Taking the side of the Pharisees over the Sadducees, Jesus testifies to life after death.
“That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:37-38).
While the gates of heaven were closed before the coming of Christ, our Lord speaks of a genuine communion between the living (on earth) and those heroes of faith who had come before. Jesus will ultimately translate these souls from the limbo of the fathers into heaven.
Over the years in debates with fundamentalists about the communion of the saints, many of them insist that the saints are sleeping and others that they are alive but cannot possibly be aware of what is happening on earth. Catholicism would argue that the heavenly saints are alive, aware of us and praying for us. Admittedly, there is some question as to whether this awareness is part of the fabric of the afterlife or whether it is made possible through a special divine intervention. We know that in Jesus Christ love is stronger than death. While our loved ones are taken from our sight, we are still bonded to them in love. This speaks to the profound mystery of the Church in pilgrimage, in purgation and in glory.
Some of our number have run the race and have won a share in the crown of Christ. They remain in solidarity with brothers and sisters in the world who are still being tested.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
I do not believe that our guardian angels and the blessed souls watch us as earthly voyeurs might watch a reality television program. Instead, they are actively engaged. They reach out to us with their love and worship God with orations of praise and incessant intercession. They seek to protect us from malignant spiritual entities. They would have us where they are. Those in glory are not suffering amnesia about those they have left behind. Indeed, I suspect they know us better than before because now they see us as we truly are, behind all our posturing and deception. They cannot force us to the will of God. But their witness and prayers may help some to find the path to eternal life. One critic suggested that if the saints were to see their earthly family and friends sinning then it would bring them sadness— and this is contrary to heavenly joy. While it might be hard for us to understand, this is not the case. Heaven will never be held hostage to sin or hell. The saints cannot be sad because where they are has no room for sadness. While they are aware of us, their sights are also always upon God. The barrier or membrane between heaven and earth will allow such helps as happiness, counsel, and love to pass through; but never sadness, manipulation, hatred or despair. The heavenly saints like our Lord are now impervious to pain. This is one of the most profound mysteries for us who must still endure this veil of tears. The saints implore grace that we might know repentance, conversion and faith. They pray that we might be courageous in adversity. They beseech the throne of God to be merciful to us. Chief among the saints is Mary who loves and intercedes for us with her immaculate and “maternal” heart.
Christ is the way, literally the link between heaven and earth. This is our lifeline. This is the real reason why the saints are still aware of us and why we remember them as alive in the Lord. We are not orphaned by God. While we await the final judgment and the consummation of the world, we acknowledge that we have not been abandoned. Christ is present in the proclaimed Word. Christ is present in his priests who stand at the altar and who offer the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is present in his person and in his saving activity at every Eucharist. We receive the risen Christ in Holy Communion. The Lord is with us when we gather to pray. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. No part of this body has been severed. The Church is one: the Pilgrim Church, the Church in purgatory and the Church in heaven. We are one in the Lord. We have been reborn and given a new identity by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The saints are calling us to the other side of the rainbow. The Lord calls us each by name. Heaven beckons to us.