During this last month of the liturgical year, the Church focuses attention on the end times, the world’s as well as our own. The month begins with solemnity of All Saints and the feast of All Souls, and we heard during a Sunday Gospel reading this month that Jesus proclaims that “God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The last of corporal works of mercy is the call for Catholics to bury. But beyond burial of loved ones, how do we honor those closest to us who have passed?
I had a chance to return to my hometown earlier this fall. While my high-school reunion was the main reason for this first visit in eight years, I felt drawn to my familial roots, going to share meals with five of my aunts and uncles – all in their 80s, thank God! I also made it a point to visit my four grandparents buried in two cemeteries in Syracuse, NY, as I do regularly my dad’s grave site near my home. I tidied up the areas, pulling weeds, straightening planters, and talking earnestly about what they each meant and mean to me and praying for their guidance and for the repose of their souls.
Many people feel uncomfortable going to cemeteries, raising feelings of loss and discomfort about thinking of death and mortality.
But, those who died, who were close in life or connected to me, are not gone for me unless and until I don’t remember them. And if they are gone to me, I’ve lost a great deal of the grounding that is the best part of me.
I remember my grandmother, who was sick at the end of her life until she died. I also remember her joy of just spending time with me, especially as a young boy. She taught me about unconditional love and the closeness that can be felt in extended family. I thought of my grandfather, who I never knew as he died when my 88-year-old mother was only 8 months old, and how he was beloved by her and his daughters, my aunts, ran a respected and successful music store. He gave me a model of hard work and love of his family.
This month then becomes a special time to acknowledge and celebrate the communion of saints – those recognized by the Church and those not so recognized but saints nonetheless – including those we have known and loved.
Two recent books from Franciscan Media celebrate the saints. Sisterhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration by Melanie Rigney offers a daily dose of guidance and inspiration from widely known female saints such as Sts. Monica, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Agnes, Barbara, Joan, Bernadette, and recently canonized Marianne Cope, Kateri Tekakwitha and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Saint of the Day has been revised and updated to include those recently canonized, beatified or recognized as persons of heroic virtue. Each of the more than two hundred entries includes a short biography of the saint, a comment linking the example of this life relevant to our own and an appropriate quotation from Scripture, the words of the saint or another spiritual writer for reflection.
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Photo top: An angel statue is pictured at a grave during dusk at a cemetery in the western Austrian village of Absam Oct. 30, 2013, in anticipation of All Saints Day Nov. 1. (CNS photo/Dominic Ebenbichler, Reuters)