In our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy and in our gospel from Mark we are brought right back to basics – we are to love God totally – heart, mind and soul – and we are to love others as we love ourselves. No other commandment is greater than these. Until Jesus, the night before He died, gave us a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus not only talked the talk of love, He walked the walk of love – a walk we call the via dolorosa – through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary where He died on the cross for us and showed us how to love. Love one another as I have loved you. His was a life giving love – He was crushed for our offences and by His wounds we are healed. As one of the prayers of the church prays – through the obedience of Jesus, your servant and your son, you raised a fallen world. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.
Love one another as I have loved you. How often have we heard those challenging, demanding words? How well do we live them?
Christ’s love for us was a life giving, healing and forgiving love – a love that calls us to move beyond our own self interests, self satisfaction to a true concern for good of others, a love that calls others to life and growth and maturity.
One of the saints said that when life is over we will be judged by love alone – this echoes the gospel of Matthew in Jesus’ one description of judgment – I was hungry, thirsty, naked and alone and you were there for me – come to me, or – I was hungry, thirsty, naked and alone and you couldn’t have cared less – depart from me. When our lives are over we will be judged by love alone – we will be judged on how well we lived the great commandment – love one another as I have loved you.
How will that judgment be? We have the vivid images of it in scripture and art – just think of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I remember how we were told in catechism classes how we would stand before God Who held in His hands a book that recorded our lives. Every sin we ever committed would be told to everyone who ever lived and then will either be called to heaven or sent to hell. But most times we were neither holy enough to go straight to heaven, nor bad enough to go to hell so we would spend some time in purgatory to be purified.
Purgatory, that’s a word we don’t hear too often anymore.
This is the month of the holy souls – we begin the month celebrating all those saints, those good people who touch and enriched our lives with the feast of All Saints. The next day we have All Souls Day on which we remember and pray for all those souls in purgatory. In the book of Maccabees we are told – it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the death, that they may be loosed from their sins.
Praying for the dead is an ancient teaching of the faith – as can be seen from art in the catacombs and the teachings of the fathers of the church as far back as the fourth century.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that when we die basically we judge ourselves. For the first time in our existence we are graced with an understanding of God’s love for us – something we couldn’t totally grasped wrapped in our earthly existence. We see too, in a way that is free from all self deception just how much or how little we responded to that love – how fully we lived the new commandment, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ We come face to face with the ‘unfinished businesses of our lives. We know we’ve left behind unhealed relationships, wrongs that were never righted, good deeds left undone, love and thanks never spoken. We realize all this is so because we did not live the new commandment. Seeing our stinginess, our self centeredness we know we are unfit, unsuited for union with God. We are not ready for such an eternity. In that comprehension we want to rid ourselves, purge ourselves of our selfishness, our self love. And that desire to be purged, eradicated of all attitudes and actions of our past life that held us back from loving others as we were loved – is our purgatory. It’s a cleansing, a purification we willing embrace because it removes all those barriers that keep us from life with God. Maybe the prayer of the souls in purgatory is – thy kingdom come – thy kingdom come to all those aspects of my life in which I failed to love others as You loved me.
We can’t get into days and months and years spent in purgatory – purgatory is beyond time but it is not beyond our prayers. So it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead – for those not yet in full communion with God.
We can continue to celebrate this Mass remembering, it is a good and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins – and praying for ourselves and each other that we all be graced to strive to live the new commandment, the commandment on which our lives will be judged – love one another as I have loved you.