the atheist expresses an opinion. He is so full of his own arrogance that he thinks this opinion of his is important.
I have never met an atheist who can say, “I know there is no God.”
Me, and millions of others like me, know there is a God. We don’t have an opinion on the matter.
Of course not; these are facts just as it is a fact that there is a God.
The atheist shall reply, ‘what proof have you?’ and we can answer, “We have all the proof we need; Jesus told us so.”
According to the First Vatican Council, “we believe to be true what Jesus has revealed, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived.” (Session III, Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Church)
In other words all the proof we need is that Jesus said it. This drives the poor old atheist mad because for them their opinion is what counts.
The fact that we don’t even have an opinion makes him angry because his opinion of himself and his rights and seeing himself as the centre of the world is all that is important to him. The atheist sees our acceptance of Jesus’ word as absolute to be an insult to his intelligence.
Over these past hundred or more years there has been a complete change in the way we see the world.
The fist change is that lots of people now believe that science has the answer to everything. Science will tell us how things work, how the world came to be and shall ultimately give us knowledge of everything.
The second change is that people feel that we can do what we want with the knowledge we gain. We can take the laws of nature and apply them to nature in any way we want. We have become masters of the world.
Finally, we are now applying the new knowledge of science to people in order to make people do and be what we want them to be.
In America, 90% of Down’s syndrome children are aborted. Progress in DNA profiling is already beginning to alter our insurance policies; we are controlled by propaganda and subliminal advertising.
Humanity is assuming domination over the world and everything in it, even over each other.
While commentators are on the radio making fun of everything, a thought come to me: we can’t even begin to imagine what heaven is like because heaven is a place where everyone is equal, everyone believes in and honours the God who is the centre of heaven and all people give God his due place.
In the eyes of God the poorest child starving in the slums of South America is equal to Bill Gates or Barack Obama.
Now imagine you are an arrogant person who spends your life mocking God and all that he does and then you die and meet this God face to face.
You can’t say you didn’t know about God because the atheist has to make a decision not to believe. You can’t say that you did not know about God’s rights (God has rights too, you know) because you have spent a life demanding your rights at the cost of everyone else.
And then to top it all, behind Jesus there is this place called heaven and our atheist friend now knows that it is there. Jesus actually offers our friend a place in his kingdom but the atheist realizes that in heaven all people are equal, no one can mock the beliefs or life of another and that here he has to let go of all his prejudices and humbly worship God.
Where is the poor old atheist going to go? His life was not evil, he was just a little arrogant and foolish, and so he won’t choose hell. (No one is sent to hell. Each person who goes there chooses it.)
But he is still proud and arrogant and he has developed a way of thinking that he is better than everyone else and the grace that Jesus now gives him to see these things is burning the pride out of him.
Our atheist is standing in front of Jesus seeing how foolish he has been, how often in his life he rejected God’s nudge towards the truth and he is agonizingly aware of how much more he has to let go off before he can enter heaven.
Burning with embarrassment, our friend who has mocked God shall have to stand in front of Jesus until all the arrogance is purged out of him. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed at having been so stupid, seeing silly believers walk into heaven long before him, our atheist friend shall weep for his pride.
And every now and then his pain shall ease because some poor person on earth says, “I offer this up for the souls in purgatory.” And the atheist shall say that if ever I get into heaven I shall pray as much as I can for my friends on earth.
This being purged of our sinfulness is a sore business! Indeed, last ‘wickend’ with All Saints, All Souls and Sunday coming in a row, gave me plenty to think about. I took the time to stop and reflect on what these feasts mean and what part they should play in our lives.
The world goes on around me, there is commerce and politics, war and death, and I think of my loved ones who have gone before me and I thank God, who I know exists, for the grace and gift of our Catholic faith.
All in all a good week.
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