Every five or six years, All Souls Day comes on a Sunday.
Let’s be plain. This day is about death.
Living in the United States, in this time,
you and I have the best health care options anyone has ever had.
With all our many advantages, we worry very little
About the threats that used to haunt all people,
and still are a real peril in many places of the world.
But as a consequence, we forget about death.
In ancient Rome, when a victorious general would be honored
with a triumphant parade, surrounded by cheering throngs,
with even the Emperor paying tribute,
there would be a servant would beside him in the chariot,
whispering in his ear: “Remember that you are mortal.”
“Remember that you are mortal.”
Does death scare you?
The other night, I was driving home, and because the road was empty, I was lost in thought.
And to my sudden horror, I realized—
I’d just gone through a stop sign.
I thanked God all the way home that he’d preserved me.
Yes, that scared me.
We don’t have to be scared about this. Be ready!
It’s not really hard to be ready.
Stay close to Jesus. That’s it.
You and I stay close to Jesus by living as he commands.
We are close to the Lord
when we care for the least of his brothers and sisters.
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, embrace the outcast.
If we are close to Jesus, we are listening to him—learning from him.
And we are talking to him—we are praying.
And if we’ve neglected or disobeyed the Lord, we go to confession.
Why mess around? If we need to go, go!
Getting sick or dying is not the worst thing that can happen to us.
The worst thing is a death for which we are not prepared.
Live ready. Die ready. Nothing to be afraid of!
As you can imagine, I get called to visit people when they near death.
I’m very glad to go;
and many of the moments I treasure as a priest
have been praying with people
as they approached the threshold of eternity.
One of the saddest things, on the other hand,
is when I’ve visited people, and it was obvious they were near death.
Yet no one would acknowledge it;
and no one would ask, “Father, will you help us prepare?”
“Father, will you give dad Last Rites?”
When both my mother and father, in their turn,
were approaching death, they were open about it.
They talked about what they wanted. It was a great help.
No good comes from pretending.
And when you spell out, ahead of time, what you want at the end,
and at the funeral, you will do your children a huge favor.
Now, let me explain what Last Rites means.
First comes the sacrament of confession.
This includes what is called the “apostolic blessing,”
which the Holy Father allows priests to grant to us
when we’re near death. It is a remission of all time in purgatory.
Next is the anointing of the sick.
In the old days, this only happened near death;
but now, the anointing can be given anytime we face a serious illness,
and we can receive it more than once.
We don’t have to wait till the end for the anointing.
But when the priest comes the last time,
he will give the anointing one more time.
The most important sacrament to receive at the end is the Eucharist:
called “viaticum,” which means, “food for the journey.”
While on this subject, there’s something very important to say.
Sadly, many times I’m told,
“Mom can’t receive communion”—because of issues with swallowing.
Let me offer two ideas on that.
First, when giving holy communion, I can give a very small portion, even—
if you will forgive me putting it this way—as small as a crumb.
We put it in a spoon with some water.
And if someone says, is that really Jesus?
I say, as much as the regular host is.
What difference does size make to God?
The second suggestion I can make is this,
although this is something I need help with.
I can bring the Blood of Christ to someone who can’t swallow;
and the person can receive just a drop of the Precious Blood.
But that is something I need to plan for, because as you know,
we don’t keep the Precious Blood in the tabernacle.
You have to call me a couple of days ahead of time.
There’s one more part of Last Rites that isn’t as important,
but it’s beautiful, and it helps us see
what’s really happening at that moment.
And that is when the priest leads everyone in a Litany of the Saints.
When you and I were baptized,
the deacon or priest prayed the same litany.
It signifies that the newly baptized is joining the list!
Yes, that’s right: at baptism, we really become a saint,
someone destined for heaven!
Whether we stay a saint is the real challenge, of course.
But when we die in the Lord, we die a saint!
Whether we go to purgatory doesn’t change that;
because purgatory can properly be called, “The saints’ finishing school.”
Every single soul in purgatory will be saint!
Because everyone who makes it to heaven, is a saint.
Other than God, there is no one in heaven who is not a saint.
So when the family gathers at that moment,
the family includes all the saints in heaven,
who have been praying for you since your birth—before, really.
And so that litany, at the end, is like a welcome home,
a reunion among old friends.
It is like when someone is running a race—
maybe like our high schoolers this weekend!
And as you near the finish line,
what do your friends and teammates—
who are there ahead of you—do?
They cheer you on!
Keep going, don’t give up, you’re almost there! Keep on!
This is what the saints are doing for us, our entire lives;
and when we reach the end, we pray one final time,
for the person we love to make it safely home.
Lots of people are afraid of death;
but Christians should not be among them.
Our Savior, our Jesus, suffered, died, and came back from the dead!
And he is there, in the midst of his saints, welcoming us home.