For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day. – John 6.40
Today in the Abbey Church, we celebrated the Mass for All Souls Day, calling to mind all of those who have passed before us. In those moments, there was a tinge of sorrow, yes; perhaps it was a longing to once again be with loved ones. Then again, there was also a joy, a joy that recognizes the loving mercy of the Father who draws His children to His bosom.
It was following Mass, however, during the procession to the monastery graveyard, that the reality of death became more pronounced. As we walked in silence, I was acutely aware of the biting chill that enveloped us. The reds, golds, and browns of the changing leaves gently swayed on their respective branches, ready to fall to the earth. Autumn had certainly descended, preparing the way for the coming of winter, reminding all gathered of the fleeting nature of our lives. Here at the changing of the seasons, the Church in her wisdom has us call to mind the reality of death, the need to pray for each other, and the Paschal Mystery that frees us from that same death.
Entering the graveyard, I was struck like never before by the row upon row of gravestones, monks who had dedicated their lives in faithful service to the Lord. These monks, who crossed an ocean and a vast country to settle in the Northwest had directly affected thousands of lives, and through their work in forming priests, indirectly impacted hundreds of thousands. Filled with gratitude for their witness, I recognized how “they saw the Son and believed in Him.” As we sang the antiphon “In Paradisum”, I was struck at how much God can work in our lives, if we let Him. If we allow His grace to prevail, we will have eternal life. If we follow His example of humility and obedience, death will have no power. Death has yielded to the King who humbled Himself:
Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered. -St. Athanasius
And so as we proceed into the month of November, remembering those who came before, let us give thanks for their influence on our lives and the work that God performed through them. At the same time, let us remember to pray for all those who have departed us, that perpetual light may shine upon them. In a particular way, I am remembering the following individuals (listed by last name), and others whom I am probably forgetting, throughout this month:
Fr. Paschal Cheline
Msgr. Andrew Coffey
Fr. Thien Dang
Fr. Richard Doheny
Fr. John Folmer
Fr. Steven Foppiano
Fr. Terry Fulton
(If you would like to add anyone, or remind me of someone I should have listed, please let me know either here or via Facebook.)
While the turn of the season and liturgical calendar brings to mind our own mortality, something we should keep in the forefront of our thoughts more often, we need not despair, knowing that through Him, death has lost its sting. Soon, we will enter the period of waiting, looking to His arrival as a small child in a manger, who will go to Calvary in the ultimate expression of love.
I leave you with words that have aways brought to mind, at least for me, thoughts of eternity and a blessed hope:
And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise. -J.R.R. Tolkien
Pax et bonum.