By Nathaniel Richards
Many of us go about our lives in a state of constant motion. We’re always on the go doing errands or the like, thinking that whatever we’re doing is rather important. However, most of this ongoing hustle and bustle to meet our material needs—feeding our kids, paying our bills, gassing up our cars—helps create a distraction. While most of these things are generally necessary for our day-to-day life so that we can function in society, if we do not spend time feeding and fueling our souls, we may be in for a surprise.
What is that surprise? Well, we may just be surprised to wake up find ourselves dead. “Because I could not stop for Death,” says Dickinson, “He kindly stopped for me.”
Our physical body having expired, we then realize that we have crossed over into the realm of eternity. That somehow, we still live. And our lack of spiritual fervor in our earthly lives will be most achingly apparent. For death has a unique non-discrimination policy and will gladly claim any man—rich or poor. And if we are blessed enough to have died in friendship with God, perhaps we shall find our souls being refined in Purgatory. Further, perhaps we shall be fortunate enough to have someone praying for our soul…or perhaps not. Which is why our approach to death matters—we must live our lives well in order to die well.
If we are being honest with ourselves, we know that we should do more for our souls. Yet again, because we get caught up in temporal affairs which often run interference for any spiritual aspirations we might have, our devotions and interior life are put on the backburner. We do our general duty and get our families to Holy Mass and Confession, but our prayer life in the home is admittedly lacking. Our Bibles remain unopened, our rosaries left in drawers, and though we may have a crucifix on the wall, we forget about the Passion of Christ because we spend more time looking at what’s on TV. Binge-watching has only fed and alleviated our boredom, but our souls are verging towards malnourishment.
Therefore, we need to stop it. We need to pray instead. We need to feed ourselves and our loved ones with holy things (Philip. iv. 8). And we ought to start living life as though we’re dying—because each second ticking on the clock is bringing us closer to our end. One day the clock will stop. We will be dead. And what will we have to show for ourselves? For everything that we’ve done, we will have to render an account to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is ready to judge the living and the dead (I Pt. iv. 5).
On another note, in our journey to Heaven, we are not alone. We have friends in the Church Triumphant, yes, but also friends in the Church Expectant. Put simply, there are holy souls in Purgatory who need your prayers. In return for your efforts, they will pray for you. And when at last these holy souls bask in the Light of God and take in the Beatific Vision? Those poor souls who were a beneficiary of your prayers, having been cleaned up and made fit to go through the Pearly Gates, shall remember you, a sinner—you, a likewise poor soul. It is altogether fitting and necessary to pray for the dead…for we all are one in the Body of Christ and must show charity to one another.
Thus, on the solemnity of All Souls, Holy Mother Church remembers with compassion her children in Purgatory. It is a sobering occasion in comparison to the solemnity preceding it. Whereas on All Saints Day we celebrate the magnificence of Heaven and the beauty of the saints there, on All Souls Day we remember that we can only have life through death…eternal life is no different. We must die to ourselves completely in order to conform to the salvific Paschal Mystery. When we die, if there is some small attachment to sin or venial stain of stubbornness…it will have to be rubbed out. Whatever this chaff is will have to be burned away. Even if an attachment or peccadillo does not sever our relationship with God, it still must be purged from our person. The small weights we insist on carrying and petty human idiosyncrasies that are unlike the Divine? They must be cast off so we may rise into Heaven, buoyant with love of God.
How we have spent our lives in preparing for our demise will matter at the time of death. It is imperative that we prepare for death today. For we could very well stop breathing at any moment. There are no guarantees that we will see tomorrow, let alone the next hour. The traditional liturgical color for All Souls is black for a reason, I think. It’s the black you see as when you close your eyes to sleep. Then death is not something to be dreaded, but something to be encountered as a stepping stone to a better world. We go to sleep so we can wake up rested for a morning of a brand new day. How is it any different with death? We die well so that we may go to Heaven. And thus Donne: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
Truly, “Death…shalt die” for our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death through His Holy Cross and Resurrection. Jesus says to all souls, so they may not be afraid of what seems like an endless night: I am living for ever and ever, and have the keys of death and of hell (Apoc. i. 18). We can trust Him to deliver us to the Heaven He has promised us. St. Paul testifies further: Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall no more have dominion over him (Rom. vi. 9).
Our love for Christ at present is imperfect, but God is working away at us, perfecting us to His liking (Philip. i. 6). Whether that perfection happens totally in this life or a bit of purifying happens in purgatory, God will not cease till we resemble what He intended to create—a saint. Our love will be made perfect. In the words of Thomas: “Though lovers be lost love shall not; / And death shall have no dominion.”
Death shall have no dominion, it shall die, and we children of God will not be taken by surprise. We live to die for others as Christians because we are ultimately willing to die for Christ who loved us so much He gave up His life for us. For to me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain (Philip. i. 21).
Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Editor’s note: please support the Richards Family Medical Fund.
Nathaniel Richards is a Catholic husband and father who lives in the Ozarks. He enjoys collecting Catholic books and promises that one day he will read most of them—eventually, maybe. Starting a Catholic bookstore that sells books rather than gifts is a dream of his. He converted from Oneness Pentecostalism to Anglicanism and eventually made his way to Catholicism in 2015.