by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
Each time we pray the Nicene Creed, we say, “I believe in the communion
of saints. This statement is filled with profound implications for what it
means to be the family of God. You and I are brothers and sisters, children of God created
in his own image and likeness. In fact, all human beings are our sisters and brothers.
Jesus saw a brother or sister in every person he met while on earth.
His disciples were his brothers, children of the same Father in heaven. The same can be
said of the faithful Mary Magdalene, Martha, Mary and Lazarus; and the lepers, the tax
collectors and the adulterous woman; and the sick who came to him on their knees asking
for healing. Dont forget about Jesus’ enemies, who sought to end his life.
Brotherhood and sisterhood did not depend on whether someone liked Jesus or not. That relationship
was as based on God the Father, creator of us all (and of Jesus human nature).
As members of Christ’s Church, we are also related to all those
who have gone before us and who have entered eternity and are now with God. The Mass
of Christian Burial tells us, “In death, life is changed, not ended.” In death,
our physical bodies die and return to the dust of the earth until the day of resurrection
and final judgment.
But death can never touch our souls, that part made in the image and
likeness of God. Once God gives life, it never ends. Neither are our relationships on earth
ended in death. Death is only a point of passage, not a final end. What this means is that
there are three states of being in the Church. At the present time, some are still
living as pilgrims on earth (ourselves). “Others are in glory, contemplating in full
light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is (heaven). Still others have died and
are being purified (purgatory)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #954).
Those in glory are the saints in heaven who see God face-to-face in a
most perfect way. By definition, heaven is complete, eternal and perfect union with God.
The Catechism tells us the following about the saints in heaven:
So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep
in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the
constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods.
Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven (saints) fix the whole
Church more firmly in holiness....They do not cease to intercede with the Father for
us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator
between God and men, Christ Jesus....So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly
helped. (CCC, #955-956)
The third group who are truly our sisters and brothers are those who
are united with God and yet whose union is not yet perfect but will be at sometime. These
souls are those we refer to as the souls in purgatory. The Catechism tells the following
about praying for the souls in purgatory:
In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body
of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the
Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and 'because
it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from
their sins' she offers her suffrages for them. Our prayer for them is capable not only
of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective. (CCC,
A consequence of this most wonderful belief is that all through eternity,
as we enjoy beyond comprehension the goodness and love of the Trinity, we will also be
united perfectly with all those with whom we share heaven and the life of God. Heaven will
never be just “God and me.” What it will be is God and all of us united in
his love and our love for one another. After all, how could we not share with each other
God’s love for us? We are family.
respond to Friar Jacks musings on Three
Favorite Hideaways of St. Anthony of Padua.
Dear Friar Jack: Thank you so much for your beautiful meditation
on the Three Favorite HIdeaways of St. Anthony of Padua. I so enjoyed the pictures
of the three hideaways. I visited Assisi in 2005 and could envision St. Anthony going to
these hideaways. The sermon passage that you quoted is so beautiful because, as you wrote,
it shows us the nature of Anthonys burning love relationship with Christ,
one that we should all have and need to nurture by taking the time for prayer. Clare
Dear Friar Jack: I read about what you said about the relationship
between Jesus and St. Anthony, deeply in love, like the relationship between Christ and
his whole creation, his spouse. Very beautiful. It is good to be in love with Christ! Alex
Dear Clare and Alex: Thanks for your kind words of friendly support.
Thanks also to Jim, who recently wrote and asked me to recommend good books on St. Francis
of Assisi. Two of my favorite books on St. Francis are both available at St. Anthony Messenger
Press and can be ordered from our Web site. The first is Francis:
The Journey and the Dream (also
available in audiobook) by my good friend and confrere, Murray Bodo, O.F.M. The second
Francis of Assisi: A Biography by Omer Englebert. You will find both of these lives
of St. Francis very satisfying and inspiring. Peace and many blessings to all!
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