Why has God given us faith?
Certainly, we may feel it’s wobbly at times. But let’s forget that for a moment. We do have faith. And faith is a gift of God.
So why has God given us faith?
He’s given it to us for own sake, certainly – to help us through life and open the door of heaven to us.
But, surely, it’s not just for that. It’s also for others. Thanks to faith, we’re members of the Body of Christ. We’re part of Christ, instruments of Christ, extensions of Christ. We can be sharers in his ongoing work of redemption. St Paul famously said, ‘In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church’ (Col 1:24) – and not just for the Church, but with the Church for everyone. And what was true for Paul is true, at its level, for each of us.
God has given us the gift of faith for others.
But how does that work out in practice?
One way – not the least way – is prayer.
We believe in God’s mercy. We believe he wills all to be saved. And we pray, Thy will be done’. And this prayer is heard. In ways known only to him, he gives everyone the possibility of sharing in Christ’s passover from death to life.
In his Encyclical on the Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis mentions ‘the missionary power of intercessory prayer.’ And he writes this: ‘The great men and women of God were great intercessors. Intercession is like a “leaven” in the heart of the Trinity. It is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions…We can say that God’s heart is touched by our intercession, yet in reality he is always there first. What our intercession achieves is that his power, his love and his faithfulness are shown ever more clearly in the midst of the people’ (EG 283).
Now, surely, these “people” include the deceased. Here we are on All Souls Day. Here we are in the month of November. And the Church shines the torch of her prayer beyond this life: into the great world of the dead, into the twilight we call Purgatory. Humankind is one, and this oneness embraces the dead. They’re like a great, hidden continent, and the light of Christ is meant for them as well as for the continents of this world.
We are still in the centenary year of World War I. It has been calculated that in the 20th c. overall some 170 million people died violent deaths. And it’s remarkable that, through that same time, the Church has been quietly raising the status of today, of this Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. It’s only since 1969, for example, that it has been possible to celebrate the Mass of All Souls on a Sunday, when all of us are gathered. If we put our ear to history, is it sheer fantasy to hear a great cry, coming up from all the cemeteries of the world, from the mass graves, from the unknown graves, from the depths of the sea, from all the pain of the bereaved? And faith has the ears to hear this and the Church the gift of turning it to prayer. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, we heard yesterday. Isn’t prayer for the dead one way we, the living faithful, can make peace? We want to be instruments of reconciliation. Isn’t this a dimension of that? Don’t the soil stained by all this violence call out for the purifying of prayer?
We’re given faith to pray for others. And the Church is the mother and teacher of prayer. In every Eucharistic Prayer, she and we pray for the dead: ‘Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ a place of refreshment, light and peace’ (EP I). ‘Remember also those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead whose faith you alone have known’ (EP IV). Open a Missal and you find a section of Masses for the dead: for the departed in general and in particular. There are Mass formulas for deceased parents, for deceased couples, for a young person, for someone who has died after a long illness, for someone who has died suddenly, and so on. These are real things, and the Church’s prayer is there – leaven in the heart of the Trinity and the heart of life. And we are part of this praying Church.
How good our customs are here! Let’s keep the departed in our prayers this month, let’s ask for Masses to be said for our loved ones, let’s visit cemeteries and pray there. Let’s teach our children to pray for the dead.
And what about today’s Gospel? It’s so, so familiar. ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are over-burdened, and I will give you rest.’ We always think of those words as directed to us. We imagine our Lord standing arms open, speaking to a crowd in front of him, and we in it, and him saying this to us. Fair enough. But, by faith, we are members of Christ. We’re part of him. So, we can imagine ourselves standing beside him and echoing his great cry. Still more: through our prayer, we’re his actual voice. We can call out with him – through the medium of his Body, as it were. We add our voice to his. We call to the great crowd of the dead: ‘yes, come to him and find rest.’
And so we pray, ‘Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.’ Amen.