In these November days, when they days are shorter and the darkness of night comes early, the Church reminds us that as Christians, we always should be full of hope. Why? It’s because we are never alone. Even though gloomy weather and a gloomy heart can affect the way we view life, weighing us down and robbing us of precious memories that can bring bring us joy (and if we are prone to feelings of loneliness, as when we grieve the loss of a loved one, no matter how long ago he or she died), the Church proclaims from the very first days of November that we are always surrounded by the saints and angels, who cheer us on our journey to God, who give us inspirational example, and who pray for us. The saints see God in his fullness, and they know there’s no reason to fear. That’s because they see directly, while we only see with the eyes of faith. Even though our emotions and the trials of life sometimes make us uneasy or doubtful, it is not the same with them. They hold us up when we falter, lifting us up in prayer when we run out of words.
November is also the month when we remember our beloved dead. Even as she proclaims the joy and hope of the Resurrection, the Church knows how to grieve and gives us comfort in our celebration of All Souls’ Day. Who could not grieve the loss of those we love? When that love is deep, so is the grief. As we think about and pray for our deceased loved ones, we recognize that they are safe in God’s loving hands. By God’s loving providence, they are experiencing purification in preparation to see Him face-to-face. They also pray for us! They know they are on their way to heaven. By whatever means God chooses to prepare them, they are filled with hope, and want us to be filled with hope as well.
Pope Benedict XVI once said: “Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again; that He can cleanse us in such a way that we are able to be with him and can stand there in the fullness of life. Purgatory strips off from one person what is unbearable, – and from another, the inability to bear certain things – so that in each of them a pure heart is revealed, and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous ‘symphony of being’.”
Our grieving hearts say to us of our loved ones who have died, “We belong together!” In response, God says to us “You’re right! You have all been made to be together forever in me. My grace is at work in this temporary separation, in this great, mysterious ‘symphony of being.’ So, be at peace, and know that your loved ones are safely with me. One day, I will come to call you to join them.”
Recalling a common practice of visiting the graves of loved ones on All Souls’ Day, Pope Francis has said: “As the word itself implies, a cemetery is the ‘place of rest,’ as we wait for the final awakening. It is lovely to think that it will be Jesus who will awaken us… With this faith we stop — even spiritually — at the graves of our loved ones, those who have loved us and have done good deeds for us. But today we are called to remember everyone… even those who no one remembers. We remember the victims of war and violence; the many “little ones” of the world crushed by hunger and poverty. We remember the anonymous who rest in common graves. We remember our brothers and sisters who were killed because they are Christians, and those who sacrificed their lives to serve others. We especially entrust to the Lord those who have left over the last year.”
Such “prayer of remembrance” is an expression of the fact that we are one in Christ, the Good Shepherd, who is gathering us in the Church and preparing us for that final, perfect communion. Our seeming separation from loved ones is only temporary, and the final communion for which we are destined will be something beyond our capacity to imagine. They and we will all be there together — in God — and every hope will be fulfilled.
Let’s allow this month’s changing days and weather to draw us into deep, quiet and grateful reflections on our blessings; on the loved ones who have passed through our lives and surround us still; and on the God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves — who is always waiting with outstretched hand to both lift us high and pull us deep into his heart in a loving embrace.