Jeanne Hunt for November: Our personal communion of saints
All Souls Day and All Saints Day become the focus of our prayers as we grieve a little and remember a little the lives of those who have gone before us. When I was a fourth grader on All Soul’s Day, I single-handedly got four souls out of purgatory by doing exactly what Sister Philomena told her students to do. We would enter the church and say the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be three times for a soul in purgatory. We had to enter the church separately for each soul. I could only get out four folks before recess was over. It was the best I could do.
Despite the antics of fourth grade theology, I have grown into a deep respect and love for these blessed days. Grief takes awhile. These days of remembrance are a graced time to pray for those we love. It is also a time to embrace our loss with hope in things to come. Twice a year, I present a grief retreat near New York City. Those fast-paced city people want a fast solution to getting over that ache in their heart. They are so disappointed when they learn that a good grief takes years. The greatest joy of that retreat experience is when I speak about remembrance as a form of meeting. It is when we tell the stories of the days we shared with our spouse, friend, child etc. that they seem to be right there.
In a society that considers death taboo, we might be encouraged to keep that dead people talk quiet. I have seen that nothing is better for a good grief than talking about our memories. It is also a wonderful gift to those we know who are grieving to listen to those stories with the heart and ears of Christ. When we acknowledge our sadness and loneliness it truly eases the pain.
As parishes throughout the archdiocese have an All Souls Day Mass of remembrance for those that have died in the past year, we should be attentive to those who still bear a raw grief in our parish. As they walk forward carrying a lit candle as the name of their beloved is proclaimed, it is good for us to pray with them. Then, take the next step of connecting with the people we recognize in that procession. When we are admonished to bury the dead, I believe that God expects us to revisit those who mourn after the funeral. My mother confided in me after my father’s funeral that on the days after his death she felt as if she was on stage. She stood in the proper spot and spoke the expected words. Then, everyone went home to business as usual and she was left on that dark stage to grieve alone. That lonely grief can paralyze us. We need one another to break the spell of solitary pain. The real time to stand with those who grieve is in the solitary months that follow the death.
Finally, give All Souls Day a personal expression. Many cultures actually celebrate the Day of the Dead. In Japan, it is known as the Bon Festival, in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos. The idea is the same: We take time out to celebrate the lives of our beloved dead. It is a custom in many traditions to create a shrine or a remembrance garden in honor of someone we love. It is a wonderful way to pause and meet again the souls of the faithful departed, pray for them and even get out a few pictures to place on a table. I suspect that they are only a “breath away” as the song goes. On this feast day we can pause and embrace them. They are a part of our personal communion of saints.
Hunt is a nationally recognizd author and catechetical leader.