In this reflection, Stephen Lynch, OFM, discusses the significance of All Souls Day, celebrated on Nov. 2, and how various religions view life after death. An extended version of this reflection can be downloaded.
Though not all religions celebrate All Saints Day, just about all celebrate All Souls Day. It is a time to lovingly recall the memory of the dead. The celebration also stirs us to think about what life after death means.
Eastern religions generally see death as the blowing out of the flame of self-existence. Many religions believe that personhood passes away with physical death. In this scenario, there is no such thing as bodily resurrection.
Jesus Christ is the first religious leader to give a clear picture of God as personal. Jesus presented new spiritual insight about the resurrection of body and soul. He taught that death means that life is changed, not taken away, and body and soul will be reunited after death to share God’s life forever.
Jesus assured us that we permanently retain our individuality in the afterlife. Salvation comes, not from being perfect, but by being people of good will, who do their best to love God and neighbor, and are willing to forgive others. In a way, eternal life begins before death in the choices we make, in how we use our talents or neglect to use those talents, and in how we treat one another.
C. S. Lewis offers this astute observation about heaven: ”It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this world. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.”
— Fr. Stephen, who lives at St. Anthony Residence in Butler, N.J., writes frequently for religious and secular publications. The photos accompanying this reflection were taken by James Vacco, OFM, of St. Bonaventure University on a recent visit to the parish cemetery in Croghan, N.Y., where five friars are buried. James noted that Nov. 5 is the commemoration of All Souls of the Seraphic Order.