November is such an engaging month. Autumn is at its peak, crunching leaves underfoot and bright colors everywhere we look, letting us know that even dying has this profound beauty opening up before us. So, it isn’t surprising to see All Saints, All Souls, The Day of the Dead (Oct 31 to Nov 2), Thanksgiving (November 25) and even Advent (November 28) all greeting us as we begin to move through the month.
On All Saints Day (November 1) we celebrate the Church Triumphant, those who have been canonized and those other saints who have touched our hearts throughout the years and have since gone to a place we name as heaven. As Christians we believe that after death we live on in communication with others who have died before us, in communion with those we left behind on earth and in communion with God. Ronald Rolheiser (November 2, 2015 reflection) tells us this is what we call the Communion of Saints. He mentions a quote by Elizabeth Johnson that puts it all in perspective: “Hoping against hope, we affirm that they [our loved ones who have died] have fallen not into nothingness but into the embrace of the living God. And that is where we can find them again; when we open our hearts to the silent calmness of God’s own life in which we dwell, not by selfishly calling them back to where we are, but by descending into the depth of our own hearts where God also abides.”
As a child I was troubled by All Souls Day (November 2) because I had this image of purgatory as the fiery place of great suffering and our task was to pray hard to get those souls to heaven. But, in the early 70s, I read Carlo Carretto’s Letters from the Desert (1972, Orbis Books, p.20). There he describes meeting a man shivering because he was not prepared for bitter cold nights in the desert. Caretto had an extra blanket and felt he should give it to him but decided he might need it for himself and so he didn’t share it. In a dream that night Caretto sees himself pinned under a great rock; he is certain he will die. In a distance he sees the man shivering. Now, no longer able to give him the blanket which lies useless in his bag, his heart aches for his selfishness. In reflecting on that moment Caretto says: “I understood then what purgatory was and that the suffering of the soul was ‘no longer to have the possibility of doing what before one could and should have done’.” Rolheiser (December 1, 2001 Reflection) has a similar analogy where he tells us Purgatory is not a place; it is a stage of loving. It is the pain of letting go of a lesser self-oriented love in order to accept a deeper unconditional love. When we die, God embraces us—fully, affectionately, passionately, and unconditionally. To the extent that we are not yet fully saints or have not yet fully let go of our attachments that are now incompatible with us being in this new embrace, we will, experience intense, purgative pain. Purgatory is the redemptive pain that follows falling in love, the pain of paschal purification…the pain of entering heaven itself and, there, having to let go of all that prevents us from being there. In the ecstasy of God’s embrace comes the agony of purification. That view of purgatory makes all the difference in the world to me. I am eager to pray for the “poor souls” as we use to say so that they are purified in a way that frees them to love as God loves and to receive the love that God freely gives.
In this week’s NCR there is an article by Maria Anderson that begins like this: “What do sugar skulls, marigolds and monarch butterflies have in common? Just like pumpkins, witches and black cats are quintessential symbols of Halloween, these objects are associated with a different holiday: Dia de los Muertose, or Day of the Dead. Believing that new life came from death, it is a feast (party) to commemorate and celebrate their loved ones who have passed away. The feast intertwines Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. I have grown in fondness for this Mexican and Central American celebration of Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). In their tradition they celebrate it with food, music, and dancing. They surround themselves with pictures and memories of their ancestors on their prayer tables, and, in their celebration, they show respect and gratitude for each of them. This year I chose to have my own Day of the Dead placing those special pictures near my prayer space and lighting candles before each as I remembered all they were to me. What a beautiful way to celebrate “thanksgiving” by remembering all that our ancestors have enabled for us and for all the love we’ve received from of our family and friends who have gone before us. May we remember this month our “special saints” and “all the souls” moving deeper into the love of God. Their love continues to sustain us. We are a part of their legacy.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches we continue to remember your faithfulness to the Franciscan Spiritual Center throughout the years. Your love and support sustained us in so many ways. Our gratitude brings joy to our hearts as we remember so many of you and so many special moments of connection — heart to heart. We pray that this special holiday bring you the time to come together as family and remember the saints in your life and the ancestors who laid the ground for your own strength and growth.
On November 28th we begin the liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. May it bring a time of waiting in beautiful expectation for a deeper awareness of the passionate love of our God – that God’s love was so great that he wanted to become one with us in Jesus and show the fullness of his love, offering all for us. Our hope, as we begin a new liturgical year, is that we can continue to nourish one another in some small way. Who knows what possibilities may arise as we walk day by day in our journey as the Franciscan Spiritual Center! But, one thing is certain, we will always be grateful for all that we created together and we yearn for “new creations” day by day as we await the something “new” that God is creating in our midst. Advent is always about WAITING.
With Gratitude and Love!
The Staff of the Franciscan Spiritual Center