The Makonde people of Tanzania in Africa are known for intricate wood carvings. One style of carving is called the Ujamaa, which means community and family. Also known as “Tree of Life” carvings, they are fashioned from a single piece of African Blackwood (mpingo), and can be as high as six feet tall. They depict past and present generations of a family, supporting each other around a central family ancestor. The sculpture poignantly illustrates that each person’s life is built upon the lives of those who have gone before them.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
The image of the Ujamaa is helpful in thinking about the souls of the faithfully departed that have gone before us. Our Christian faith has been built on generations of faithful disciples who have kept the flames of the faith burning for more than two millennia. We are truly “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets… [with] Christ himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). Our ancestors are part of this foundation along with countless saints and unrecognized champions of the faith. This “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) is praying for us, urging us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
You have an important role to play in the drama of salvation history. Fellow believers today are counting on your witness to the faith to help them achieve their heavenly home. Husbands and wives are tasked with getting each other to heaven along with their children and as many other souls as they can. The future members of your family are also depending on you to pass on your faith to future generations. We are all part of the body of Christ and we need to be praying, encouraging, and supporting each other in a culture that is antagonistic to the faith. And we need to pray for those who have gone before us in the faith, so that they may enter into the presence of the Lord for all eternity.
For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. 2 Maccabees 12:44-45 (RSVCE)
So let’s together pray for our ancestors and each other until we reach our heavenly home.
Prayer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord
And let the perpetual light shine upon them.
And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.