Bishop John Sherrington is the Bishop Sponsor for the Art of Dying Well project. He was interviewed for the November podcast which focused on the theme of remembrance.
In this month of November, we remember and pray for the dead. By tagging @ArtofDyingWell with #RememberThem on Instagram, the photo/name of your deceased loved one will then be shared with five convents and abbeys who will remember and pray for those featured.
A little girl was asked that question as she was preparing for First Holy Communion. The priest was not sure she was ready and she answered the question by saying, ‘the saints are the people through whom the light shines’.
When we look at stain glass windows we see the light shining through revealing the way in which this particular saint has lived a life of love towards others. So the saints are those who have loved, and loved most fully and generously.
In the communion of saints there are many saints we recognise, St. Francis of Assisi who had his love of nature, his love of the poor and gave himself totally to Christ. We have St. Therese of Lisieux who showed us the way of love through tiny small steps in the midst of daily life.
These are the canonised saints but there are many saints whose lives are much less known, they are members of your family and my family. People who have lived the life of love, following Jesus Christ and shown that love in the world, and we hope that they too now share in the resurrection of Christ and are with God in heaven.
‘To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.’ Pope Francis
It is important to remember that as Catholics we pray for those who have died. We remember them fondly with love, but we also pray for them because we remember that every person who has died is in need of God’s mercy. It is a relationship of love that we have with them, we love them on Earth, and therefore we want them now to come to heaven to enjoy God’s mercy.
Of course, when I talk in this way, it’s difficult to understand the concept of time, time beyond the grave. But the Catholic practice of praying for the dead is to ask the gift of God’s mercy in their lives, to purify them so that they may see God face to face.
I think of praying for the dead in terms of the relationship that God has had with a person in life, that continues in death. Our prayers and the celebration of the Mass can help them to know God’s mercy, and be carried up into the embrace of God.
I think that the prayer, ‘eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, may they rest in peace, amen’ sums up our prayer. It is inviting the gift of God’s mercy so that the person may know peace and joy in the company of the saints in heaven.
In many continental countries, Catholic countries, we see people lighting candles on the graves of their family on the eve of All Hallows. It is a tradition in order to remind them of the good of the resurrection and the victory of Christ over death. The saints are not distant, they are close to us because we still live in relationships of love with them, they are part of the body of Christ.
Listen to Bishop John Sherrington in our November podcast.