Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
All Souls Day
Today we commemorate those who have died in Christ, described as “the souls of the just” in today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom.
In our funeral liturgies, the priest says: ‘Life is changed, not ended”. The funeral liturgy also proclaims that death does not break the bonds forged in life. Our connection with those who have passed away from our sight has been referred to as the “Communion of Saints”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way:
“Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself” (#957)
What does the communion with the dead mean for us and our fellow pilgrims, here in the body, living as Christians in the 21st century? For me, it is an opportunity to be inspired by some really great stories! Our spiritual ancestors had the same problems we have in areas like relationships, vocation, finances, and health. The stories that describe how they transcended these challenges define what faithfulness to the Gospel looked like within the unique circumstances of THEIR lives. Their creativity, faithfulness, and resiliency are gifts that keep on giving. And we can speak to them and ask for their help to intercede for us when we face our own challenges and tests of faith. They understand.
When I attend the funeral of a loved one, the stories are the best part, as we celebrate the gifts that this person has given us. We find the meaning of their lives, and we see the finger of God in the times that they transcended their circumstances. Recently I attended the funeral of my mother’s first cousin, who married shortly after World War II, and raised seven happy children on the southwest side of Detroit, amid shaky marital and financial circumstances. She spent her first years in a tuberculosis sanitorium, where her mother died. Despite these challenges, my cousin maintained strong lifelong friendships with her fellow pilgrims and with Jesus. One of the stories I heard at the funeral was about her volunteer work with a coop credit union that her father had started during the Great Depression for autoworkers. Another story told by her son was her embrace of African-American children in the local Catholic school in the 1960’s.
Before our death, there are many other “deaths” during our lives: loss of a loved one, loss of our health, or even loss of a dream. How did those who went before us manage to keep their communion with God and others? As St. Paul says in another reading for today: “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” In union with Jesus and our fellow pilgrims, we have the grace to rise up and remain united with Him and each other, even beyond the grave.
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.