Today and tomorrow are holy days which are like two sides of the same coin. Today is All Saint’s Day and tomorrow is All Soul’s Day. Last night was the Vigil of All Saints, now popularly known as the Eve of All Hallows, or Halloween. Unfortunately, Halloween has become something far less than holy. Because we are a secular society, what was once an evening of prayer is now an evening of fear. Movies like Carrie, The Vampire Chronicles and the Friday the 13th series are meant to frighten. Specifically, the fear of death, or the dead coming back to life to harm people. These first two days of November are meant to contradict that fear.
Every living being is afraid of death. If we consider death as the end of life, we should be afraid. But in the Christian tradition, death is not the end but rather a change.
Historically, these two feasts were celebrated right after Easter, which more clearly connects them to the Resurrection. Because November was an empty time in the Church calendar, about 1,000 years ago the feasts were transferred to today and tomorrow. But they are still connected to the Resurrection
There are about 10,000 canonized saints in the history of the Catholic Church. That may seem like a lot, but in the overall picture of things, it’s not all that many. Most estimates say that there are about 107 billion people born in the history of humanity. There are currently 7 billion people alive on earth. Which means that approximately 100 billion people have died.
In God’s good time, every person now alive will one day be dead. It is inevitable; it’s the one sure thing that is going to happen. Despite our natural fear of that reality, we have a reasonable reluctance to avoid that topic as much as we can. But the Church is never reluctant to deal with death. We are not afraid because God is always with us, now and at the hour of our death and forever.
Almost every culture in the long history of humankind has surrounded death with rituals that express a deeper sense beyond fear and beyond sadness.
In the New Testament, St. Paul called the Christians of the Greek city of Corinth, “saints”. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that all believers belong to what we call “the communion of saints”. Some saints are already in Heaven, other are on their way and we who are on earth are a part of that communion or community. Ordinarily, Catholics are cautious about using the term “saints” in regard to the living, but is not incorrect to do so.
The fact that those now alive and those who have gone before us are part of the same community is what defines the Church. In every Mass, said half a million times every day, the dead are remembered. Usually not by name. But some few are mentioned, like the Virgin Mary, her husband Joseph, the Apostles and some other 100 billion unnamed and mostly forgotten. But the Church does not forget.
In a few moments the names of the people who are written on the yellow cards you filled out will be placed on the altar. According to the custom, they will remain on the altar throughout the month of November. Since these special people are dear to our hearts, we do not want to forget them.
We also do not want to forget all those who are lost to human memory, but clearly known to God.
In less than two weeks, the Holy Year or Jubilee of Mercy will end. Pope Francis has reminded us time and again throughout the past year that God is a merciful God. No one can be afraid of God’s mercy ~ it’s the basis of our entire life on earth, and it is directly applied to those who are no longer on earth.
Perhaps the greatest disconnect between believers and modern culture is the loss of the sense on the sacred. As convenient and entertaining as are all the electronic devices that take up so much of our time, they do in fact separate us from one another. People are made of flesh and bones, not of pixels of ones and zeros. Our devices have become more important than reality. It is psychologically and spiritually harmful to live in a constant current of fantasy.
We began this school year with the theme of “look up.” It was effective as long as it lasted. But we can renew that insight with days like today. If we are so connected to mechanical or electrical devices, we are that much more disconnected with the community of saints. There are no clocks in heaven because there is no time after death. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but I should be honest with you and remind you that there are no smartphones in heaven either.
We communicate with the dead and they with us through prayer. There will never be an App to replace that.