Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls)
Romans 5:5-11 or 6:3-9
Once upon a time, I was in my retreat center office, listening to the retreatants who had signed in for some time to speak to the retreat team member.
When this woman came into my office, it was clear from the expression on her face that she was angry about something.
It didn’t take long before she blurted out, "Father, I’m mad at God."
I gathered my senses around me, and asked, "Why is that?"
"Because God took my husband away from me without even letting me say ‘good-bye’."
I took up the challenge, and asked her to tell me about her husband’s death. Sure enough, she had gone to the store for some dinner supplies, and when she came home from shopping, her husband was dead in his easy chair, in the living room, without any sign of a struggle or distress.
At that point, a barrier had come down between herself and God, a barrier of resentment because she had lost the person closest to her, and it didn’t matter to her that his death had been instantaneous and free of distress; what mattered to her was how much she missed her husband and how much she blamed God for not even letting her say "Good-bye, I love you" to her husband. The anger was written in the frown-lines on her face.
I asked her whether, in passing by his chair in the living room, did she sense his presence still in that chair? I asked her whether she still dreamed of her life with her husband. I also asked her whether she ever felt that she could hear his voice inside herself. She said "yes" quite enthusiastically to each of my questions.
So I told her, "Talk to him whenever you feel his presence." "Tell him you miss him." Say the "good-bye" that fate kept you from saying to him.
She began to look a little less perturbed with God (and life itself). So, I took another step….I asked her, "Do you have a favorite saint?" …"Oh yes, St. Francis." "Do you ever pray to St. Francis about something in your life?" "Sure, I do." "Do you have a special devotion to Our Blessed Mother?" "I pray the rosary and try to go to Mass on first Saturdays."
At that point, I looked at her in the eyes, and I said solemnly, "You know, they are dead too."
A great burden was lifted from her spirit. She saw the connection; we are a family of saints. We are a family in communion with one another. Our belonging with one another is not sundered by death; both those who have died and those who survive, are eager to remain in contact with one another.
This is not "new age" mysticism, it is not "modern atheism", it is the traditional and Catholic "Communion of Saints", which we celebrate today with a special attention paid to those who have died.
Our first reading (Wis 3:1-9) says to us:
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
Can you really believe that? What keeps you from believing that? Jesus’ life was about overcoming death. Jesus’ resurrection was about our invitation to share in the fullness of life. Our deceased loved ones have been called to the banquet of the Lord. They are saving a place for us at the table.
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life. (Rm 6:3-5)
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day." (Jn 6:40)
Today, "All Souls Day", take a moment to remember your loved ones, those who have gone ahead and who happily look forward to our reunion at the Table of the Lord. Put some flowers on their graves; put a ribbon on their pictures, light a candle of prayer in your parish church, say the things you never got to say, and ask for them to save you a place at the banquet of the Lord.
Father Arthur Carrillo, CP, is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness and Mission Director for Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.