My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus:
In the liturgical life of the Church, especially at Holy Mass, the prayers beseech Our Lord to grant us eternal life with Him. We are particularly aware of our final destiny during this month, when on November 2 we celebrate All Souls’ Day, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. We pray that our deceased loved ones “with the mortality of this life overcome, they may gaze eternally on you, their Creator and Redeemer” (Collect for All Souls’ Day, Mass 3).
Among the readings from the Holy Gospels for All Souls’ Day, we have the Gospel according to St. John (John 5: 24-29), in which these words of Jesus are proclaimed: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation but has passed from death to Life.” Our entire lives are a journey to God with the hope that at the end of this earthly sojourn we may be granted “the fullness of eternal joy” (Prayer after Communion for All Souls’ Day, Mass 3).
But our journey toward eternity is not a casual one without responsibility or accountability. One day, each of us must stand before God at this life’s end and give an account of how we have lived God’s great gift of life. Each weekend at Holy Mass we make our Profession of Faith in reciting the Creed and professing those words: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” As we live living our earthly lives, the Church places before us the very person of Jesus Christ, the Truth He proclaimed and His desire that all persons appeal to Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life; that we take seriously our responsibility to live our faith into which we were incorporated through the waters of Baptism, thereby becoming the daughters and sons of God.
In the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae (On the Dignity of the Human Person), we read:
“It is in accordance with their dignity that all people, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore bearing personal responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They also are bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth” (No. 2).
This same declaration makes it clear that:
“It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his end and purpose of life. Therefore, he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience” (No. 3).
Conscience, then, is not a license to do as one pleases without concern for the common good, the welfare of persons and ignoring the consequences of one’s actions; it is not the vehicle to rationalize bad behavior or excuse oneself from accepting responsibility for one’s actions, either by omission or commission. Therefore, the declaration states:
“In forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church… The disciple has a grave obligation to Christ, his Master, to grow daily in his knowledge of the truth he has received from Him, to be faithful in announcing it and vigorous in defending it without having recourse to methods which are contrary to the spirit of the Gospel” (ibid., No. 14).
This same theme describing the nature of a person’s conscience is put forth beautifully in Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, in which the Council Fathers taught:
“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality.” (No. 16).
So it is that the human person is the very crown of God’s creation, the one fashioned in the image and likeness of God, the one endowed with a mind, a heart and a soul; the soul, that living spiritual reality, links the person to God and opens up the possibility to eternal life in our present union with Christ.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum (Praise God), Pope Francis gives an analytical and scientific presentation of the need to address the climate crisis and how it affects all peoples. In that Apostolic Exhortation, our Holy Father writes: “Postmodern culture has generated a new sensitivity towards the more vulnerable and less powerful. This is connected with my insistence in the Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti on the primacy of the human person and the defense of his or her dignity beyond every circumstance” (No. 39).
Pope Francis calls us to be humble in recognizing the need for our concern for the common good and for each other in the family of God. Humility, love of neighbor, pave the path to eternal life with God. His Holiness writes: “Let us stop thinking, then, of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and limitless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a more humbler but more fruitful way” (No. 68).
Pope Francis stresses the need for “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint” (no. 24) so “that authentic faith not only gives strength to the human heart, but also transforms life, transfigures our goals and sheds light on our relationships to others and with creation as a whole” (No. 61).
Pope Francis concludes his Apostolic Exhortation with these words: “‘Praise God’ is the title of this letter. For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies” (No. 73).
During this Month of All Souls, let us seriously reflect upon our own personal relationships with God and the primacy He holds in our lives as we strive for eternal union with Him. Let us pray constantly for our deceased loved ones that through the mercy and compassion of Jesus they may come to enjoy the grace of eternal life. Let us also pray fervently for the countless innocent lives lost daily in the Middle East crisis and in the other war-torn countries throughout the world. We pray with mind, heart and soul united that our bruised, scarred and deeply wounded humanity will turn to the author of peace, the Savior upon the Cross, Jesus Christ,
“For He is the salvation of the world,
the life of the human race,
the resurrection of the dead” (Preface III for the Dead).
May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Asking God’s blessings upon you and begging the intercession of Our Mother Mary and our diocesan patron, St. John Fisher, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester