On the average of every five years, The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day, November 2) is celebrated on a Sunday. Because it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is a moveable feast, and only on rare occasion will fall the next Sunday after the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time during Gospel Cycle Year A, the Gospel according to Matthew. Honoring of the dead has been a custom since ancient times of pagans, Jews, and Christians alike. In many areas, especially the southwest, such as in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, old traditions have grown up and become part of a longer, cultural celebration, primarily Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
However, when contemplating the scripture of the previous Sunday (Matt 22:34-40) with the Gospel to be read on All Souls Day (John 6:37-40), the faithful may recognize a profound learning experience known as kenosis, which not only applies to the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, but also provides a clue for the way we are to live in bringing the kingdom of God to life within ourselves.
Kenosis originates from the Greek and was at first a theological term that defined Jesus forsaking his divinity so that he could suffer as any human. Would his passion and death be as meaningful to us, if the belief was that Jesus didn’t feel a thing, since he was God? Part of his mission included knowing that he would suffer and die for the salvation of all humankind. That part is addressed in the Gospel for All Souls Day. (FYI: the Scripture readings for The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed do not follow the three year cycle, but do provide other options for readings used that day.)
As it happens in 2014, that Gospel is about Jesus’ declaration that he has come not to reject sinners, but to raise the faithful believers up on the last day. But first, let’s go back to last Sunday.
Matthew’s Gospel tells a very popular and familiar story. In an attempt to trick Jesus into saying the wrong thing, Pharisees sent a scribe (lawyer) to ask him what the most important commandment was. The Lord of course knew of the trick, and he had several answers available to him. There are more than 600 laws in the Jewish Old Testament, most in the Book of Leviticus. There are also Ten Commandments and nine beatitudes. He had several options at his disposal, but Jesus chose to introduce a new commandment that encompassed them all. He essentially told the solicitor, the greatest commandment is to love God with heart, soul, and mind, and he told him that to show that love by the way we care for one another. Jesus added that the law and the prophets are dependant on that truth. In other words, the Savior said love God above everything else, and to love others at least as much as one loves themselves.
Several priests last weekend used this Gospel to address the deplorable situation with the immigration status of women and children from Latin America. The numbers of refugees have virtually doubled every year in the last ten, and the problem will not go away until it is respectfully addressed. There are more problems here than can be resolved in one examination or even in one homily, but it all comes down to this: show that you love God by caring for the people of his creation, and for that matter, all of creation. This begins to open the door to the kingdom of God.
Adding to his proclamation, the Gospel for All Souls Day elaborates that Jesus did not come of any other accord than to fulfill the Father’s will. It is his will that all souls will have the opportunity for salvation, and that Jesus, doing the Father’s will rather than following his own human inclinations will not turn away anyone who comes to him and believes. This is the Lord’s kenosis: he was emptied of any self-motivated desires or plans and was dedicated entirely to the will of God. The faithful are called upon to follow his lead.
It’s scarcely a month before Advent begins a new season and a new Church year. It will start with the reminder to watch and wait, that we will not know when our time is near. The watching and waiting should have already begun, and the kenosis starts when we recognize that we must love God completely and care for our fellow beings; that is allowing the will and word of God to come to life within us. It doesn’t mean judging each other, but respecting that we all have the same right to life and a natural desire to be with God in heaven.
Kenosis reminds that this is one of those messages Jesus mentioned more than once, and yet somehow we often forget it. The Greek word means to empty or cleanse. He told us we can’t put new wine in old skins or they will crack and burst. He told us that to be saved, we must come to him and empty ourselves of any disbelief. Jesus prepared himself to endure suffering and to receive the kingdom; he asks us to do the same.