All Souls Day
Romans 5:5-11 or 6:3-9
Every year, on November 2, we Catholics pause to remember our deceased family members, loved ones, and friends. This day of "All Souls" used to be a dreary and even morbid liturgical day, with "obsequies" [committal prayers offered for the dead prior to internment] offered at the end of Mass. Now, thanks to an enlivening Holy Spirit, we gather to share in the traditional readings, but with a renewed understanding that "life is changed, not ended" (Preface for the Funeral Mass).
Those traditional readings remind us that "Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect." (1st Reading, Wisdom 3:1-9) What a reassuring message of God’s providential and merciful love for all of us.
The early generations of Christians considered their baptism a "dying with Christ", and so they could live in the certainty that sin had no power over the life of the risen Christ which they shared. Their life in Christ would be theirs to the full as they passed through death into eternal life. "If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him." (2nd reading; Romans 6:3-9)
Jesus’ words in his instruction to his disciples in his Eucharistic discourse are a promise of eternal life, "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." (Gospel, John 6:37-40)
I woke up this morning, November 1, at the Passionist Bishop Molloy Retreat Center in Jamaica, Queens, New York. On the radio (NPR), Susan Stamberg was interviewing Joan Didion, author and widow of author John Gregory Dunne. Both women had experienced the deaths of their husbands, they shared their response to what people say in offering condolences: "People trying to be sympathetic will say, ‘Well, you have your memories’ – and Didion says she never really knows how to respond to that. ‘Yes, I do,’ she says, as though the memories make it better. (Quoted from the NPR website, November 1, 2011)
Don’t memories make it better? For the Carrillo family, and for many families who grew up like us: close to the parish and its priests, part of a Catholic School culture, used to having less than more, and with an abundance of siblings, we have grown old with our memories, and they have been among the most loving tributes we have shared of our parents, our aunts and uncles, extended family and friends.
Mike Villegas died on October 25, 2011, in Los Angeles CA. He was our bus driver, maintenance man and general "fac totum" for Resurrection School and Parish for all of the years that we were growing up there. As soon as I had notified my family with an e-mail that "Mike" had died, the memories began to flow over the internet. Great memories and stories of Mike and his family. My brother, Sean, wrote: Mike Villegas and Jose P. Carrillo worked together at a job most of us would consider beneath us, but I never have. It fed us (beans and tortillas sometimes), it clothed us (White Front and Zody’s) and it made for countless memories of a youth I would never trade a day of. En paz descanse.
My brother, Jim, wrote: I always remember the long yellow bus from Resurrection pulling up somewhere in the vicinity of Our Lady of Victory Chapel to pick us up for school. Nothing was as reassuring as seeing Mike grasp that big handle to open the door and seeing his calm and smiling face when the door fully opened to let you in.
The NPR, Morning Edition, web page I’ve cited, says the following: "In Blue Nights, Didion writes that in theory, these mementos should bring back the moment, but in fact, they only make clear how inadequately she appreciated the moment back when it happened."
My experience is that the memories we treasure are precisely the memories of the moments we most appreciated. Perhaps the power of these memories may also assuage our sorrow by reminding us of how thoroughly we did enjoy the moments spent with our loved ones, whose retelling now in memory is a tribute to them and to the love that endures…unto God.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.