By Paul Murano – Nov. 2018
November is the month set aside to commemorate the dead. Why is it important to remember those who have gone before us? Because love does not die and the Church sees herself as a family, On All Souls Day we remember the souls who are in need of our intercession as they are prepared for heaven, and on All Saints Day we commemorate the souls that are with God whose prayer and intercession we implore. It is good to pray for the dead (2 Mac 12:45) and for the dead to pray for us (Heb 12:1).
Many religious traditions recognize the survival of the spirit after death. From its beginning Christianity has recognized this truth, and goes one step further: All who die in Christ remain alive in Christ, awaiting the resurrection of the body. Let us go beneath the surface to take a closer look at what this means, and why some people who die in Christ might be in need of prayer and sacrifice to live with Him.
First, one does not have to be religious to conclude that human souls survive bodily death. Ancient philosophers without access to the Judeo-Christian tradition figured this out through human reason alone. The part of us that thinks and wills – that reasons and freely chooses – is not contained in the physical brain. This immaterial component can grasp immaterial objects like concepts, ideas, thoughts, propositions, and arguments. It is a dimension of human nature that rises above physiological instinct and passion to freely choose what is objectively true and good. In short, the operations of intellect and free will transcend bodily functioning and, since it is spiritual, do not decompose like the body.
So, what happens to the spiritual soul that survives bodily death? This is where different religious traditions differ. Some eastern philosophies believe souls transmigrate into other bodies depending on ‘karma’. Others believe they are like drops of water assimilated into a vast ocean of being, demonstrating the nothingness of the self. Still others have held that souls go to a world of forms separate from matter, and some simply worship their dead ancestors as if they were gods.
Since the soul is the spiritual form of the body, none of these beliefs are adequate. The teaching of the Catholic Church is that souls of people who die immediately find themselves face to face with God and are judged. Their eternal destination is then fixed. This is called the particular judgment, and begins what could be called an interim period between one’s own death and the resurrection of the body on the last day. St. Paul speaks of the faithful departed as those who are ‘asleep’ in Christ. As such, we often use the phrase “Rest in Peace.”
On November 2, All Souls Day is a day dedicated to pray for the souls in purgatory who are going to heaven but are not ready to enter. It is like the child who disobeys his mother and plays in the mud while wearing his formal clothes before a wedding. After contrition and he is forgiven, but he is still not ready to enter the banquet. He first needs to be cleansed to atone for his act, and be purged of all its negative effects on him. This is what purgatory is to the soul: The person is already forgiven, but needs more detachment and purification from sin before entering the eternal banquet.
The Church in heaven and on earth pray for these souls in purgatory, to assist them in their journey en route to heaven. The Church as a family understands herself as one body, the body of Christ, sharing one lifeblood and one purpose. Each cell depends on the others, and the entire body depends on its Head (Christ) for survival. This living body includes three united dimensions: the Church Triumphant (souls in heaven), the Church Suffering (souls in Purgatory), and the Church Militant (those on earth).
Yet, there is still one more group of souls, those who have made their irrevocable choice against God and for self, who are in hell. They are not part of the Body. To complete the analogy, souls in heaven have entered the banquet, those in purgatory have been invited but are not yet ready to enter, and those on earth have been invited and have until the moment of death to respond. Those in hell, however, have rejected the invitation and would rather hang out with demons in the everlasting misery of hell.
November is the month to remember the dead. It is also a month that offers hope for what eye has not seen and ear has not heard, the wonders of what God has in store for those who love Him” (1Cor 2:9).
Paul Murano teaches college and hosts the radio talk show Beneath the Surface on WCAP 980 AM, podcasts at https://archive.org/details/@veritas777. Paul has graduate degrees in philosophy and theology and is certified in health care ethics. He speaks on topics relating where faith and reason meet. He also plays at local venues as a solo singer-songwriter-musician. E-mail Paul at PJDM@aol.com