Reading (Acts 16:11-15) Gospel (St. John 15:26-16:4a)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that He is going to send from the Father another Advocate. The “Paraclete” is what that means; it is the word that is actually there. The word “paraclete” means one who speaks on behalf of another. It is like an attorney, in that sense. So the word can be translated in various ways: an advocate, a counselor, a consoler, and so on. But the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of truth, as Jesus tells us, and He is sent to lead us into all truth.
And so as our country takes time today to honor those people who have given their lives for the freedom that this country is known for, we also need to look at the Spirit of truth because the truth that He leads us into is the realization of the truth of the Resurrection, the truth of eternal life for those who have gone before us, whether in the service of our country in the military or in the service of our families, thereby building up this great country by the way they have lived their lives and offered themselves for the good of others. As Catholic people, we know this life is not the end. This is a very temporary place. Even if one lives for a hundred years, it is hardly the blink of an eye when one considers eternity.
The Holy Spirit also leads us to the understanding of the truth of the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints, recall, is the union of all of those souls on earth who are in the state of grace, every single soul who is in Purgatory, and all of the souls who are in Heaven. So for those who are being purified – the Church Suffering in Purgatory – we pray, as do the saints in Heaven. At the same time, those blessed souls who are in Purgatory are praying for us, as are the souls in Heaven. We unite our prayers to help one another. And as we take time as a country to honor our dead, it is something that as Christian people we recognize, as Jesus told us, “God is not the god of the dead, but of the living.” Anyone who died in the state of grace is alive in Jesus Christ. Whether they are in Purgatory being purified so they can enter into the fullness of life, or whether they have already achieved their final goal, which is the face-to-face vision of God in the eternity of Heaven, they are alive in Christ.
For those who have lost loved ones, whether through any form of tragedy or through the natural aging process, we have to keep in mind that for all of those who died in the state of grace, they are closer to us now and we to them than we ever were with them when they were in this life. Because our bond is no longer one which is physical, it is no longer one which is worldly. The bond that we have with our beloved dead is the bond of grace, sanctifying grace, the love of God which unites each one of us. It is the very life of God Himself.
That spiritual union which we have with those who have gone before us is what gives us the greatest consolation and the greatest hope on a day such as today. If all we were doing was getting together to celebrate some past, vague, or fading memory of the heroics of certain individuals who have gone before us, what good would that do? All we could do is tell stories of something that happened years ago. But for us as Christian people, it is much different from that. What happened many years ago only sets the stage for what will happen for eternity. For those who were in Jesus Christ when they went forth from this world, they remain in Jesus Christ. And as we are in Christ and they are in Christ, we do not just have vague memories of the past; we have confidence in the present and hope in the future that we will be with them. And being united with them now even more intimately than we were (even if that was a spouse, there is a more intimate union), what awaits us is far more infinite yet.
That is our hope and our faith as Christian people. That is our confidence in Jesus Christ. Death is not the end; it is a change; it is a new beginning. It is entrance into something which – thanks be to God! – is so much greater than anything we have known in this vale of tears, and it is the place where we want to be. This is a passing reality. Saint Paul tells us that our citizenship is in Heaven; so we live in this world as sojourners, as foreigners, as aliens, because even though this may well be where we were born and where we spend our entire life, it is not where we are called to be. God has prepared a place for us. He has sent His Spirit into our hearts to lead us into truth and to unite us with one another and with God. So as we remember those who have gone before us, we unite them in our hearts with Christ and with ourselves. We pray for them and they are praying for us. And we await the day when the union that we have with them in Christ through sanctifying grace will be fulfilled and perfected, and we will be united with them and with Christ forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.