Communion of saints unites all Catholics ... those on earth, in heaven and in purgatory
Most Catholics experience the blessings and responsibilities of life in Christ in their local parishes. Parish life is strong in this archdiocese, and that is a blessing. God offers the gift of faith and the promise of salvation in and through the risen Jesus. God gives us the grace to accept that gift, to trust in that promise. The life of faith is sustained ordinarily in a particular place, in a community of the faithful led by a pastor.
We are aware, however, that the Catholic community is much larger than one parish. We belong to an archdiocese, under the care of a bishop whose pastoral authority goes back to the apostles. Through the bishop, we are in communion with the pope, whom Jesus has designated as his own vicar on earth. There are over one billion of us Catholics around the world. Jesus Christ is our true head and shepherd. We are united in his one sacrifice of praise to our heavenly father.
Even if we were somehow able to get a picture of all Catholics on the earth at one time, we would still only be looking at a portion of the Church. During the month of November, we are reminded of the reality of the communion of saints. We are members of a church - the Body of Christ - that not only extends from our parish to a global Catholic community, but also from time right into eternity. An understanding of the communion of saints gives us hope to sustain us on our pilgrim way in this life and to keep us focused on the goal or purpose of each human life.
Because we have celebrated the sacraments of initiation, baptism, confirmation and holy Eucharist, you and I have full membership in the Church. The Catholic Church has been founded by Jesus Christ as the means of our salvation. Jesus has told us He is the "way." We are saved by our communion with Him. Even now, through the sacraments, we share in the life of the Trinity, which we call sanctifying grace. God has claimed us in baptism for eternal life in the heavenly home He has planned for us. By grace, we are in real communion with God now, and we are being outfitted for heaven as we practice our faith.
The Second Vatican Council gave new emphasis to what the Church has always known. Each of us is called to be holy, to be a saint. Every saint started out right here, with his or her feet on the ground, with choices to make. Like the saints who have gone before us, we are given the grace to choose life over death, to choose God's will over personal preference, to choose the freedom of sons and daughters over enslavement to sin. Every time we choose to die to self, in union with the sacrifice of Christ, we take a step in the direction of heaven. Because we belong to the communion of saints, the whole Church grows in holiness and is strengthened on her pilgrim way to heaven.
At the beginning of November, we have celebrated two feasts that acknowledge our connection with members of the Church whom we do not see face to face here. On All Saints Day, we rejoice with our brothers and sisters who have come to full stature in the risen Christ. In heaven they experience the full life for which they have been created. We know the names and the stories of many saints who have been canonized, whose feasts are celebrated on the liturgical calendar. There are many, many more saints, some of whom you have no doubt known in this life, with whom we hope to share the joy of heaven.
All the saints are a sign of hope for us. When we think of them, we remember we have been made for eternal life. As we reflect on their heroic virtue, we are encouraged to ask for the grace to make good choices, to follow Jesus without cutting corners. We also rely on the intercession, the prayers of the saints in the circumstances of every day. They now see clearly the connection they have with us in Christ. Experiencing the joy of heaven, they want us to have that joy, too. You can imagine how much the saints who see God would want us to be saved from hell.
Finally, all during the month of November, we hold in prayer the souls in purgatory, whom we remember in a special way on All Souls Day. These are our brothers and sisters, full members of the communion of saints. They are undergoing whatever purification might be necessary before entering the glory of heaven. They are already saved and are being offered the grace to let go of whatever is not fit for the full communion of heaven. This is the final letting go of self to prepare for the full, free embrace of God. We should be glad to offer the support of our prayer to the souls whose journey home is being completed.
With the whole Church we pray: Almighty God and Father, it is our certain faith that your Son, who died on the cross, was raised from the dead, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Grant that through this mystery your servants who have gone to their rest in Christ, may share in the joy of His resurrection: We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.