Holiness, Purification and our Destiny
This week we celebrate All Saints Day, from which we get the name for Halloween, didn’t you know! Yes, Halloween is short for the eve of the all hallowed ones, or the holy ones. It is a corruption to think of Halloween as the domain of the ghouls and ghosts and goblins; rather, Halloween is really the evening on which we begin to celebrate all the holy men, women and children who share in God’s glory in heaven. November 1st is the day to commemorate all the holy ones, whose names we do not know, especially those faithful Christians ancestors who have gone before us. So, as the children get dressed up as superheroes, Disney characters and an assortment of freakish critters, “What is sanctity?” is a poignant question.
Sanctity means holiness. When we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts” during Mass, the Latin is Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. This word we ascribe to God; we might call it godliness or sharing in the divine attributes. Recall that we are created in the image and likeness of God. So, we can understand holiness or godliness as fulfillment. Sanctity suggests that man has become who he was created to be! And that is awesome.
Ultimately this conversion occurs through the grace offered to humanity in and through Christ Jesus. The Incarnation and Passion make our deep transformation and fulfillment possible. Citing some heavy hitters (Saints Irenaeus, Athanasius and Thomas Aquinas) the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way, (CCC 460): “The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” Heavy stuff! Above all, recognize that man is destined for greatness, and holiness is a sign of becoming who God created us to be, sharing in his very self.
What about those who come up short? Thanks be to God, for those who are not fully transformed by grace into the very holiness of God, there is Purgatory. On November 2nd, we celebrate All Souls Day. This is the day to commemorate and to pray for all the dead. Traditionally, it is a day of prayer, fasting, mourning - but full of hope. The teaching on Purgatory is really a teaching on God extending his mercy to us, even after this pilgrimage. For those faithful Christians who have striven to live good and righteous lives, but who have fallen short of true holiness (godliness), God extends a state after this life, but before the eternal destiny of heaven, for final purification. Purgatory is the final rooting out of anything that would keep us from becoming full sharers in the divinity of God. Union with God in heaven is for the perfect alone. He or she who is not yet perfected cannot enter heaven. And so the Church on earth (the Church militant) prays for all the dead, that they may be purified and enter eternal beatitude.
So, All Saints and All Souls… and our eternal destiny. May we all be numbered among the saints, that great cloud of witnesses sharing in the glory of Heaven! Amen.