The Synod on Synodality, taking place in Rome, concludes on Oct. 29 on the eve of November. The process of the Synod has been one which is aimed at helping us to understand who we are as the Church, especially in our journey together. The word synod is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together, and hodos, which means journey. We are on a journey with one another as the people of God in the Church. November is a very appropriate month to reflect upon journeying together as it truly is a month of journeys. We are reminded of our journey through this life, as it is a month of remembrance of those who have gone before us with whom we have journeyed.
Nov. 1 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 journey on 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 an easy reflection to make. 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, but 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. These men and women are just as much saints as those who are canonized. They are men and women many of us knew and lived with, such as mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, family members and friends with whom we have journeyed. The Solemnity of All Saints reminds us that we are all called to be saints. We pray to the saints who support and intercede on our behalf.
Nov. 2 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. They are on the journey of purgatory. 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 the souls 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 remind us that we are on a journey to God’s Kingdom with each other. 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 are 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!
The month of November also brings with it Veterans Day. Veterans journey for all of us in our great nation in a special way. 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. Many times, this may not be easy.
Of course, November brings with it the celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a time when we gather with our families and give thanks to God for the many blessings which He has bestowed upon us. We need to 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 great need for healing within it. When we see the suffering and pain of so many in other parts of our world, we realize we need to use our goods and resources as best as we can and in service to others. Thanksgiving is a family day, and for the gift of our families 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.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. This Solemnity draws to a conclusion the journey of the liturgical year that we have journeyed through. It reminds us that the goal of our journey is Christ the King, whose power is revealed in His authority of love. On our journey with others in this life, Christ calls us to share that love with each other in order that we might come closer to Him. Christ became one of us in order that we might be saints, both in this life and in the next. This does not mean we will not have our sins and faults — quite the contrary. However, His mercy for us and for every person is overwhelming. We turn ourselves over to Him and give thanks for His merciful love at the conclusion of November as we prepare to celebrate a new journey through the liturgical year, which begins on the First Sunday of Advent, the first weekend of December this year.
There is much going on in November. Its beginning with the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls reminds us of what life is all about. We are on a journey, not always an easy one, and it is our faith that gives us an unfailing compass on our journey with each other through life to our ultimate goal.
A blessed November to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 27, 2023