Why do Catholic Christians commemorate the dead during the month of November? The feast of All Souls and the month of November is a source of consolation for each of us. If our hearts are broken and suffering about the loss of loved ones, or if we are dealing with unresolved issues about good-byes that were not said, peace that was not made, gratitude that was not expressed, let us ask the faithful departed to intercede for us and for our own peace. The consoling doctrine of the Communion of Saints allows us to feel ever close to those who have died and gives us much hope in moments of despair and sadness.
I share with you two texts that have remained with me throughout my priestly life. In his little book Enounters with Silence
, the great Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, wrote about those who have died:
That's why our heart is with them now, our loved ones who have taken leave of us. There is no substitute for them; there are no others who can fill the vacancy when one of those whom we really love suddenly and unexpectedly departs and is with us no longer. In true love no one can replace another, for true love loves the other person in that depth where he is uniquely and irreplaceably himself. And thus, as death has trodden roughly through our lives, every one of the departed has taken a piece of our hearts with them– and often enough– our whole heart.
As he was dying in the fall of 1996, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago wrote a moving, personal testament, The Gift of Peace
, that speaks powerfully about death and life:
Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked forward to being united with God and all those who have gone before me, I made a connection to something I said earlier in this book. The first time I traveled with my mother and sister to my parents' homeland of Tonadico di Primiero, in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother's photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, "My God, I know this place. I am home." Somehow I think crossing from this life into eternal life will be similar. I will be home. [pp. 152-153]
May I suggest that each of you do the following during these days of November. Spend some time reflecting on those who have been close to you, who have died, and are now with the Lord.
Slowly read this scripture passage -- Wisdom 3:1-3:
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.
Remember one person close to you who has died. Bring this person's image into your mind's eye. As you remember his or her life, imagine the Lord Jesus escorting the person into heaven at the time of death. Finally, imagine this loved one waiting for you. Know that when your time of passing comes, the Lord and your loved ones who have gone before you will escort you into the kingdom of heaven.
End your short remembering with this prayer:
Lord, you are the resurrection and the life. You promised that whoever believes in you will never die. Lord, through the power of your rising, help me believe in my own resurrection. Amen.
May we spend our earthly pilgrimage filling our minds with the thoughts of heaven, so that when we finally cross over into eternal life, the images we see may not be foreign, startling or strange. Let us pray that we, too, may be able to say: "My God, I know this place. I am home."
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Credit: CNS photo / Dominic Ebenbichler, Reuters