Monday, November 2, 2009

All Souls Day: "We are defined by whom we have lost"


Columnist Anna Quindlen, reflecting a few years ago on death after the passing of her sister-in-law at a young age wrote, “My brother and I . . . were both teenagers when our mother died, we know that if anyone were to ask us, ‘When does it stop hurting?’ we would have to answer in all candor, ‘If it ever does, we will let you know.’...As a writer, I wrote my obituaries carefully and think about how little the facts suffice, not only to describe the dead but to tell what they will mean to the living all the rest of our lives. We are defined by whom we have lost.”

As I reflect today on this All Souls day, I kept hearing Quindlen's words, “we are defined by whom we have lost.” As we gather here today to mind all our loved ones who have gone to their eternal rest, these words can almost become a prayer: we are defined by whom we have lost.

We live in a culture that wants us to “get over it” when someone dies, to move on, or the current favorite word of pop psychology “to find closure.” But, the Church, in its long held wisdom, gives us this Feast, asking us to not “get over it,” but rather to give voice to our grief and sorrow.

Today is a day that respects our love for those who have died, both the grief of losing someone close to us, perhaps over the course of this year, or the loss in our world due to hunger, poverty, violence and war; and to pray in a special way for all the souls in Purgatory, helping them achieve the glory of Heaven through our prayers.

As Christians, we believe that our dear ones are now safe in God's care. As followers of Jesus, we believe He will strengthen us while we live. There is no need for heavy theology today, or extensive explanation of our Scriptures because we already know what we believe about resurrection and eternal life. So, instead, let me just suggest three small things to do at the end of the day that helps us to honor our beloved departed:

First, Remember - Jesus gave his disciples these powerful words, “Do this in memory of me,” in other words, remember me. So too, our loved ones must be called to mind, we must keep them in our memory and keep our love for them alive. Angels appeared to the disciples after the resurrection telling them to remember that Jesus had prepared them for this moment. From Luke’s Gospel, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Then they remembered His words. We too, in our tears and sorrows, remember that Jesus understands our hurt, our sorrow, our heartache. We can bring all of it to Him and He will heal us, especially as we remember.

Second, Give Thanks - In the Book of Sirach, we hear the remembrance of people who lived their faith and touched others: “Shed tears for one who is dead…as is only proper…give thanks, as they deserve.” Memory fills us with a sense of gratitude and praise. When we remember those who have died, so many thoughts come into our mind: things we did, or did not do; sometimes regret; words that may or may not have been spoken. Today we are asked to dismiss all of that; even if just for today. We remember our dead and for them and their lives, for the difference they made to us and others, we are grateful. And so think today, for whom are you grateful? Whether their life was a long full one, or ended with too many roads untravelled; whether they died suddenly, peacefully, or after a long illness; for whom are you grateful. Relish that memory and offer it up to the Lord.

The third thing we can do is Live - We are defined by whom we have lost. Those we have loved and lost, have contributed to who we are. And so, who are we? How can we allow the memories and the gratitude to shape us? Maybe that is the privilege, the blessing of those who have embraced loss: loss reminds us that we cannot live as though we have all the time in the world. We cannot let words go unspoken, gestures of love go undone. Like the disciples, we realize we cannot wear grief like a badge that exempts us from living. No, our grief gently, but firmly, calls us to live.

The great abolitionist Sojourner Truth once said, “I'm not gonna just die... I'm going home like a shooting star.” Today, on this All Souls Day, let us pause, and think about those stars, those lights that have shaped us, and gone home. And let us take a deep breath, and continue our lives, knowing that Jesus, the Morning Star, who guided them home, will one day safely guide us home too. Today we remember, give thanks and live as those who will also be joined with all of those in heaven one day. And we pray for all of our loved ones who have gone before us, especially those souls in Purgatory, that they will enjoy one day the joy of God’s presence in Heaven.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

May God give you peace.

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