As the time of Fall comes, especially in the northeastern portion of the United States, many people travel around the area just to look at the leaves. And certainly even if we have not traveled to the Northeast, we have certainly seen some pictures of the beautiful trees and landscapes of the Fall season. Even though there is extreme beauty, it all fades quite quickly. On the local evening news here they even tell you exactly what week will be the peak color so that you don’t miss the chance to go out and see the leaves. The reality is that if you miss the correct date, even by a week or two, all of the leaves will be gone and the trees will be bare.
It is therefore appropriate that during this season the Church focuses our attention on prayers for our beloved departed. On how quickly the people we know and love can be gone from our lives. We begin the month of November with the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls. On each of these days we focus on those who have gone before us. And we see within these holy days both aspects as we did in the viewing of the Fall leaves. We remember the beauty of their lives and also know that they have now passed into the hands of the Eternal Father.
First during the Solemnity of All Saints we recognize those who have been strong examples of the Faith. We honor the Martyrs as ones who have gone to their death rather than to deny what they believed. We also honor those who have been persecuted for the faith knowing full well that such persecution continues today. Not only in the past, but also in our world today, many individuals are persecuted for being Christian. It is brutal in many places within the world, but it is also to be found in every place, often in more subtle and muted ways. We honor the Confessors. In this category we acknowledge those who taught the Faith, such as the great doctors of the Church, like Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Augustine and many others. We also honor those who lived simple lives of dedication to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His way in the world. It is especially for this reason that we have an All Saints Celebration. While we acknowledge some saints on the day in which they were martyred or died, this only leaves 365 possible celebrations. We may know that St. Valentine is honored on February 14, or Saint Patrick on March 17, or Saint Joseph on March 19. We may
even know some lesser known days such as St. Stanislaus on May 7, especially if that particular saint holds a special meaning for us. But we certainly also acknowledge that there must be countless others who are saints who lived and died with strong faith and dedication to Jesus Christ who are not as well known. Some of these individuals may only be known to a small number of people who keep their memory and we can also acknowledge that there are surely many others who today are not known to anyone at all.
One way that we can look at the Solemnity of All Saints is to honor and acknowledge the relationship of the faithful ones who have gone before us, the saints, to us. And we must also acknowledge here, not only the saints whose days we recognize on the liturgical calendar, not only those countless many who must have lived lives of faith and dedication to Jesus, but also for each individual, or for each family, those special members who have been examples of faith and dedication for them but are now deceased. We may look to a parent and remember their dedication to daily prayer and unfailing help to those within the neighborhood who were in need. We may look to a parent who worked hard to support the family and still made sure that the family came to church each week and on holy days. We may know a priest who was always a great support for the family and helped to lead us in the right direction, always there to pray for and with us. Although the church may not have officially recognized these people as saints within the Church, for each of us, they are certainly examples of faith and dedication to our Lord and therefore saints.
And we also know that every relationship has two sides. If the Solemnity of All Saints focuses our attention on the relationship of the Saints to us, then there is also the relationship of each of us to the faithful departed. It is this that we focus on in the Commemoration of All Souls. We read of this in Scripture within the Second Book of Maccabees: “Judas [the ruler of Israel] then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” (2 Maccabees 12:43-46)
Now we don’t have space here to delve into the entire theology of what happens to each of us when we die, but that is really not the point of this Scripture reading. The reality here is that there is a connection, just as the saints are not only examples to us, but also help us through their intercession before Almighty God, so likewise this connection goes both ways and our prayers help those who have gone before us. We too can make sure that expiatory sacrifices are offered for the departed. In fact we have access to the summit of all expiatory sacrifices in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which makes present for us the atoning death of Jesus Christ. With each prayer this connection between the faithful on earth and those who have gone before us is strengthened.
And of course we must also remember that this relationship is really not only to be a part of our religious and prayer life on two days of the liturgical year. As we now find ourselves in the middle of November many of our parishes are still praying for those of the parish membership who have passed on. The unfortunate part is that often after that, this practice fades into the background as we begin to focus on the coming of Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord. While certainly the approach of the time of the Nativity is one of the most important aspects of our faith journey, we cannot just let these other practices fall to the wayside. Rather we must incorporate them together. In knowing that Jesus came to earth in order to save us all and call all people to Himself, we must remember that this fact is as true for us who live as for those who have gone before us. As we rejoice in the fact that God has been born to redeem humanity, we must acknowledge that this is to redeem all people for all time. Jesus was born for us today; He was born for those whom we acknowledge as the Saints and He was born for all people who have ever lived and died.
Let us remember that to pray for our deceased brothers and sisters should be as an important part of our prayer life as praying for those who share our earthly journey. Remember that Jesus came to save all people and make us into one great family, the Christian family, whose bonds cannot be destroyed by death.