Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
Following the insight of Scripture, the Catholic Church is clear in its teaching that God wills the eternal salvation of all those he has created his own image and likeness. As the Penny Catechism has it in answer to the question “Why did God make you?” … “God made me to know him, love him serve him in this life, and to be happy with him for ever in the next”. But God’s desire that we should be with him in heaven does not override the freewill with which he has dignified each of us: ultimately we do have genuine choice, and it is by no means certain that everyone will accept the invitation to the heavenly banquet. When Jesus was asked the question, “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” his response was challenging, to say the least (Luke 3:23-30). Indeed many of the great thinkers of Christian history (among them Irenaeus, Basil, John Chrysostom, Aquinas and Bellarmine) have come to the conclusion that the majority of the human race will not accept the invitation. There is much food for serious thought here.
Next weekend we shall be celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints which begins a month (November) when our thoughts are turned particularly towards the next life. At each Sunday Mass we affirm our belief in the communion of saints, and it is our precious belief that the finality of physical death opens up the prospect of a personal transformation in which Jesus “will transfigure these lowly bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). “Communion” means “being-at-one-with” and as Christians we accept that those no longer constrained, as we are, by time and space are intimately bound to us in an interaction of affection and interest. Saint Dominic could say to his confreres: “I shall be more use to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life on earth”. We are the most fortunate of people in accepting that we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Among them will be many whom we have loved – and vice versa – in this life: we can only draw enormous comfort from what they are able to do for us from their vantage point so close to God.
But we would be making a profound mistake if we were to canonise all those who have died. There is a drama to salvation which means that except in the few cases where the Church – after a careful process - says definitively someone may be presumed to be in heaven and their intercession sought (Blessed Paul V1 being the most recent example) we can only hope for a positive outcome but not be sure of it. None of us can know the true state of another’s internal dialogue with God and that is where prayer comes in. The Catholic Church teaches that there is a human solidarity in which our love goes with the departed and can assist them on their final journey into God. “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice why should we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (Saint John Chrysostom).
Our Catechism describes heaven in a very beautiful way as “the endless moment of love”. It is this experience of loving and being loved which we wish for ourselves, our dear ones and indeed all our brothers and sisters. In this coming month let us give prayer for the departed a special place, reminding ourselves often of words from the First Eucharistic Prayer: “Remember, Lord your servants who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. Grant them, O Lord, we pray and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light and peace”