The month of November is upon us. This month brings with it a number of significant days, both for the Church and for our nation. November begins with the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints and is followed the next day by the Commemoration of All Souls. This month will bring with it the Solemnity of Christ the King as well as the celebration of the First Sunday of Advent the following week. During the month of November we have Election Day – a very significant one for our nation this year - Veterans Day, and, of course, Thanksgiving. For us as believers, the beginning of the month, concentrating on those who have gone before us into eternal life, sets a good tone for all that is to follow during the month, especially by reminding us that we live in a passing world with our hearts set on the world to come.
November 1st is a very joyous day in the life of the Church. We celebrate the reality of all of the saints who have entered eternal life in the presence of God. The saints are those who now live, without any suffering or pain, in the fullness of joy having attained the ultimate purpose of life on this earth. Many extraordinary works of art have tried to depict the saints in the heavenly kingdom and the glory that their life with God radiates. Trying to imagine the joy of being in God's presence is often overwhelming and not easy to comprehend. The saints include all those who have been formally canonized throughout the history of the Church from its very beginning. In the early Church, it was the lives of the martyrs that were more often recognized. However, it became evident very early that holiness of life is not by any means limited to those who sacrificed their lives for Christ through death. The martyrs were able to do this because they sacrificed their lives in many other ways, as do all of the saints. In recent years, there have been a number of formal canonizations of men and women of every background and vocation. It is important to remember that the Solemnity of All Saints does not only celebrate those who are formally canonized but all those who are in the presence of God. They are men and women that many of us knew and lived with, such as mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, family members and friends. The Solemnity of All Saints reminds us that we are all called to be saints.
November 2nd is a more somber day in the life of the Church – All Souls Day. On this day, we recall the reality of all the souls who have passed from this life who are not yet fully in the presence of God and are being purified in order to come into the fullness of His life. This purification involves the facing of personal sins that were committed during this life. The facing of these sins is a painful process. It blocks the vision of God. However, the souls are to become saints and it is important to realize that even many of the canonized saints faced the reality of their sins and the state of purgatory. Saints become saints, not because they are free from sin, but because they face their sins and overcome them by turning their lives over to the mercy of God. We pray for the souls, but we can also pray to them who are intercessors on our behalf. It is no exaggeration to state that next to heaven, purgatory is the happiest place to be. We can never lose hope that those in this life who may have had even the most serious sins cannot be purified through the merciful love of God!
The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls reminds us that we are on a journey to God's Kingdom. While that Kingdom begins in this world, its fullness is not reached until we are with the Lord in heaven. This is the purpose and meaning of our lives. We look forward to being with God and with all those who have gone before us, where every tear and sorrow will be wiped away and only the love of God prevails. With this reality before us, we are able to face much in our lives and to face it with freedom, hope and joy. When this vision gets lost, then the difficulties and challenges of life are very hard to face and can understandably overwhelm us to the point of despair. Faith is what makes the difference! This certainly is the case in the continuing days of the coronavirus pandemic.
During this month of November, we will participate in a national election which includes the highest office of our country. Perhaps this year we realize the fragility and humanity of the candidates before us even more than in other years. While we wish to elect those of the highest moral caliber who will reflect that caliber in their decisions, we realize that we are electing human beings with sins and failures which are obvious to everyone. In the election process this year, those sins and failures have sometimes overshadowed the real issues and challenges within our nation that must be faced. They have also brought out the sins and failures in all of us. As I reflected in my words for Respect Life Sunday, there are critical issues of respect for life at all stages, from the unborn child in a mother's womb to the care of the elderly and infirm, that must be considered as most important in our choosing leadership for our nation. This includes the leadership not only of that of the chief executive within our nation, but of all of those in government who are to be elected to share in that leadership. As we look at the violence, terrorism, discrimination, poverty, threats to religious freedom and racism that are before us in our nation and in our world, we have critical decisions to make in our election. Respect for life at every stage, but most especially the life of an unborn child who is the most vulnerable among us, is the key issue. As the United States Bishops have stated so clearly in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right, and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” The Bishops emphasized, “The threat of abortion remains our priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
The month of November also brings with it Veterans Day. On this day we are very grateful to the men and women who gave part of their lives to serve us in the protection of our freedoms and values within our nation. Veterans give an example of valor and of the self-sacrifice that it takes to protect our freedom. They imbue those qualities which are the qualities that are part of the lives of saints. We give deep thanks to our veterans, whom we highly respect, and ask God's blessings upon them. As they were willing to give themselves to protect our freedom, so we must be willing to give ourselves in the daily exercise of our lives in service to our country.
Of course, November brings with it the celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a time when we give thanks to God for the many blessings which He has bestowed upon us in this great nation. This year the celebration of Thanksgiving will be very different due to the safety restrictions that are in place. We continue to give thanks for this nation and for the many blessings that we have in it. We realize this year that there is a need for healing within it. Thanksgiving is a family day, even if we cannot be with them this year, and we thank God for the gift of our families for whom we are very grateful. We also realize we must do all we can to promote the sanctity and dignity of family life at a time when its natural beauty is not recognized as it should.
We will begin the season of Advent on the final Sunday of November. Advent is a time of hope as we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ who entered our sinful world. We need hope so much at this time. His mercy for us and for every person is overwhelming. He came so that we might be saints. This does not mean we will not have our sin and faults – quite the contrary. However, we turn ourselves over to Him and give thanks for His merciful love.
There is much going on in November. We are on a journey, not always an easy one, and it is our faith that gives us an unfailing compass in this life to our ultimate goal. A blessed November and hope filled one to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 30, 2020