YEAR B: HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY TOPIC: TRUE HAPPINESS
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Mt 5:1-12
Message # 530: “In the Splendor of the Saints” (TO THE PRIESTS, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons, Marian Movement of Priests)
1. The Marian Message The Blessed Mother’s message, “In the Splendor of the Saints”, is an encouragement and inspiration for us to move ahead in our quest for true holiness and become one with all the saints. She gave the assurance that many of our departed loved ones are already part of the celestial glory (letter a). And as members of the family of God, we hope to join them in the certain future (letter b).
She assures us that all the saints in heaven are helping and protecting us through all the trials and sufferings that we undergo here in this world (letter c). This assurance, therefore, should give us more strength and courage to face the “bloody moments of the struggle against the powerful forces of evil.” “Thus you are being called to live out the painful hours of your martyrdom” (letter d). She exhorts us to persevere in the midst of these trials, and open our hearts to hope as we eagerly expect the imminent victory of the children of God, the triumph of her Immaculate Heart, and the glorious return of her Son, Jesus. (letter f).
2. Background Information
a) November 1st is the Feast of All Saints. Their names cannot be contained in the calendar. Those in the calendar are only the famous ones. But there are countless other saints: “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” (St. John’s account in Rev. 7:9-14). This is the sight in heaven where all the saints and angels see God face-to-face (beatific vision of God). There is perfect happiness in heaven because those who are made worthy to join enjoy the beatific vision of God. On the other hand, Hell is the absence of God. The souls in Hell suffer for eternity since there is no hope of being with God; it is the total and absolute absence of God. They have decided to reject God, and there is no way God can help them. Their damnation is final and eternal. That is why all the souls there are angry, hopeless and suffering beyond imagination. We go to the cemetery on November 1, but we are reminded that it is the day of the saints. We call on all the saints to help us pray for all the souls in Purgatory. We ourselves pray that our dear departed brothers and sisters are now in heaven with God and with all the saints.
b) November 2nd is All Souls Day. the Commemoration of All the Souls of the Faithful Departed. These souls are still in Purgatory. They do not yet have the fullness of happiness that the saints experience. They are still being purified, and they are waiting for their eventual entry into heaven. A person who commits mortal sins is forgiven through the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession . But the temporal punishments of sin (mga mantsa o peklat ng sugat sa kaluluwa) still remain. They will be erased through our prayers and sacrifices on earth, especially through indulgences. Those that still remain will be erased in Purgatory (“purgation”- purification). When totally cleansed, only then can the soul enter heaven. The souls in Purgatory are “happy souls” because they are assured of seeing God very soon. Heaven is certain. That is why, despite their sufferings, they are blessed and are rejoicing in a way, because they are assured of salvation and happiness in heaven. We also refer to them as “holy souls” for they do not anymore commit sins. They are being purified, and they are just waiting for their eventual entry into heaven.
However, we also call them “poor souls” in Purgatory. They are “poor” in the sense that they cannot do anything more to help themselves. They cannot anymore go to Mass and receive the sacraments. They can no longer gain indulgences and do meritorious acts. They need our prayers and sacrifices so that they can be released from Purgatory. Secondly, they are “poor” in the sense that they suffer the pains of purification. This is necessary in order to cleanse them and make them worthy to enter heaven. But most especially, the cause of their most intense suffering is that of not being able to see as yet the face of God. They are almost there, but not yet. That situation is excruciatingly agonizing for them. (Waiting eagerly to see a loved one is torture! Few minutes of waiting seem an eternity.) That is why we are all encouraged as one of the meritorious spiritual works of mercy, to pray for the dead, the souls in Purgatory. More importantly, we need to do some spiritual sacrifices and gain indulgences in their behalf (this is termed as “suffrages”). These greatly relieve the souls from their pains and help them grow closer to their release from Purgatory. If it is meritorious to help the body (corporal works of mercy), it is more meritorious to help the soul (spiritual works of mercy).
c) The best way to help our beloved departed is to gain a Plenary Indulgence, and offer it for a soul – this is called “Suffrage” – so that it will finally go to heaven. A Plenary Indulgence, applied only to the souls in Purgatory, is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly visit a Church on All Souls Day, November 2 (cf. Handbook of Indulgences, no. 67). On the first eight (8) days of November, when we go to the cemetery to visit and pray for the faithful departed and the souls in purgatory, we gain a plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory; and on the other remaining days of November, we gain partial indulgence (no. 13). The other requirements in order to gain an indulgence are: sacramental confession, receiving Holy Communion, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.
