“They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” St John Chrysostom
November 1st and November 2nd are the beautiful Catholic feast days of All Saints and All Souls. On the very first day of November, the Church proclaims to us:
‘Today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother, where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives you eternal praise. Towards her, we eagerly hasten as pilgrims advancing by faith, rejoicing in the glory bestowed upon those exalted members of the Church through whom you give us, in our frailty, both strength and good example.’ (preface from the Solemnity of All Saints)
In the Church we are always surrounded with the saints and angels—the Letter to the Hebrews calls them a ‘great cloud of witnesses’—who accompany us on our journey to God, give us inspirational example, and pray for us.
November is also the month when we remember our beloved dead. Just as we pray for the living, so do we pray for the dead, and they pray for us.
Christians have prayed for their dead from the earliest days, because we long to be united with one another forever in Christ. Our longing is the result of our love! The Church, even as she proclaims the joy and hope of the Resurrection, 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 the love is deep, so is the grief. As we think about and pray for our deceased loved ones, we recognise that they are safely in God’s loving hands. Our grieving hearts say to us of our loved ones who have died, ‘We belong together!’ And God says to us in response, ‘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.” Be at peace and know that your loved ones are safe with me.’
We were made to be together; we were made for communion; we were made for love. Our seeming separation from loved ones, however painful, is only temporary. The final communion for which we are destined will be something beyond words, beyond our capacity to imagine. We—and they—will all be there together in God and every hope will be fulfilled. God can be trusted!
May the Feasts of the Holy Saints and Holy Souls in 2017 draw us into grateful reflection on the loved ones who have graced our lives and surround us still. Read and be consoled by St John Chrysostom’s moving words: ‘They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.’
Yes, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves and so, therefore, are all our loved ones who have entered into the Light of Christ.
† Denis J Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne