(From a homily given on All Soul's Day)
I want to take a look at the significance of All Soul's Day with you - an annual occurence that seems to be a little out of tune with our regular Christian emphasis on the resurrection.
Well in the first place let us speak about the traditional meaning of All Soul's Day which is undeniable today. We believe that when we die we will be judged on our life by a loving God. The harmful choices that we have made while we lived may lead to us experiencing deep pain at our not having chosen the way of love, the way of Jesus. When this has been set right by our sorrow for missing the mark and our desire to be always with the Lord - we enter heaven. Now purgatory can last for a moment but it may seem like eternity. So we have very little knowledge of how long our loved ones are away from the Lord. We only know that they have died and that they will be purified before being ultimately admitted to God's presence. So our prayers are always for this purpose to help them experience in the shortest possible time the bliss of heaven.
There is another way of looking at All Soul's Day. We can see in it an opportunity all of us receive to remember and recall our loved ones who are no more with us. Allow me to use a personal experience. About a decade ago my grandfather died. I missed being with him in his last moments as I was traveling from Bhopal. But by the time I reached his house the body was already in the coffin and we were a good group of family members praying and singing hymns. Finally after all the rest had gone and only the immediate family were left we began an interesting conversation. One of my uncles suggested that we recall some really funny events of my grandpa - Papa - as we fondly called him. Well needless to say with my Papa having lived to the ripe age of 80+ there was much to recall and fond memories began to emerge. There was no attempt to hide his faults and foibles but emerging from it all was memories of good times and not so good times which were now being seen through the prism of hope and joy. It went on and on - and even my grandma who was for certain the most hard hit at his death slowly began to cease her sobbing and to snicker at some of the stories - all true and all so characteristic of this multi-faceted man. I would like to think that we would all do well to spend All Soul's Day in like manner, recalling the happy and funny memories of our loved ones who are now with God in the hereafter.
I would also liken All Soul's Day to what many boarders call "Parlour Sunday"...the one Sunday in the month when their parents are allowed to visit them. They long for the day because they know that their parents are going to bring them all the things of home they miss - the food and sweets that will sustain them in the weeks ahead. But above all they know that they will be seeing face to face their parents whom they love so much and miss so much. On All Soul's Day we have a chance to meet our loved ones - not face to face but in our memories. So as we recall them and all the wonderful times we have spent together - the predominant metaphor is not one of sorrow and morbid thanato-philia but one of joy, good cheer and love. We lived with them - they are not with us anymore - but we remember them and know that we will be united with them at the end of time.
That is why I have chosen all the readings that speak of the hereafter - in the first reading from Isaiah we hear of the Messianic banquet - prepared for all of us at the end of time - every tear will be wiped away. And in the Gospel - Jesus reminds Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus will enjoy everlasting life. So when we recall that the present time is but a painful separation and that at the end of time we will be close to all our loved ones forever then we have the strength to bear the pain of separation and in enjoying happy memories we will remember them and spend All Soul's Day with joy and Christian optimism. For our departed loved ones life is changed not ended. We will be with them forever - soon.