For the people of Israel, the purpose of keeping the commandments of God was so that they might enter into the promised land and live in the presence of God, whom they believed dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem. Important also for the Jewish people, if they were to live in God’s presence was not just that they keep His commandments, but that they also LOVE God. The communion that the people of Israel were to enjoy with God in the Promised Land was not just to be based upon their obedience to the commandments, but more importantly on their love of God and desire to be with Him. They were to love the Lord with whom they desired to dwell with all their heart, mind, might and soul. In order to be with God, they were called to love God. Because God has created each human being with the gift of freedom, He does not force Himself on anyone. For each person, to be with God is a free choice that depends upon our loving Him and desiring to be with Him.
This first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy is extremely important in helping us to understand the Gospel reading that we hear proclaimed this Sunday. For the people of Israel, they were promised a place in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, as a result of their loving and faithful observance of God’s commandments. As Christians, what we hope for is something different. Our hopes are not based on the desire for a place in the Promised Land. What Christ offers us as a result of His life, death and resurrection is communion with Him today, through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, and a place with him in Heaven for all eternity. As we hear the scribe asking Jesus the question in today’s Gospel about the greatest commandment, he is asking it not just with an interest about what the greatest commandment is, but also in the hopes of learning how one is to live in order to be in God’s presence and choose to be a member of His people. For the Christian, to live in God’s presence and to be a member of His people means to be a member of His Church and follow the path to eternal life. Just as Moses told the people of Israel, to be numbered among God’s people requires a response in love. Respecting our freedom, God invites us to love Him if we are to be with Him for all eternity. Since communion with God in the Church also entails communion with the other members of the community of the redeemed, His command also invites us to love our neighbour as self. The path to communion with God is based upon love of God and neighbour.
In the month of November, we Catholics celebrate in a very beautiful way the fact that our Church, through which we are invited to love God and neighbour, exists in two places. We believe that the Church exists on earth and in Heaven. Just as the people of Israel believed that their love of God and obedience to His commandments would allow them to stand in His presence in the Promised Land of Israel, we believe that our love of God and obedience to His commandments allows us to be in His presence here on earth in the Church and in the life to come in Heaven. The pathway to membership in the Church on earth and in Heaven is love of God and neighbour. In Heaven, we are invited to accept God’s offer of love for all eternity. As the great commandment indicates, those who are able to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and might, and neighbour as self, will live in God’s presence in this life and in the Kingdom of Heaven. The pathway to Heaven is love. For the person who is able to say with the full conviction of his or her heart those words spoken by the psalmist, “I love you, Lord, my strength,” the Kingdom of Heaven will be his or her home for all eternity.
As Jesus tells the scribe in this Sunday’s Gospel, for the person who is able to accept God’s invitation to love Him and love neighbour as self, the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Such a person is able to live today in communion with God and will live in His presence in Heaven for all eternity. The choice for Heaven is one that we make by loving God and neighbour today. God does not condemn anyone. He respects our choices. We condemn ourselves by choosing not to love God, disregarding His commandments and not loving our neighbour. The invitation to love God is an invitation to respond to His unconditional love for us.
Scripture tells us what happens to those who do not respond to God’s love and heed his commandments. The best example of this is what happened to Adam and Eve. In the beginning they lived in God’s presence in the Garden of Eden. Once they had sinned, they were filled with shame and hid themselves from God. Shame prevented them from standing openly before God and revealed to God their choice for self. As a result of their sin, they were driven from the Garden.
It is also our sin that can keep us from God. Our shame may cause us to think that God does not love us, that we are unworthy of redemption. In the Church on earth, the sacraments are given to us to help us heal from our sin and shame so that we might accept God’s love for us today and for all eternity. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is given that we might experience, like the prodigal son, the unconditional love that God has for us. Just as the father of the prodigal son ran to him once he had turned back, God desires to embrace us as soon as we turn back to Him. The Eucharist is the sacrament by which we are constantly reminded of God’s love for us and His desire to be with us always. For every human being, as long as he or she is open to receive the gift of God’s love, the possibility for salvation remains a great hope. Only those who give up and despair of God’s love may ultimately be tempted to turn away from the offer of salvation. It is the soul that believes it cannot be touched and saved by God’s love that will turn away from Heaven and believe that it deserves condemnation. We ae called to always have hope that God’s love can save us.
It is the hope that God’s love can always save us that our belief in purgatory is based upon. When we die, we are the same person we were in life. If there are sins that weigh us down in life, they will weigh us down in death. Purgatory is that experience of allowing God’s love to purify our hearts so that we might accept His love for all eternity. Just as shame can weigh me down in this life; shame for past sin may prevent me from accepting God’s love for all eternity. Purgatory is the experience of God’s love burning away our shame so that we might stand in His loving presence and bask in His love. As we believe in His love, our shame is removed and we are able to approach and dwell in His presence for all eternity.
