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Prayers for the Departed
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A statue of Jesus greets visitors from the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Colón, Panama. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Washington, D.C.) October 29, 2014 — Halloween brings opportunities—and not only for retail business. While we see from our stores, our schools, and our neighbors’ lawns opportunities to contribute to the $6 billion U.S. retail business, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA presents another opportunity at this time of year—to offer prayers for our deceased family and friends. 

The month of November in the Church is dedicated to praying for the dead; or, to put it with more theological refinement: November recalls our unity with one another as Church in Christ—a unity which is stronger than the separations caused by time, space, and death itself.

November 1st in the Church is the feast of All Saints. Thus, October 31 is the eve of All Saints, or All Hallowed's Eve, or 'Halloween.' On this night, ghosts and goblins understandably disturbed by the next day’s celebration of holiness would appear promising tricks if not placated by treats.

With the dawn and new month the Church begins its month’s long focus on our communion with one another, first with All Saints Day. On this first day of the month the Church celebrates the 'great cloud of witnesses' (Hebrews 12:1), all the women and men who have gone before us with heroic lives of faith, hope, and love and consequently now enjoy the fullness of God’s friendship and glory. These saints assist us today with intercessory prayers and encourage us by their lives. We pray to the saints—the Church in Heaven—and ask for their help.

The next day, November 2, the feast of All Souls, we the Church on Earth assist our sisters and brothers who have died and may still await the fullness of God's presence by our prayers and works of charity. The Church's teaching on Purgatory today is not without some misunderstanding yet remains sound and sure.  In this teaching the Church recognizes both God's mercy (Ephesians 2:4) and desire that all are saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and our freedom to choose good or evil and the consequences of our choices. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)  

Reflections for Prayer
We are indeed able to decide whether to spend our lives growing daily in deeper friendship with God, confident that he offers us the fullness of life (John 10:10) and true freedom, or rather, to wander to a distant land, alienated from him with ourselves as 'Lord' and thus paradoxically enslaved by our own false freedom and determined eternally by our own choices (Luke 15:11-24; Matthew 25:31-46).  Recall that Jesus' first words when beginning his public preaching are "Repent and believe in the Gospel." (Mark 1:15)

Recognizing that many souls at death have lived good yet, in all honesty, not perfect lives as God's friends, the Church holds out the promise of 'heaven' after a period of waiting or longing for the Lord. This longing is purgative. And just as we do for each other today in the Church on earth, so too our prayers and works of charity can aid these souls who have gone before us.

This November we invite you, our benefactors and supporters, as a small way of thanking you for your generous support of our mission with refugees, to share with us the names of any of your beloved deceased family members or friends whom you would like us to remember in our prayers. Please send their names via email to jrsprayers (AT) and know that they all will receive a remembrance in our Masses and prayers during the month of November. Thank you again for all you do.

Peace of Christ,
Fr. Kevin White, S.J.

Suggested Reading for Prayer

Matthew 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,

and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'

And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'

Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'

He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'

And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."