The Consolation of the Communion of Saints

This column comes to you on Halloween, or, more literally, the Eve of All Hallows. Don’t worry: these words are meant to console, not scare!

Because I want to consider our Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints.

We too often reduce the teachings of our faith to cerebral impracticalities. But, they’re actually as timely, as pertinent, and as pragmatic as can be.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was at a terribly sad wake for a 14-year-old girl killed in an accident. I expected her parents to be inconsolable. Distressed as they were, her mom whispered to me, “She’s still with us, and we look forward to being with her again one day.”

In other words, these simple Catholic parents believed in the Communion of Saints: their daughter, through the mercy of Jesus, which had been extended to her through faith, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the Church, was alive forever, still part of our family—which goes beyond the confines of earthly time and space—and awaits reunion with us in heaven.

No wonder those folks could ask, “What would we do without our faith?”

We believers here on earth are only part of a bigger picture. Yes, we are members of the Church here and now, but we’re only one “branch” of this supernatural family, sometimes called, since we’re fighting sin and Satan, the Church Militant.

The other “branches” of the communion are all the saints in heaven—the Church Triumphant—whom we honor on November 1, the Feast of All Saints (or, All Hallows). Yes, there are the well-known saints officially canonized by the Church. Just think of our New York saints, like the North American Martyrs (St. Isaac Joques, St. Jean de Brebeuf, and their companions), St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann, St. Marianne Cope, and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.

But there are also the other “citizens” of heaven, like the girl I just spoke about, and our beloved faithful departed whom, we trust, through the mercy of Jesus, are now in heaven with the Lord.

They’re still alive and with us. Often, I’ll hear someone say, “I sure miss my husband who died last year. I only wish he knew how much I loved him.”

“Well”, I reply, “why don’t you tell him? After all, don’t you hope he’s still alive, now with God? So, ask God to let him know how much you miss him!”

That’s the consolation of the Communion of Saints.

Then there’s another “branch” of our wider, spiritual family, those souls still experiencing the mercy of Jesus, being purified of their sins in what we traditionally term purgatory. I don’t know about you, but, while I hope, by God’s mercy, to reach heaven, I’ll praise Him if I even make purgatory, because I know I’ll need His cleansing, and I’ll count on the continued prayers of my “family” back here to beseech the Lord on my behalf.

We reverently remember these souls of the faithful departed on November 2, All Souls Day.

The ultimate, cosmic “family reunion” will, of course, only come at the end of time, when we will all, we pray, be with the Lord.

We’re not alone. We’re part of a spiritual family, this Communion of Saints, which cannot be destroyed by sin, Satan, or death. That’s why Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.

Sometimes, doctrines are better experienced than explained. Just ask those parents. They may not be able to define the Communion of Saints. But, they sure know their daughter is still alive, with them, part of their family, and they look forward to seeing her again one day in God’s eternal embrace of heaven.

I thank God I’m a member of the Communion of Saints. I thank Him that you are, too. We are family!