Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on November 1 and 2, 2014 on the Feast of the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) at the 4:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM, and 10:30AM Masses
Heaven Is For Real is the story of a young boy named Colton who has a near death experience during an emergency operation on his appendix. It was written by Colton’s father and it became a number one bestselling book and a hit movie. It describes Colton’s visit to heaven and everything he saw and did while he was there. For example:
- Colton stood before the throne of God the Father with Jesus sitting at his right hand.
- Colton saw the Blessed Mother bowing down before the throne of God and he said that Mary still loves Jesus with the love of a mother for her son.
- We know from the gospels that Jesus rode a donkey, but according to Colton in heaven Jesus rides a rainbow-colored horse.
- To calm Colton when he became afraid angels sang to him, but either angels do not take song requests or they do not like rock music, because when Colton asked the angels to sing We Will We Will Rock You they refused.
Many people, especially non-believers, doubt Colton’s story about his trip to heaven. I have read the book and I have seen the movie and I have to admit that there are parts of Colton’s story that I believe and other parts that I question. We do proclaim in the creed that Jesus does sit at the right hand of the Father. We know from scripture and tradition that the Blessed Mother is certainly a woman of prayer who intercedes for us before God and she certainly loves her son very much. But I wonder, are we really riding around in heaven on rainbow-colored horses? Why not sports cars painted in our favorite color?
The reason I mention Heaven Is For Real today is because Colton’s journey is the same journey that we hope to make ourselves one day. Today on the feast of All Souls Day, more properly known as the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, we pray that our loved ones and all the faithful departed will make this same journey. Colton’s story, and the stories of others who have had near death experiences, and especially today’s readings from scripture help us to see that All Souls Day is about so much more than death and praying for the souls of those who have died.
First, today is about faith. Colton’s father was a Protestant minister and yet he had trouble believing when his son told him about visiting heaven, and his doubts caused him to question his own faith. We all have questions and doubts from time to time when it comes to our faith, especially during difficult times like when we have lost a loved one. Today we pray for all the faithful departed and we especially look to those who were good examples of what it means to live the life of a Christian and to be a person of faith. We look to them to strengthen and grow our own faith. They help us to see the truth of what was proclaimed in today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, one of my favorite scripture passages:
The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.
It’s a beautiful reading in which God speaks directly to us about our faith and he explains to us what awaits all who die in faith.
Next, today is also about hope. While Colton visited heaven he met his departed loved ones. He hugged his sister and talked to his grandfather for the very first time. Today we remember our departed loved ones, but we also look forward with hope to the day that we will be united with them again in heaven, to hug them and talk to them just like Colton did.
In today’s second reading St. Paul’s speaks to the community of Rome and to us about being united with Christ:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. If then we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.
Paul reminds us that we do not have to fear death because through our baptism we have already died. By our baptism we have been called to die to self so that we might live in newness of life in Christ. By living in union with Christ we will die as Christ himself died, but we also will rise anew as Christ himself rose anew.
Finally and most importantly, today is about love. Today we celebrate the Christian love that we share with the faithful departed and our departed loved ones. We do not stop loving those who have died, not only because of how important they were and still are to us, but because love does not end with death. Death has no power over love. Love is eternal.
Colton and anyone that has had a near death experience have trouble describing the incredible amount of love that they felt while they were in heaven. This powerful feeling of love of stays with them forever. The Father gave his only Son to us in total love and the Son gave himself to us on the cross in total love. As John says in today’s gospel:
Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.
The infinite and eternal love of God that Colton and others have experienced has not only overcome death, but in fact has defeated it, so that each one of us may experience this incredible love for ourselves one day in heaven and for all eternity.
The feast of All Souls Day is not about death, it is about our faith and hope in eternal life. As we come forward to receiver our Lord in the Eucharist, we unite ourselves with Christ and the infinite love of God that makes eternal life a reality. Rejoice and be glad that the God of Love has overcome death that we may live!