The keys to heaven

Pope, priests emphasize to faithful that showing love, mercy are vital to entering kingdom of God

By Catholic News Service and The East Tennessee Catholic

As Christians await their death and the final judgment of God, the Gospel tells them what they must do to be welcomed into heaven: love others because God is love, Pope Francis said.

In life “we are in the waiting room of the world,” hoping to hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father,” the pope said during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 2, the feast of All Souls.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass with special prayers for the nine cardinals and 148 archbishops and bishops from around the world who died between Oct. 30, 2021, and Oct. 17 this year, including 14 bishops from the United States and four from Canada.

Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chattanooga

After the Mass, the pope visited the Vatican’s Teutonic Cemetery, a medieval cemetery now reserved mainly for German-speaking priests and members of religious orders.

The Gospel reading at the Mass was St. Matthew’s description of the last judgment, when those who fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner are welcomed into God’s kingdom, and those who neglected to care for others are sent into “the eternal fire.”

While praying for those who have died, he said, the feast day also is a call to “nurture our expectation of heaven” and question whether one’s strongest desires are for union with God or for earthly status and pleasures that will pass away.

“The best careers, the greatest achievements, the most prestigious titles and accolades, the accumulated riches and earthly gains—all will vanish in a moment,” the pope said.

But the Gospel of Matthew makes clear what will last, he said: love and care for others, especially the poor and those usually discarded by society.

And, he said, the Gospel also explains that God’s final judgment is not like a civil court where the judge or jury sifts through every piece of evidence and weighs them all carefully.

In the divine tribunal, the only thing that counts “is mercy toward the poor and discarded: ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,'” the pope said. “The Most High is in the least, he who inhabits the heavens dwells among the most insignificant to the world.”

Jesus’ measure is “a love beyond our measures, and His standard of judgment is gratuitousness,” he said. “So, to prepare ourselves, we know what to do: love those who are on His priority list, those who can give us nothing back, those who do not attract us,” and do so without expecting repayment.

Too often, Pope Francis said, instead of living the Gospel, people try to water down the words of Jesus.

Calvary Cemetery in Knoxville

“Let’s face it, we have gotten pretty good at compromising with the Gospel,” saying, “‘Feeding the hungry yes, but the issue of hunger is complex, and I certainly can’t solve it!'” or “‘Welcoming migrants yes, but it is a complicated issue, it concerns politics,'” the pope said. With little objections “we make life a compromise with the Gospel.”

“From simple disciples of the Master, we become teachers of complexity, who argue a lot and do little, who seek answers more in front of the computer than in front of the crucifix, on the Internet rather than in the eyes of our brothers and sisters,” he said. Believers become experts “who comment, debate, and expound theories, but do not know even one poor person by name, have not visited a sick person for months, have never fed or clothed someone, (and) have never befriended someone in need.”

The Gospel teaches people how to live while awaiting death and God’s judgment—”loving because He is love,” Pope Francis said. God “waits for us among the poor and wounded of the world. And he is waiting to be caressed not with words but with deeds.”

Diocese of Knoxville priests prayed for the faithful departed during All Souls’ Day services in Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities, Knoxville, and parishes across East Tennessee.

All Souls’ Day was commemorated at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with a Mass at the cathedral’s columbarium celebrated by Father David Boettner.

At Calvary Cemetery in Knoxville, Father Charlie Donahue, CSP, led a rosary on Nov. 6 to pray for the faithful departed. Father Donahue is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, which serves as caretaker of the cemetery, one of only two Catholic cemeteries in East Tennessee.

Father David Carter, rector of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, celebrated Mass at Mount Olivet Cemetery, the second Catholic cemetery in the region.

An altar was established at the foot of the tall crucifix at the center of Priests’ Mound in Mount Olivet, where Father Carter led Mass. He was assisted by Deacon Gaspar DeGaetano.

Buena Vista Cemetery next to St. Mary Church-Johnson City

In Johnson City, Father Dustin Collins, pastor of St. Mary Parish, celebrated an All Souls’ Day Mass in Buena Vista Cemetery, which is adjacent to the parish and is where parishioners are buried. He was assisted by Deacon George Fredericks and Deacon Jim Haselsteiner.

An altar was established in the cemetery, and the Mass was attended by parishioners, many of whom were students at St. Mary School.

Also at St. Mary, as part of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, the parish again provided the Altar of the Dead throughout November. Parishioners were invited to bring pictures of their deceased family members to place on the altar in the church to remember them during the month.

At the cathedral, the Mass also served as an unveiling of recent columbarium upgrades. Included in the upgrades are additional benches, concrete pavers instead of gravel, and water features. Catholic faithful, many of whom have loved ones inurned in the columbarium, attended the Mass.

In his homily, Father Boettner, who serves as rector of the cathedral, highlighted violet, purgatory, and hope as his topics. Deacon Mike Mescall assisted in the Mass.

Sacred Heart Cathedral columbarium

Father Boettner explained that white was one of the three options for priests celebrating Mass on All Souls’ Day because white worn during funeral Masses is a sign of hope in the resurrection.

But on All Souls’ Day, Father Boettner and Deacon Mescall wore violet vestments, which is symbolic of mourning and penance. Similar violet vestments were worn by Father Carter, Deacon DeGaetano, Father Collins, Deacon Fredericks, and Deacon Haselsteiner.

An altar was set up at the base of the centerpiece crucifix inside the cathedral columbarium in between statues of St. Mary and St. Joseph.

A choir led by Glenn Kahler, cathedral director of music and liturgy, provided the music liturgy for the Mass.


Click here to read Father Boettner’s All Souls’ homily.

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