November 3, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Season’s prayers lead us to renew our call to holiness

As we celebrated the solemnity of All Saints this year, we couldn’t help but experience new joy because one of the newest officially declared saints of the Church is buried at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in our own archdiocese.

There are eight canonized saints from the United States; we are privileged to claim one of them.

And so, All Saints Day has taken on a new meaning close to home. St. Theodora Guérin will always be known as Mother Theodore to the Sisters of Providence and to so many of us who owe much to the sisters and to her legacy. Our challenge, of course, is to embrace the call to holiness and the witness of faith in divine Providence that Mother Theodore lived with all her heart.

If we take our faith seriously, we must take the call to holiness seriously. Some-times we can be a little presumptive or perhaps lukewarm in faith or we could get the impression that it doesn’t make any difference how we live—because of God’s great gift of mercy we will all get to heaven anyway.

Mercy is God’s greatest quality and his greatest gift to us, but let’s not view it as a cheap gift. God is merciful and also just.

God is truth itself. God’s mercy is contingent on our truthfulness. In other words, a truthful conscience and how we live our call to holiness matters. There is no question, God’s mercy is readily available for us—repentance on our part makes all the difference.

On Nov. 2, we commemorated All Souls Day, the faithful departed. From childhood on, I have been in the habit of paying special attention to this day as well as the solemnity of All Saints.

Our family was in the habit of decorating the graves of our loved ones with flowers and, more importantly, we prayed for their souls at the cemetery and in church on All Souls Day.

Most of us have strong convictions that our loved ones are in heaven because we want them to be there, and we want to think by God’s mercy they are there.

But there is a difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day. On the former feast, we celebrated the canonized saints in heaven as well as all those unsung saints who have gone before us.

On All Souls Day, we prayed for and must continue to pray for the well-being of our loved ones. I, for one, surely hope that those who come after me will pray for my departed soul. As strongly as I believe in God’s love for me, I would not want to presume on his generous mercy.

Intercessory prayer is an essential part of our Christian respect for our deceased sisters and brothers whom we will join some day in our own need. If great holy people like Pope John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta begged for our intercessory prayer for their souls before God, we surely will need the same.

On one of his visits to Poland, standing in front of the Church of St. Florian—his first parish assignment as a new priest—the late Holy Father asked for prayers for the living and the dead, and “for the pope, when he is alive and after he dies.”

The humility of Pope John Paul II was admirable and a good example of the realism with which we face the tribunal of God’s loving mercy. As holy as he was, he never took God’s mercy for granted.

Like all of us, the Holy Father was a faithful and frequent penitent in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.

So was Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. And so was St. Theodora Guérin, our beloved Mother Theodore.

These holy people did not fear death or God’s tribunal of mercy because they were people of strong faith. But they were also humble and truthful.

With the graying of November, we notice that the liturgy of the Church begins to remind us of “the last things.” The end of the liturgical year leads us to reflect on the final judgment, and the end of the world as we know it.

But we are led to reflect on these things with a positive spirit because passing from this life through death is our birth into the final kingdom. Our prayer leads us to renew our call to holiness.

We have the witness of St. Theodora, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and, in the near future, surely Pope John Paul II will be publicly listed among the blessed himself.†

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