(From the various gospel passages available for this feast I have selected the one from chapter six of John’s gospel).
This gospel selection is taken from John’s Bread of Life Discourse comprising the final fifty verses of chapter six. The culmination of this discourse is a very strong statement by Jesus concerning the Eucharist: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (6:53). It is in the context of the Eucharist, therefore, that today’s gospel passage must be read.
In particular, we need to focus on the most significant verse in this passage, namely, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day” (6:40). We see asserted, therefore, that the indispensable condition for a victorious outcome of our lives is, therefore, to “see” and “believe” in Jesus.
“Seeing” Jesus is to encounter him in the reading of the Scriptures or through the witness of others or in any other way. But the really important step is “believing” in him. In the context of a passage on the Eucharist, this can only mean to make one’s life an occasion for the kind of self-giving in loving service that is the central meaning of the Eucharist as Body-broken and Blood-poured-out for others.
It is no accident that All Souls Day follows immediately after the feast of All Saints. After having celebrated the victory and glory of those who are now in heaven, it is only fitting to remember the “poor souls in purgatory,” to use the rather quaint but charming language of tradition, and to pray that they too may soon be able to join the saints. We know that they are in purgatory because they still need to be purified, as it were, from any sinful blemishes that may still remain. We don’t really know what exactly this purification entails and it may very well be that, in many cases, purgatory is simply the suffering that many experience in their last days on earth.
This feast also provides us with an opportunity to remember those family member and friends who have already died and to whom we owe so much. If we are honest, we will recognize that our freedom or self-confidence is not something that we have acquired by our own devices. If we have escaped the plight of low self-esteem or the paralysis of fear and anxiety, it is because we have been loved and affirmed by good people, such as, our parents and siblings as well as teachers and dear friends.
To all these good people we owe such a debt of gratitude that we should welcome this opportunity to celebrate their goodness and to ask God to reward them for all the ways in which they have been a blessing in our lives. This also reminds us of our obligation to be a blessing and a support in the lives of many other people who have not been as fortunate as we have been. In that way, the meaning of the Eucharist will be reflected in our lives and we can then be confident that Jesus will “raise us up on the last day.”
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.