Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
It is also permissible to choose readings from the Masses for the Dead:
When I was a boy my dad would recite a favorite verse many, many times. He had first seen it on a tombstone: "Remember me as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, one day you'll be. So stop and say a prayer for me." Well, this simple verse highlights something that I've always believed about All Souls Day. It's not simply a call to pray for our deceased loved ones. It's also an awakening to our own mortality.
As to the first point, the Church has always taught that it's a good and wonderful thing to pray for the deceased. In addition I feel it's good to pray to
our loved ones. We Catholics have great devotion to saints such as
St. Anthony, St. Jude, St. Therese, etc. But what about our own 'saints,'
our unofficially canonized saints, like parents, siblings, and other loved
ones? If we believe in faith that God is everywhere and that
our loved ones are with God, then they are everywhere also. They become our
very special intercessors with God in the communion of saints.
I've found that the losses in my life of family and friends become
less painful when I keep the relationship alive through communication. For
example, I talk to my mother and father throughout the day, sharing my life,
asking for blessings for myself and others and thanking them for the 'miracles'
I've received. I have always been comforted by the post-Resurrection
Gospel scenes where Jesus appears to his friends. This shows me that
relationships do continue in the next life.
As to the second point - the awakening to our own mortality
- I've found that communication with those who've gone before me makes the
thought of death less fearful. In fact, psychologists tell us that
the fear of dying is a normal human fear. (I once heard of a man who was
so fearful of dying that he became a hypochondriac and was anointed so many
times that he wound up going to a dermatologist for oily skin.) But
back to the awakening; let me share one experience that has helped me in
facing my mortality. Years ago I would journey from Notre Dame University to Chicago
each weekend to visit my family and also help out at my home parish. Our
beloved pastor, Fr. John Ireland Gallery, had given a home to two refugee
priests from different Communist countries. Both men had experienced
similar terrifying tortues and punishments during their years of imprisonment.
But their most painful suffering occurred when on a given evening each
was told, "This is your last meal. Tomorrow you DIE!" The following
morning they were led before a firing squad, blindfolded, and then trembled
as they heard the command: "Ready, aim, fire!" How stunned they were
to discover they were still alive. The soldiers had been ordered to
shoot above the heads of the two priests. The Communists repeated this
charade 15 times over a period of 10 months. What most touched me as
these two men shared their stories with me is that in befriending "Sister
Death" as St. Francis called her, they had no more fear of death. But
even more inspiring was their willingness to forgive their captors and their
ability to live joyfully in the present moment. Both of these men were
fully alive by living where God dwells, in the NOW of our lives.
It's so easy to crucify ourselves between the two thieves of
regrets for our yesterdays and fears for our tomorrows. In living that
way we miss being present to and receiving the strength from our God who
lives and loves us in the moment called "Now." How blessed we and all
souls are to be so loved.
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