The seasons every year are a reflection of a greater reality. Most of us love autumn, which always has a special beauty in Pennsylvania. But as the days grow shorter and colder, our spirit subtly changes. November reminds us that all life, including our own, comes to an end.
Over the centuries, the Church has often called her people to reflect on the “Four Last Things” — death, judgment, hell and heaven. She has a good reason for doing so. Life is brief. And all of us, whether rich or poor, unknown or famous, will very soon encounter the Four Last Things, directly and personally.
They’re very real, and they matter eternally.
When the young man in the Gospel asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” he was reminding us that each human soul has something to be saved for, and something to be saved from. We are made for joy. We are made for heaven. But we have alternatives.
The great November feasts of All Saints and All Souls draw our attention to the reality of the end of our lives. One day, we will die, and the people we love most in this world will die.
When we really understand that life as we know it is temporary and transitional, it changes the way we live. We begin to see that relationships are more important than things. We become aware that love of God and neighbor should drive our lives, rather than possessions and self-centeredness.
In Scripture, Jesus makes it clear that we will be judged on whether we loved God with all of our strength, and whether we loved our neighbor as ourselves. Knowing this should motivate us to evaluate our lives. God takes our choices and our actions very seriously. Do our lives reflect an understanding of this simple truth?
The examination of conscience has been a Christian practice throughout the centuries. At the end of the day, before going to bed every night, we should examine our conscience to see what we have done, or left undone, to please or displease God and to serve or not serve our brothers and sisters.
Praying for the dead has been a Catholic tradition from the earliest days of the Church. At every Mass, we pray for the dead. We should also pray for our beloved dead in our personal devotions. When we die, we hope the family and friends we leave behind will pray for us with great intensity so we might be worthy of the purifying love of God.
Death will always be a sobering prospect for human beings, but we Christians face it with confidence, knowing that there is new life beyond death. Our faith in Christ Jesus and His resurrection makes it possible for us to deal with this reality. We know we are going to die, but we also see death as the beginning of new life.
By the death and resurrection of Christ, the gates of heaven have been “opened” to us. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” uses the following words to describe the glory of heaven:
“This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (No. 1027).
Those are great words to ponder as we move through November to the close of the Church year — and look forward with hope to Advent.