Let’s think ahead a couple of weeks to when we will celebrate what our Hispanic brothers and sisters call The Days of the Dead – a harvest feast of those who have gone before us in the communion of saints. We begin our celebration on the holy vigil of All Saints, Halloween, and continue through November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2nd(All Souls Day.)… indeed, on through November, when the earth itself, in these northern climes, seems to fall asleep.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day are ancient feasts. All Saints Day was originally celebrated during the Easter season. In 835, the feast of All Saints was moved to November 1st and connected with the harvest festivals. The remembrance of All Souls was instituted at the influential monastery at Cluny, France in the eleventh century. Before long, the whole church celebrated this feast, linked with the feast of All Saints and its vigil.
Even though our society has taken over Halloween and turned it into the second most lucrative holiday of the year, Halloween is a Christian feast. In earlier times, Christians would go out on All Saints Eve to await the first star of the evening. Then they would light a candle in a lantern to burn for the three nights of the feasts. Christ the Light scatters the darkness and shows people the way home. The light banishes the ghouls and the goblins that threaten to overtake us.
Then there is All Saints Day. In celebrating collectively all the saints we need to remind ourselves that “the true company of the saints is more numerous than the list of those who have been formally canonized. There are many anonymous saints who nevertheless form part of the great “cloud of witnesses,” who surround us with their faith and courage and so participate in the communion between the living and the dead.” (Robert Ellsberg, All Saints.) Kenneth Woodward, in Making Saints, says that “the story of a saint is a love story of a God who loves and the beloved who learns to reciprocate this love – a story that includes misunderstanding, deception, betrayal, concealment, reversal and revelation of character” The feast of All Saints strengthens and encourages us to stay the course of our own love stories with God.
We all have our favorite saints: canonized ones as well as our family members, neighbors and friends.
The ones closest to us we remember on All Souls Day. But what do we do to remember them?
Here are some thoughts to use to spin off your own ideas:
- Make a display in your home of beloved people who have died. Invite your family and friends to bring over their own pictures. One evening, light some candles, gather around and tell stories of these people’s faith, humor, courage, goodness. Toast them. Pray in thanks for them.
- Visit your family graves in the cemetery. Thank the deceased for the good they were and did. Commit or recommit yourself to the values that made them special. Or perhaps, you may have to make up with your loved one buried there. Perhaps some issues have been unresolved. Why wait any longer to be reconciled? Speak words of reconciliation and love. Leave a little stone as a token of remembrance.
- Tell the children of your extended family the stories of those who have died and what gifts of character they had.
- Begin a winter’s worth of care for the lonely, the homebound.
- Think of your own death and the deaths of your loved ones. How can you each die with faith in your hearts, touched in the reality that each of us will die one day? How will others know what is important to us to have read and sung unless we tell them?
Beginning October 31st, all three of these celebrations will either be part of our experience or we will ignore them- to our own loss. Here’s the “to do” list:
Celebrate the saints we meet everyday.
Take off our masks and be who we are.
Hold up the holy ones who have gone before us.
Be connected with this life and beyond.
I’ve recently published a small reflective journal, Good Morning God, to help capture the reader’s daily and seasonal thoughts on a score of topics. I’ll be in the atrium of Saint Anne Church (1600 Mount Hope Avenue 14620) on Sunday, October 27th for a book signing. Come by to say hello between 1 pm and 3 pm. Books will be specially priced at $10.00. You can also get them at the front desk of our motherhouse (150 French Road 14618.)
~Joan Sobala, SSJ