We live in the hope of heaven - Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) 2019

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > We live in the hope of heaven - Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) 2019

In our Catholic culture we call November the ‘month of the holy souls’. During this month we pray for the souls in purgatory. The Book of Remembrance in the sanctuary is a reminder of this practice. We naturally think of our own departed family and friends and pray for them, but as members of the Church we also offer up our prayers for all the faithful departed.

We are familiar with the prayer: “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and may perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

This practice, so deeply ingrained in Catholic tradition, is inspired by words in the Book of Maccabees in the Old Testament: it is “a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins (2 Macc 12:46). It is both an act of faith and an act of charity to pray for the souls in purgatory. We can do this in particular every time we go to Mass in November and every time we turn our hearts to prayer. 

The month begins with two important feasts: the feast of All Saints and the commemoration of All Souls.

These feasts declare the faith of the Church in relation to life after death. In his First Letter to the Thessalonians St Paul taught that the Christian does not grieve for the dead “like other people who have no hope”. St Paul declares: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who died in Jesus”. His concludes, “With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.” (1 Thess 4:13-18)

In the Gospel today Jesus gives clear teaching on the existence and nature of heaven, challenging the view of the Saducees who, as St Luke explains, did not accept the idea of a resurrection.

The Lord affirms the reality of heavenly life. He describes the nature of our immortal existence as being like that of the angels. In other words, it is a spiritual existence. The Church teaches that in the end there will be the resurrection of the body and we will inhabit a glorified body for all eternity.

The Lord describes those in heaven as the “children of the resurrection”, a clear reference to his own rising in which we will share. As Jesus rose triumphant from the grave, so will we.

He declares our dignity as the redeemed as becoming “sons of God”. We are given final and full expression to what we became in fact at our baptism: sons and daughters of God and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven.

St John declared: “No eye has seen nor can mind comprehend what God has in store for those who love Him.” We really cannot know fully what awaits us. It is in fact beyond even what we can imagine.

Our belief in life after death and our confidence that those who have united their lives to Christ on earth will share in the glory of heaven is indeed a source of great comfort for us. As we pray for the souls in purgatory we are spurred on by the hope that our prayers will be effective on their behalf, speeding their process of final purification.

Firm confidence in what awaits us in heaven has been the inspiration for Christians over the centuries. In particular, faith in our participation in the resurrection of the Lord has given courage to martyrs for the faith. Over the millennia countless thousands of Christians have been martyred and it continues in our own day.

The first reading today gives us a dramatic account of martyrdom of Jewish believers who were being forced to renounce their faith and religious traditions. We are in awe of their extraordinary courage in the face of death described in the reading this morning. Their conviction that they will be raised to life again enabled such bold response to the threats of their persecutors.

Martyrdom stands as the great testimony to faith in eternal life. The courageous witness presented in the first reading is a story told over and over again in Christian history – and it does not cease today. The martyrs are the finest witness to Christian belief in eternal life. The martyrs lived and died with a focus on eternity.

We are invited during this month to fix our gaze on heavenly things. On death, on judgement, on purgatory, on eternal life. So throughout this month let us remember to pray for the holy souls in purgatory. In the midst of our daily concerns it is a good and salutary thing to recall the things of heaven. 

Belief in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting” (which we declare in the Creed) is the lynchpin of Christian faith and proclamation. Our human life finds its true meaning and proper perspective through a consciousness of the eternal life that awaits us. Consideration on the matters of death, judgement, purgatory and heaven should shape how we view our life now. We live in hope of heaven and this colours all our actions here on earth.

St Paul declared in the second reading today: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has given us his love and through his grace such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.”

Our faith is indeed our comfort and the source of a sure hope.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday 10 November 2019