As a people of God, we need the help of our friends on earth and in heaven, and to be friends to those in need
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing forever and ever.” (Rev 5:12)
Words of heavenly worship that adorn the base of the dome of our new cathedral are those of the “new hymn” (Rev 5:9) that we join the saints of heaven in singing in every Mass. For the liturgy is not just an earthly celebration, but a participation in the heavenly liturgy with all the angels and saints.
This most holy reality is reflected in the artwork within the dome of the cathedral, where heaven is opened up and we see “the cloud of witnesses,” (Heb 12:1) whose voices we join in worshiping God. And these witnesses are the most important friends we can have, for they long to be our helpers as we journey toward our heavenly home.
“Pray for me.” How many times have we asked others for their prayers or have been asked by someone to pray for him or her? When we need help, particularly in times of dire need, there’s nothing better than a good and dependable friend to call upon. And to be a good friend to others in need is also a most wonderful gift. But far too many value only their earthly relationships while failing to seek the far greater friendship of the saints and to be a dependable friend to the holy souls in purgatory who need our prayers.
We celebrate the great solemnity of All Saints’ Day each Nov. 1, reminded that the Church exists not only on earth, where we struggle in our pilgrimage of faith (the Church Militant), but also in heaven (Church Triumphant), where the saints behold the face of God. The following day, Nov. 2, we commemorate All Souls’ Day, when the Church recalls all the faithful departed and reminds us to not neglect our prayers for the holy souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering). These souls died in God’s friendship and have a most holy desire to be further cleansed of the imperfections that they did not purify themselves of during their earthly life so they can see God in the purity of His love.
Purgatory is not a place. It is better understood, as some describe, as a “process of purifying love.” We might think of it as being awakened from a darkened sleep to a tremendously bright light that causes discomfort until the eyes slowly adjust to the light’s great intensity. The suffering of the holy souls in purgatory is the suffering of their desire to see God in the purity of His love. Like us, they continue to need the help of the community of faith and call out, “Pray for us!” So grateful are they for our prayers that they never forget us and in turn pray for us and our needs because that’s what friends do.
In thinking of purgatory, we might consider how doctors and nurses prepare themselves before entering into the pure environment of a surgical room. They scrupulously wash and scrub themselves and then put on a garment that has likewise been purified so that they can then enter into the pure space of the surgical room without defilement. Likewise, we must be washed and clothed in our wedding garment without “stain or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27) if we are to enter the wedding feast of the Lamb. (Rev 19:7-9)
Because the saints are those who have entered this wedding feast ahead of us, we should ask for their help in keeping our own wedding garment clean until that day we hopefully join them. I have entrusted mine to our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and to one of the heroes of the Church close to my heart and my priesthood — St. John Paul II. I ask for their help daily, along with other saints, especially on their feast days.
Within our new cathedral, we will have wonderful reminders of the saints. Immediately below the base of the dome, we have the beautiful depiction of the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), one on each of the large inverted triangular areas, called a “pendentive,” where the weight of the dome is supported most broadly around its base.
Above the pendentives and the Scripture verse that rings the dome’s base, one can see the decorative art representing the veil that once separated us from heaven that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross removed. As the Roman soldier’s spear pierced the side of Jesus and His Most Sacred Heart, and the veil of the temple separating us from God’s presence was torn in two, so too, with every Mass, the veil is “pierced,” revealing the New Eden, the restored Garden of God, and the heavenly liturgy that we participate in, giving thanks to God our Father.
Within the “drum” of the dome (that section that adds further height to the dome) we see the New Eden and its trees depicted between the saints representing the fruits that sanctify the soul. The frescoes that depict 16 saints of the Church represent the various times, nationalities, and ethnicities of saints special to our diocesan community. With the countless number of other saints, they stand between us here below and Jesus enthroned above them in the dome. And with the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph on either side of Christ, along with the Twelve Apostles around Him, we are reminded that the saints of heaven help us in this life to draw ever closer to Jesus and to become, like them, God’s special helpers to others.
So on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, as we should every day throughout the year, let us call upon Our Heavenly Mother, St. Joseph, and all of the saints and martyrs of the Church for their help. And let us pray daily and frequently for all the holy souls in purgatory as their special friends.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”
Pray for me and be assured of my continued prayers for you.