Think of how we act when we know we have offended someone. We stand back and do not approach them as readily as we might like. Not until we hear that we have been forgiven are we able to let go and approach them in freedom and love. Purgatory is that time of being held back by ours sins from accepting God’s offer of eternal love and salvation. As we stand in the distance of the heavenly vision, His radiant love in the distance melts away our shame and self-hate until we are finally able to believe and accept His offer of love for all eternity. In purgatory, God’s love heals our shame.
The Christian belief in purgatory and Heaven is based on our belief that each person has an eternal soul. This means that we do not die. When our life on earth is over, we live on and are invited to Heaven. This belief is celebrated in the two days we will celebrate in the coming week—All Saints on November 1 and All Souls on November 2. These dates celebrate that we believe those who were once members of the Church on earth are still alive and we hope through the mercy of God are members of the Church in Heaven. As we believe that we can still speak with and dialogue with the saints in Heaven, so too we believe that our loved ones are still able to hear our prayers and receive our love for them. This means that we can still express our love for those who are now members of the Church in Heaven, we can still forgive them, and we can still ask their forgiveness. It means that although they are no longer with us on earth, they are still alive and now with the Lord.
Because we believe that our deceased brothers and sisters are still alive and we are able to express our love for them, it also means that we are able to participate in their healing and help them to accept God’s unconditional love for them. The Church teaches that we can pray for the souls in purgatory and assist in their healing. Just as God’s love works to free them from their shame and self-hatred, so that they may accept His love, so too our prayers offered in love help to purify and save them. Perhaps what is keeping someone from accepting God’s love for them in Heaven is the way they treated a person on earth. If that person prays for them and expresses his or her forgiveness and love, this will speed his or her healing. By expressing our love for our deceased brothers and sisters, you and I can hasten their healing and assist them to accept God’s love for them. This same effort also allows us to continue to express our love and perhaps bring about whatever healing is also needed in our own hearts.
Some of the traditional ways in which Catholics have expressed their love for their deceased brothers and sisters have been by praying for them and offering Mass for them. The second reading this Sunday, from the Letter to the Hebrews, gives us some insight into why the offering of Mass has value. Human beings and human priests pass away and die. Jesus who has risen from the dead is the reason that you and I will not die and live forever. Only His sacrifice has the power to free us from death. Only His priesthood can intercede for us for all eternity, since as Hebrews tells us: “Therefore, He is always able to save those who approach God through Him, since He lives forever to make intercession for them.” As we offer Mass for our loved ones, we ask Christ to intercede for them and express a love that assists them to accept God’s love for all eternity. This offering can be made by praying for our deceased loved ones as the Eucharistic Prayer is offered and we hear those who have died being recommended to God’s mercy that they might be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven. When this part of the prayer is being offered, we can raise the names of our loved ones to God and express our love for them at this time.
God loves us so much, he desires to be with us for all eternity. In His love, He invites us to love Him and one another. Love is the pathway to communion with God and one another. God invites us to this communion in the Church on earth and in Heaven. As we remember our deceased brothers and sisters in the month of November, the Good News that we are invited to love God for all eternity is enhanced by the fact that we will also be invited to love those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith for all eternity. As Paul tells us, love never dies. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we, and those we love, will live forever.
May God bring all of our deceased loved ones to Heaven as we remember them in this month of November.
Fr. Michael McGourty
This reflection based on the readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Deuteronomy 6: 2-6; Psalm 18; Hebrews 7: 23-28; and Mark 12: 28b-34.
P.S. On All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) the parish will have two Masses at 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
What does a land flowing with milk and honey mean in the Bible?
Indeed, Israel is referred to numerous times in the Bible as “a land flowing with milk and honey,” indicating its abundant fertility. The phrase can be understood as both a physical description of the land and a spiritual metaphor.
What is the meaning of Deuteronomy 28 13?
When the Israelites obey God, they will be blessed and prosperous. They will be at the top, the head of nations, leading the way, as opposed to the tail, following other nations and being at the bottom.
What is the Promised Land in Deuteronomy?
The Israelites conquered and occupied a smaller area of former Canaanite land and land east of the Jordan River after Moses led the Exodus out of Egypt (Numbers 34:1–12), and the Book of Deuteronomy presents this occupation as God's fulfillment of the promise (Deuteronomy 1:8).
What is the saying land of milk and honey?
a country where living conditions are good and people have the opportunity to make a lot of money: Many Mexicans regard the United States as a land of milk and honey.