All Souls Day
In the fourth chapter of his Rule, St. Benedict wrote: “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die” (RB4.47). While he is not advocating an obsession with death, he is indicating the best way to embrace life. We can only turn our gaze to the one thing that matters by owning our mortality. The COVID pandemic has brought the reality of human frailty and mortality to our attention. While confronting our human frailty, it is important to keep in mind that we are mortal creatures who have been created for immortality. This awareness is addressed by the Psalmist. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps. 90:12). I wonder how different would our lives be if we kept death daily before our eyes? By keeping the reality of death before our eyes, we free ourselves to live richer lives.
Today’s somber celebration helps counterbalance our tendency to simply read Scripture texts that make us feel good. By remembering the souls of those who have gone before us and visiting their graves, we are forced to admit that we are dust, and like those whose graves we visit, we shall return to dust. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: “We have no lasting city here, but we are seeking one that is to come” (Heb. 13: 14). The more we remember the past, the more accurately will we be able to set our gaze on the future. “For our citizenship is in heaven from where we eagerly await the return of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). While we grieve the loss of loved ones, faith tells us that Christ has conquered death. Granted, each of us will die someday, but none of us is not subject to death’s power because in Christ God has conquered death.
There is a reassuring line in the Rite of Christian Burial. ‘In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend our loved one to almighty God’. Faith tells us that what we commend to the earth is a clay vessel that contains the seed of immortality. The faithful departed see God face to face and are absorbed into God’s love. Having been consumed by the fire of divine love they are purified from the contagion of sin. Having abandoned themselves to God’s infinite mercy, they are drawn into communion with the Trinity.
Today, the church invites us to pray for the souls of the faithful departed and to prepare for our own death. It is important that we maintain a relationship of love and faith with the deceased and that we view death and the afterlife in the light of the Scriptures. By remembering those who have gone before us, we are connected with the history of human existence. At the end of life, death can deprive us of what is mortal, but it can never deprive us of what is divine. Having been stripped of mortality we will be clothed in a robe of immortality. Today allows us to be grateful for the life we have been given, for the people who have shared our lives and who have loved and supported us throughout our lives. Saint Ambrose wrote: “We loved them in life, let us not forget them in death.” Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen