November is for remembrance
“On November 2 we pray that our deceased loved ones are in God’s care; interestingly, on November 1 we feel confident that, indeed, they are.”
There’s something about November that rustles. Leaves pile up on lawns and sidewalks, the air is crisp, life is stirring. We are in the realm of memory.
On the first day of November the church intentionally recalls countless saints, the holy ones no longer with us physically but whose lives still inspire and guide us. It is a day devoted not to the canonically recognized saints who have their special days set aside, but to those not officially inscribed in the roster of saints. Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr. are often mentioned.
And then there are the men and women who lived “the ordinary way”: the bankers and the butchers, the daycare workers and the nurses, the parents and grandparents—not founders of religious orders or martyrs in the classical sense, but laypeople whose names are not known far and wide and who are not forgotten by those who shared life, love and lineage with them.
These are the everyday saints who tried to do their work well, who cared selflessly for their families, who practiced being a “good neighbor” in the fullest sense of the term. November 1 is the laity’s day. Let us rejoice in it.
Praying that our loved ones are in God’s care
When the first day of November passes into the second, our focus turns to the feast of All Souls. These two great feasts of ordinary people blend into each other in an effortless way. They differ mostly in emphasis. On All Souls Day Catholics have Masses said for deceased family and friends. We often visit the cemetery (I do) to bring flowers and other concrete signs of our connectedness that make us feel close to our dead. We pray that our loved ones are at peace. Or perhaps we pray that they will remain in our lives, guiding and consoling us. On November 2 we pray that they are in God’s care; interestingly, on November 1 we feel confident that, indeed, they are.
Last year a French friend, born and raised in Brittany, invited me and members of my family living nearby to visit her on All Souls Day. Surprisingly for us, a sumptuous feast had been prepared. We began with wine and French cheese, moved on to coq au vin and then to a custard dessert with much conversation during and between courses. Monique explained that in France this is a family time, even more so than Christmas, and with her adult children away at school, she called on us, her surrogate family, to accompany her on this day of remembrance. Monique spoke of her father who fought in World War II and of life during the years of German occupation. My daughter and I recalled visiting Monique’s mother in Brittany and how we basked in her hospitality. We, too, had memories to share of our own dead, and we did so with both laughter and tears. The overall feeling that evening was not one of sadness but one of gratitude. All of us thanked God for having known our dead, and we confessed to confidence in their nearness.
Leaving life but not your life
On the way home that night, I thought of Saint Augustine who upon hearing that his best friend had died said, “He has left life, but not my life. How can he be said to have died who lives in my heart?”
Sharing these days of remembrance with others underscores the power in Augustine’s words. The truth is, nothing is ever lost in an ultimate sense; it is often hidden in plain sight.
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Monday, November, 3, 2008