But, for what do we exactly pray? What are we seeking for these souls? What are we seeking for ourselves? Pope Benedict XVI gives us an answer. In a homily he preached during a Mass of Suffrage for those cardinal who died during the year, the Holy Father notes that:
“The search for the "things of above" does not mean that Christians should ignore the obligations and tasks of this world, only that we must not loose ourselves to them, as if they had a definitive value. The call to the reality of Heaven is an invitation to recognize the relativity of what is destined to pass, compared to those values that do not know the test of time. We must work, we must be committed, we must allow ourselves just rest, but with the serenity of one who knows that he is only a traveller on a journey toward the heavenly homeland, a pilgrim, in a sense, a stranger on the road to eternity.
Eternal life (is) the divine gift granted to humankind; i.e., communion with God in this world and its fullness in the next. Eternal life was opened to us by Christ's Paschal Mystery and faith is the way to attain it...(The Cross' meaning) consists in the immense love of God and in the gift of His only-begotten Son. ... The verbs 'to love' and 'to give' indicate a decisive and definitive action expressing the radical way in which God approached man in love, even unto the total giving of self, ... lowering Himself into the abyss of our utter abandonment, and crossing the portal of death. The object and beneficiary of divine Love is the world, in other words humanity. This completely cancels the idea of a distant God divorced from man's journey, and reveals His true face". God "loves without measure. He does not show His omnipotence in punishment, but in mercy and forgiveness."
Mercy and forgiveness form two essential components here. Mercy means that God allows our misery to touch His Heart. He shares in our sorrow. This sharing in our sorrow flows into forgiveness. How many times have we done something wrong, only to experience sorrow over the act? That sorrow leads to mercy and that mercy finds its best expression in forgiveness. At every Mass, we live once again the moment of God's greatest mercy, the Paschal Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When we offer the Holy Sacrifice for those who have gone before us, we are calling to mind the example of Judas Maccabbees who made expiation for the dead for it is a holy and pious act of love.
"...We affectionately remember them, giving thanks to God for the gifts he bestowed on the Church through these our brothers who have preceded us in the sign of faith and now sleep the sleep of peace. Our gratitude becomes a prayer for their souls that the Lord will welcome them into the bliss of Paradise”.
While this last section of the exerpt refers directly to the cardinals, I believe that the final sentence can certainly apply to all souls. We are all called to love and that love does not end with the beloved's death. As I have written in other postings, we are a Church of community and that community is one of love. The Church Militant, the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering are united in this love. Love compels us to pray for each other and to bear with one another. Gratitude is a fruit of that love. We are grateful to have been touched, perhaps in some profound way, by those who have left this earth, whether known or unknown to us. We show our gratitude and love, then, by praying for them.