In some ways, the Feasts of the Saints and the Faithful Departed are different sides of the same coin. We carry in memory the loss of loved ones individually and as a community, highlighted at a recent funeral in St Kieran’s where a lighted candle was placed at the end of the pew where the lady sat every Saturday night – such is our place in the community.
While serving in country parishes, I experienced the whole spectrum of deaths of people of all ages, including young children and babies – from farm and road accidents, various diseases and health issues, sometimes criminal activity, to mention a few. Funerals could be held on any day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday. There was usually no hurry and a farewell could take most of the day. In many cases, the same people came to every funeral, a significant challenge when preparing the homily!
During this Month of the Holy Souls, we pray for our dead, record their names in the Book of Remembrance, and perhaps visit their resting place. We may be surprised at how raw our sense of grief can be at this time and how easily we shed tears. Two thoughts give me strength, the realisation that we don’t have to be good at grieving and the fact that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35).
A helpful mantra is the following: ‘Pray, see more!’ How true this is and how slow we are to do this. A helpful prayer suggestion this month is to read the Beatitudes often and think about our loved ones and the beatitudes they exemplified. Whether our preferred introduction to each beatitude is Blessed, Happy or Holy, we need to realise that these are not commands but affirmations from the Lord which mean, ‘Congratulations! You are in a good place…’ In these days, the most poignant is of course, ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’ – the beatitude we live today.
As a Church, we haven’t always handled death very well. Some have spoken about Heaven as if they’ve been there while others concentrated on the barriers to achieving this life goal. Our efforts over the centuries to understand what happens to children who die before baptism, highlight our theological inadequacy in understanding the mercy of God.
The Second Vatican Council tacitly buried the doctrine of ‘limbo’ (the place of natural happiness for unbaptised children) and the word is not even mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, the Church believes in ‘the universal offer of grace from the very beginning of a person’s existence’ (R P McBrien, Catholicism p 1179). Parents who carry the deep sadness of having lost a child, particularly before baptism, should take comfort from this.
In a few weeks, we will celebrate the Feast of Christ the King and our hope in the Kingdom of God for all people and for the world, a hope that is, ‘at one with our hope in our personal entrance into that Kingdom, that we might share with others and with the whole cosmos the fruits of the saving work which God has accomplished in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (McBrien ibid.).