The Church begins the month of November with two feasts: Feast of All Saints (November 1) and the Feast of All Souls (November 2). What connects these feasts is one of the most important themes within the Catholic faith: communion.
The Feast of All Saints commemorates all of those saints in heaven who have not been (and more than likely will never be) canonized. We celebrate the lives of all those who are now in communion with the Church Triumphant sharing in the joys of the beatific vision.
The Feast of All Souls is a solemn day of remembrance for all who in dying have the hope of the resurrection, but need the assistance of our prayers and our sacrifices. They are in communion with the Church Suffering awaiting their full entry into glory. The whole month of November is dedicated to the ancient practice of praying for the dead.
November highlights the reality of communion that people share as members of the Body of Christ – whether they are on earth as members of the Church Militant, in purgatory as members of the Church Suffering, or rejoicing in heaven as members of the Church Triumphant. At the same time, this month underscores the realization that the virtue of hope will not be found in this world. Hope awaits all of us in the Kingdom, which awaits those who die in Christ’s friendship.
Recent politics have reminded us that few if any politicians grasp even the basics of true Christian communion and hope. Pope Benedict XVI has written that “politics is about ethics, not eschatology.” Politicians should work to ensure the common good (the communion) of all people by passing laws that allow for the freedom to practice a life of virtue. Throughout his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict outlines the possibilities of politics rooted in authentic communion and hope.
From the beginning, the human person has been made in the image of God, who is Himself a communion of life and love (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). The dominant tone and tenor of modern culture is fixated on an autonomy of the self – the I – in opposition to a culture characterized by communion – we.
According to the Holy Father, an authentic human life is “linked to a lived union with a people, and for each individual it can only be attained within this we. It presupposes that we escape from the prison of our I, because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself—to God” (14).
Many people seem to have a misplaced hope in the ability of politicians to restore order. We should know, however, that this is a misguided trust because, as the Holy Father says, “the right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom. Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order. Freedom requires conviction; conviction does not exist on its own, but must always be gained anew by the community.”
As a result of the Fall, the freedom of the human person can be directed to goods contrary to our ultimate end. November celebrates the saints who realized the true freedom for excellence in the life of virtue. At the same time we remember our brothers and sisters who began the pursuit of the freedom for excellence, but still need to make reparation for the effects of the times when they abused their freedom through sin and vice.
Benedict continues on: “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom” (24). No one can promise lasting hope and change in this world. Our ultimate hope transcends the world we live in, yet people look to the State for their emancipation because they have lost sight of their eternal end.
Finally, the Holy Father writes, “Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all” (24). We look to the members of the Body of Christ that share in the full joy and communion of the beatific vision or the faithful departed that are in the final process of making preparation to enter into that communion.
Their ascent to take part in the communion of saints is a reminder during this month of November that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (cf. John 18:36). When people become solely dependent upon the financial aid and intervention of the State, it is can be difficult for them to see the true promise of hope beyond this material world.
What the State primarily needs to safeguard are not the goods of the body, but the goods of the soul. The latter is protected by laws, which conform to the natural law and uphold the practice of virtue. Yet, the great challenge for the members of the faithful in the United States is that the State continues to wage war on both the goods of the soul and the body. Marriage, the family, religious liberty, and life at all stages are threatened by a State that is more interested in its own power than ethics.
In November, the saints and the faithful departed remind us: “Our help is in the name of the Lord. Who made heaven and earth.”
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!