YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF ALL SOULS
HOMILY THEME: SUFFERING IN HOPE!
BY: Fr. Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * Job 19 : 1 – 27, Rom 5 : 5 – 11, Matt 5 : 1 – 12.
After the ecumenical feast of All Saints which majority of Christians celebrated yesterday, the Roman Catholic Church is usually left alone in today’s reserved celebration of All Souls – a celebration born out of a theory of an after – death state of purification. Our separated brethren are most disposed to believe that immediately after death comes judgment – and that the result of this judgment must be either direct entry admission to heaven or to hell, Heb 9 : 27. For them, any other thing we do or say after this, is ‘medicine after death’.
Yeah! It looks as if the Roman Catholic Church has continued to play the role of a ‘refugium peccatorum’ – refuge of sinners ; the ‘sinners’ Church’, so to speak – always having the Sycamore tree for sinners like Zacheus to climb and have access to Jesus inspite of their dwarfness. But to carry this hope of divine mercy even beyond death seems intolerable to many non Catholics. The Eastern Church is even more radical in its understanding of the purgative state. It rejects the West’s juridical approach and stressed instead the more mystical nature of the purgative state as a process of ongoing maturation and spiritual growth for souls of the faithful departed not just a state of punishment, 1 Cor 3 : 15 – ‘They will be saved but as through fire’.
B. STRUCK BY THE HAND OF GOD!
The book of Job is a book many Christians have abandoned and do not want to associate themselves with ; one of the 7 wisdom books of the old testament. Some biblical scholars even consider it fictitious. Non Catholics have an O T bible that excludes Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch – books that had no original Hebrew manuscripts ; revelations of the exile period when the people of God were face to face with suffering. It looks to me like a theological conspiracy against ‘suffering theology’. But in the book of Job we see a remnant of a universal acceptance of divinity in the midst of suffering, confer Rom 5 : 3 – 5 with the understanding that suffering itself is not a sign of curse or man’s disfavour with God.
Job says in today’s 1st reading : ‘Even as my flesh is rotting under my skin…my breath is becoming unbearable to my wife and my friends pity me because I have been struck by the hand of God… I know that my redeemer liveth and that he will rise me up at last, in the dust of the earth. After my awakening, he will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God’. On this feast of All Souls, I just want to personally reflect on purgatory as any place or state where a believer is struck by the hand of God. Purgatory is a punishment from God for imperfect saints, since nothing unclean can ever see God, Rev 21 : 27. It is the temporal purification of souls in preparation for the ultimate beatific vision, 1 Cor 3 : 15. It is God’s perfect sense of Justice that gives more lashes of suffering for the unrepentant wicked servants in hell and less strokes of suffering for the repentant sinners in purgatory, Lk 12 : 46. If you are among those who think that it must be either hell or heaven, you may need a rethink. What the blood of Jesus does can never be limited to the existential categories of space and time. The Holy Spirit is specially released in moments of suffering. In sicknesses and pains, in sufferings and perseverance, believers are made to experience this purgative process and our departed heroes who are still suffering in purgatory experience this most. And that is why we need to pray for them.
C. OUR HOPE IS NOT DECEPTIVE
I want to approach the whole question about purgatory from the theology of hope. The 2nd reading of today says that our hope is not deceptive because Christ died for us while we were still sinners. So having died to make us righteous, is it likely that he would now fail to save us from God’s anger against our sins? Going by the Protestants’ position on divine judgment, is it not likely that majority of Christians will end up in hell fire since ‘nothing unclean can enter there?’, Rev 21 : 27. Jesus says that it is my father’s will that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me and that I should raise it up on the last day’, Jn 6 : 39. As the curtain veil of the temple was torn into two when Jesus expired, so does the whole spiritual forces of heaven and hell tear into two as Jesus’ blood pleaded for a middle position between saints and sinners in the temple of God ( church). As he descended into hell taking away a number of people held captive, so does his mercy overflow so that ‘the servant who does not know what his master’s will is and has acted in such a way as deserves punishment may receive fewer strokes of the cane’, Lk 12 : 46 – 47. This is a hope that will not deceive us and that hope is that those who die in venial sins, 1 Jn 5 : 16 can be interceded for at the throne of divine mercy.
May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace!