"Big Four" Highlights


The November Network

All Saints and All Souls connect the Church of heaven and earth

By Jason Godin

A network is an interconnected group of people who exchange information and experiences. There are TV networks, and the more recent social media networks. As a verb, networking means to connect and interact with or within a group, perhaps to further one’s career or to share information.

We think of the professional purposes of network, but you can also apply the word to the spiritual life. For when you appreciate “network” both as a noun and a verb, it helps you more easily understand what and why the Church celebrates each November. The Catholic Church brings the concepts of network and networking to new levels of communication and sharing that TV and Facebook can only mimic. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, there are three states of existing in the Church which are all connected (CCC, 954-959). There are those living on earth, the souls in Purgatory, and the blessed souls in heaven, all connected by a bond of faith and the power of prayer and intercession. These essential bonds of love within the Church are the reasons we observe the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1) and today’s All Soul’s Day (November 2).

We Catholics have the original social network. Yet if we are honest, we know that we need all the help we can get. The way to heaven is narrow as we seek the grace to live according to the words of Jesus: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

Church Triumphant, Suffering and Militant
“But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth,” teaches the Catechism. “Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is’” (CCC, 954). Older generations of Catholics categorized these three states of the Church with specific names still worthy of knowing – Church Triumphant (saints in glory), Church Suffering (souls in Purgatory) and Church Militant (pilgrims on earth). Together they form the whole Body of Christ – a constant “union of wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ” – united by an uninterrupted bond “reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods” (CCC, 955).

The ‘Fraternal Concern’ of the Saints
It is a Church made of members strong in faith helping its other members weakened in their faith by sin. The primary source for such shared strength is holiness. The saints – the Church Triumphant in the presence of God – intercede on our behalf insofar as they “proffer the merits which they acquired on earth” through Jesus Christ. By their “fraternal concern,” the Catechism teaches, saints aid the Church Suffering and Church Militant in invaluable ways (CCC, 956).

A Communion of Devotion and Respect
To take a large and long view of it all, you could say All Saints and All Souls Day celebrate a mystical matrix where mentoring, memory and solidarity constantly meet with a love that culminates in Love. For millennia the Catholic Church has proclaimed sainthood as a “title of example” to “cherish the memory of those in heaven” (CCC, 957). But it has also done so, and devotedly so, to strengthen the “fraternal charity” that underwrites its entire union (CCC, 957).

When viewed in this way, sainthood doesn’t just serve as a title reserved for deceased and holy members of the Church; it is also a destination, one the Church challenges all its members to strive toward, whatever station of their spiritual journey, a homeland to be reached by working together. Death doesn’t change that dynamic, only deepens its urgency and importance. The Church has taught its followers to honor the dead as a corporal work of mercy since its earliest years. Such mercy is a mutual exchange of devotion and respect that makes the Church Suffering “capable not only of helping” the Church Militant, but also “of making their intercession for us” – the Church Suffering for the Church Militant – “effective” (CCC, 958).

“We are his house,” says the Letter to the Hebrews, “if [only] we hold fast to our confidence and pride in our hope” (3:6). The celebration of All Saints and All Souls confirms that conviction annually, reminding us to remember critical connections that help make up the Church. You might say it is the “November Network,” a group where living and deceased loved ones share the experience of struggling along the path of life and death, toward the promised hope of everlasting life.

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good