Friday, November 6, 2015

Homily Feast of All Souls Year B

By Jerry Franzen  Cathedral  11/02/15
Wisdom 3:1-9              Romans 6:3-9             John 11:17-27

My wife and I attended the Cincinnati Symphony production
this past Saturday evening.
The program included the Dante Symphony by Franz Liszt.
It was a musical adaption of the themes in Dante’s Divine Comedy,
his portrayal of hell, inferno, purgatory, purgatorio,
and heaven, paradisio.
Liszt’s original idea was to divide the symphony
into three movements as is usual for a symphony.
But he was convinced by his father-in-law
that one could not express “heaven” in music.
So there were two parts:
The first part was rather loud filled with the heavy use
of the bass and kettle drums,
 a foreboding bass clarinet solo, lots of brass
and a very bombastic ending.
Liszt  certainly expressed the power of hell, the inferno.

The second part was much more varied and more melodic,
with prominent uses of the string sections, the flute,
the bassoons, the clarinet and the oboe.
We could hear the more hopeful character of purgatory.
Since he agreed with his father-in-law and did not write
a separate movement for heaven,
Liszt wrote a beautiful lyrical finale
for the end of the second movement.
The women of the May Festival Chorus
served as an off-stage choir of angels
singing repeatedly in Latin
the first two lines of the Magnificat
with orchestral accompanyment.
Those lines are as usually translated into English as:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
It was beautiful; I now have one musical image of heaven.


So we have Hell – the state of a soul of a deceased person totally
and forever separated from God by the choice of that person.
Purgatory – Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church
has to say about purgatory:
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship but imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”
Purgatory is that state of purification.
Souls in that state will eventually go to heaven.
And Heaven is the state of being eternally in the presence of God.
As it turned out,
I think that Liszt’s ending for the “purgatorio” movement
with the beautiful finale of heavenly music,
was masterful, because the end result
of a soul’s existence in the state of purgatory
is always heaven.
Heaven is always the ultimate outcome of purgatory.  

Today we gather here at this Mass, our greatest prayer,
to offer our prayers for the souls in purgatory.
We don’t pray for souls that are with God in heaven;
They are saints and we can pray to them for their assistance.
We don’t pray for souls in hell,
because they are eternally separated from God in hell,
and our prayers can do nothing for them.

This Feast of All Souls is a reminder of our privilege
and duty to pray daily
for our deceased family members and friends
and all the faithful departed.
We are praying for those who died joined to God,
but yet need to be fully cleansed from all of their sins
and their sinfulness.
We believe that our prayers for them
can help to expedite their progress to heaven.
When we die, time has no meaning for us,
but we speak of a “time” that a soul would spend in purgatory,
because we have not found a better way to describe
the soul’s transition from purgatory
to the “joy of heaven.”
We have no way of knowing who is in purgatory and who is in hell,
so we pray for all of the deceased.


It is our privilege and our duty to pray
for the souls of the deceased!
It is our privilege and duty, because praying for them
is one of the spiritual  works of mercy.
We are privileged to serve God in this way here on earth.
It is a privilege to be able to help those
who have so ably helped us in our faith development
and a duty for us to give back to them.

I think of my deceased aunt Dorothy in this regard.
She did not live a perfect life; she did not have an easy life.
I am sure that she was tested here on earth.
Her husband left her shortly after her daughter was born.
She was then a single mother.
She was a live-in housekeeper for a priest,
while she raised her daughter.
She was eventually crippled by arthritis so terribly
that she could barely walk with a walker
and barely grasp items with her hands.
Yet she was a faithful and faith-filled mother, sister, aunt
and servant of the Lord.
She was tested and found worthy.
She facilitated my first opportunity to serve at Mass.
My sixth grade teacher was Sr. Catherine David,
a Sister of Charity of Nazareth.
She was also the director of the children’s choir
of which I was a part.

These two women and my parents are responsible
for much of my faith formation,
and it is truly a privilege for me and is my duty
to now be of service to them
by praying for their transition to heaven.
I can also think of other faith-filled people among my teachers,
my relatives and my friends.
I was privileged to know them and learn from them
and I feel it my duty to now help them, if needed.
I hope that we all can remember those in our lives
that have served in that same capacity.


Some are here praying especially for their family members
who have died this past year.
Others are praying for those who died further in the past.
On this solemn day, there is no doubt that all of us
who remember our deceased loved ones
are filled with varied emotions.
There is a certain sadness and longing;
there is a spirit of thanks and gratitude
as well as a renewed understanding of the challenge
we must embrace in our loss.
It is quite natural to have a sadness in our hearts
as we miss the physical presence and company
of those we loved and those who loved us in return.
But exactly because of that love between us,
we are able to entrust
our deceased friends and loved ones to God
and the abundant blessings that await them
in heaven.
We are consoled by the words of Sacred Scripture.
As we heard from the Book of Wisdom:
"The souls of the just are in the hand of God
-----and grace and mercy are with them.”
Saint Paul in the second reading wrote:
“We who have died with Christ, will also live with Him
—death has no power over us.”
And Jesus in the Gospel said:
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me,
even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives
and believes in me will never die.”

As we are sad and feel the emptiness
of the loss of a loved one or a friend.
we should be praying for their salvation.
We are here to take a special opportunity to do just that,
and we should remember them in prayer frequently.


But, there is a further dimension.
Having heartfelt sentiments for our loved ones,
and praying for them are very important,
but we must also go forth daily and
pass on their examples of faith, goodness, generosity and compassion
so that they continue to live on in each one of us.

We must carry on for them in the work that they have begun in us.
I think that Franz Liszt chose an appropriate expression for heaven,
and it is also the appropriate expression of how we go forward
from our sense of loss and sadness:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

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