A few years ago a Spiritualist tried to convert me to his way of thinking. “The problem is” he said “that normal Christianity does not have any way of communicating with the dead.” I looked blank for a moment. What was he talking about? And then I realised “Oh you mean Protestant Christianity!” I said, “But most Christians throughout the world are Catholics, and we pray for our dead regularly, and know that they, and especially the saints are continually praying for us.” Do you know, he didn’t really believe me! I don’t think he had ever met a Catholic before, and so had no idea of the depth of Catholic teaching and practice on how we link ourselves with our loved ones who have died.
November is our special month for doing this, isn’t it? We begin on All Saints Day on Tuesday by praising God for all the saints who form a great company supporting us with their prayers. I would recommend that you try to visualise that sometimes. Think of yourself as surrounded by a great crowd, as in a football stadium, all cheering you on! Every football manager will tell you how much better their team plays if they have a large crowd supporting them, and we are just the same. The priest reminds us of this at at every Mass when he prays : “And so with Angels and Archangels.. and with all the hosts and power of heaven we sing the hymn of your glory.”
But as well as that great crowd supporting us, we also know of individual people who have died who are also quietly present with us. My mother died almost 40 years ago but I still hear words of comfort and support from her, and praise God for all that she meant to me. Most of us also have special saints that we like to ask to help us on particular occasions. My St Martin, the great missionary Bishop is coming up soon!
All Souls Day is always the day after All Saints. It’s the day when join together as a Church to pray in a special way for all our loved ones who have died. It is a day of sadness, of course, as they are often people whom we really miss, but it is also a day that comforts us, as we are assured that we can link ourselves to them in prayer. We can do so because God makes it possible. Prayer is always a voyage into the eternal, outside space and time, a journey into God. To pray is to proclaim that we are more than just physical bodies, to open ourselves to the spiritual dimension which is such an important part of our lives, because it is the source of some essential human things like goodness and love. But we also pray to support our loved ones on their journey in which all that is imperfect in them is purified by God so that they can be one with him forever. Remember that! Purgatory is a process not a place!
You see then, that when the Protestant Reformation destroyed all this, it meant that one of the great treasures of the Christian faith was lost to many people, and no wonder some of them turned to Spiritualism. Of course what Spiritualists do is wrong. They do not simply pray for the dead, but believe they can summon the dead to talk to them. To summon the dead is to fail to trust in God, which is why the Church forbids it. To summon the dead is also to open ourselves up to the spiritual powers of evil, which is why those who attend séances and the like need prayers of healing, and also need to make their Confession, so that such things can be driven away.
Finally I want to link all this to our Readings today, where the priests and the religious leaders are condemned for their corrupt practices. (Malachi 1:14-2:10) & Matthew 23:1-12) You see the reason why non-Catholic Christians lost all these special practices to do with the dead, is almost entirely down to corrupt priests 500 years ago who turned praying for the dead into a way to make money. The Church may be the great family of God called to perfect glory in heaven – that’s why we belong to it, isn’t it? But the Church is also a human organisation full of imperfect people; and as we know only too well, the leaders of the Church. just like our leaders in government or business and industry, are all too easily corrupted by the power they have been given.
Today in our Gospel, Jesus condemns the religious leaders who do not practise what they preach. This is what turns people away from the Church, isn’t it? When wicked men corrupt all that we hold sacred! Clearly, following Jesus, all of us have a duty to challenge such things, and to pray harder and harder that the Catholic Church may remain true to its greatest saints, and find ways of purifying itself when its leaders fail. May all the saints and angels pray for the Holy Church of God to keep us all as true and humble followers of Jesus Our Lord.