d) There is only one Church. But there are three stages: Church Militant, Church Suffering and Church Triumphant. “Militant” (The Church in the world). Every day we militate, struggle and fight against sin and evil); “Suffering” (The Church in Purgatory); “Triumphant” (Heaven, our true home. cf. Rev. 7:14).
e) Special Note: Halloween. It is an old English term which means “eve of the hallows” (the evening before the feast of the holy ones). So, before the “hallows” (holy ones) come, the evil spirits (demons, witches, vampires, etc) are having a party as their last hurrah, because the next morning they are already gone. So, Halloween is not supposed to be a celebration of the characters of darkness. It is a joyful anticipation of the children of God in view of the coming of the saints. It should be our prayer that we be numbered among them. Dressing up ourselves and our children with costumes of vampires and demons is simply unacceptable as Christians who have become God’s children in baptism. If ever there is a costume party on Halloween, we should be dressed up like our favorite saints.
3. The Sunday Gospel
a) The teaching of Jesus in the Gospel this Sunday is not something new. The commandment of love of God is from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:5), while the second part, which is love of neighbor is in the Book of Leviticus (19:18). The first part is contained in the all-important “Shema” of the Jews, the most basic prayer being taught to their children, and it is one of the verses written on a parchment that is contained in the phylacteries (worn by an adult Jew both on the hand and on the head). This is in accord with the instruction in Deuteronomy: “teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit down and when you walk, when you lie down and when you rise” (Deut 6:7); to recite the words of God when retiring or rising; to bind those words “on thy arm and thy head”, and to inscribe them on the door-posts of your house and on your gates.”
b) However, what is new in the teaching of the Lord is he combined the two commandments into one. He insists that these are only one commandment, as two faces in one coin. Love of God has to be concretized and expressed in our love of neighbor. And love of neighbor is motivated and inspired by love of God. Love of God is the first. Jesus pointed this out very clearly. In fact, we have to dedicate our entire being – heart, mind, soul and strength – to the love of God. In his teachings, he insisted that those who love their mother or father, wife or children, more than God is not worthy of the Kingdom.
But love of God is pointless without love of neighbor. This is what the Apostle James made clear in his letter. Faith without good works is a dead faith. In other words, love of God without love of neighbor is a big lie (James 2:14). In fact, St. John calls a person who says he loves God but hates his neighbor as a liar: “If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”(1Jn 4:20). But then again, we have to be reminded that love of neighbor cannot be possible without love of God. Otherwise, we will just become philanthropists or social workers. As Christians, we love and serve our neighbors because we see in them the image of God, for as Jesus said, “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” We love our neighbors because we love God in the first place.
4. Points for Reflection
a) The key to true holiness is stated in the Gospel this Sunday – obedience to the one commandment of God, which is love. It is the greatest commandment, and if it is followed, that is enough. As the Gospel stated, this commandment sums up all the laws and the teachings of the prophets. If we really are serious in our desire to become saints, then we have to seriously follow and practice the commandment of love.
b) At first sight, it seems an easy commandment to follow. We are very familiar with love. But Jesus is not talking about love as a feeling or a romantic experience. He is talking about self- giving. And he showed this on the cross – he gave himself up for us sinners. This is almost alien to so many people nowadays. One reason is the misguided understanding of the concept of love. It has been so abused and devalued. The word love is used to almost anything – “I love my dog”; “I love this car”; “I love to eat”; “I love my hair”. In truth, what many people express when they use the word “love” is selfishness, which is the exact opposite of the true concept of love.
c) What makes the commandment of love very difficult to follow and practice is the fact that it runs counter to our wounded human nature. The first law of nature is self- preservation. To protect ourselves is fairly natural for us. But our wounded nature, due to original sin, is inclined to over emphasize this to the point of selfishness and egoism. Hence, the essence of love, which is self-giving, is considered as unattractive and even repulsive to our human nature. This becomes so obvious in the teaching of Jesus about love of enemies. It is just so unreasonable to most of his listeners: how can we love our enemies? But Jesus is serious. And he showed this on the cross by praying for his own enemies and persecutors. And he said, “By this shall all men know you as my disciples: your love for one another.”
d) Love is not just a superficial feeling. It may include a good feeling towards a beloved. But it is not necessary to love. Love can go on even when the romantic feeling is gone. This is because love is a decision and a commitment to do something good for the welfare of a person, even if he is not lovable or desirable. That is why, in the mind of Jesus, it is not unreasonable to love our enemies.
e) To understand better the idea of love, it is best to recall the words pronounced by the couple during the marriage ceremony – that will love each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” It is a decision to love, no matter what happens, and that decision stands until death. Hence, love cannot and should not die. It is meant to last… forever… until it reaches perfection in heaven – where we will be joined to God who is Love.
5. Closing Song: “I Love You, Lord!”
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