My Sisters and Brothers! This custom expresses two beliefs.
The first one is that with death the person doesn’t cease to exist, that life continues after death. That what we believe too. Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints, we glorified the Almighty for his wonders in those women and men of our Church who are in heaven. Today we turn our thoughts and prayers to the Faithful Departed in the Purgatory. With the whole Church we profess that death doesn’t terminate life, life continues beyond death. If we pray to the saints it means that they can hear us and come to our aid because they are alive in the Lord. If we pray for the Souls in the Purgatory it means that our prayers can assist them because they are alive in the Lord. They haven’t dissolved into nothingness.
The second belief coming from the custom I have just mentioned is that the deceased are dangerous, that it is better if they stay away from us. It is what we Catholics don’t believe in. Our Departed Brothers and Sisters are not zombies we run away from. They are the beloved Sons and Daughter of God. The Saints have been embraced by God. They have heard the words of the Gospel spoken to them by Jesus: “Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” They are full of love of God who is Love. Those in the Purgatory, whom we rightly call, Holy Souls in Purgatory, are sure of their Salvation though they need to undergo the process of purification so that God’s love can shine in them. For a couple of weeks I have been watching the tree outside our seminary chapel. Some time ago it was barren and seemed to be lifeless, now with the warmth of the spring overtaking Melbourne, it is coming back to life. What gets my attention are not trunk and branches but the leaves with such vibrant green color. The Holy Souls in Purgatory are like the tree outside our chapel. Exposed to the warmth of God’s mercy they become fully alive turning into fully alive people, alive with God’s love.
That’s why we pray for them. Good prayer is always filled with love. It contributes to those Holy Souls in Purgatory in their becoming the reflection of God’s love. As St Paul says in our second reading: “Hope is not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
Let me finish with what I heard from that Laotian person who told me about the burial custom. He said that next to the Christian village where he grew up there is a Buddhist village. Those people were always afraid of the dead. If somebody died outside the village they wouldn’t even bring his body back to the village. But their Christian neighbors kept telling them: “Why are you afraid? They are your relatives, your friends. They love you even after death.” Now the Buddhist village is different they are not scared of the deceased anymore. They celebrate their funerals as celebration of gratitude and love.
Our Christians beliefs are not myths but they are reality that’s why they can bring home, peace and consolation to people’s life.