Director's Reflection (November 2017)
For Catholics, November is traditionally the month of remembrance for the dead – a time when all those holy women and men who have gone before us are prayed for and remembered in a particular way. Many parishes have the practice of maintaining a remembrance book and I wonder if, over time, this book takes on a sacred character. In some ways, it holds the faith memory of the community because the names of our ‘everyday’ saints are inscribed there.
There are times, I think, when life offers us a profound sense of the thinness of the veil between life and death. It might be during the blessed moments of sitting by the bedside of one close to death or a personal near-death experience. For me, it was when my mum died. Although unwell and frail, her death in the very early hours of the morning was unexpected. As I sped to the hospital there was a moment when I felt it. The darkness of the night was gradually melting into the early light of dawn. And just for a moment there it was – a sense that the angels and saints were gathered around, that God was near, reaching out, inviting and welcoming one of his good and faithful servants. I knew mum was safe and returned to her God.
But even this knowledge doesn’t lessen the profound sense of loss that is felt when someone close to us dies. Grief is a process. And eventually there comes a time when we can sit with the memory of those who have died with a calm sense of hope that our loved ones live on in a different way and are joined with the communion of saints.
In describing a saint, Gerard W. Hughes wrote that he or she ‘has discovered his/her deepest desire. They then “do their own thing”, which is also God’s thing. Their will and God’s will are in harmony, so that their lives are characterised by a continuous peace, tranquillity, freedom and joy, even – perhaps especially – in crises and suffering.’ (God of Surprises, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2008 p.62). I suspect our lives are filled with people such as this – and many of their names are written in our remembrance books and the memory of them imprinted in our hearts.
So perhaps November offers us the opportunity to join with our ancestors in faith, remembering all the good and holy women and men who have lived good and holy lives, paving the way for us to continue their work. We pray the special November prayers, light our candles and we open our hearts to remember.
In his homily for All Souls day in 2016, Pope Francis expressed it this way: “Let us go home today with this dual memory: the memory of the past, of those who have gone, and the memory of the future, the path on which we will go with the certainty, the security of the words that came from the lips of Jesus: ‘I will raise him up on the last day.’”
So, for all our beloved dead:Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Cathy Jenkins (Director)