We are social beings. Granted, we require varying amounts of solitude and privacy, but we are “wired” to experience (and need) our bonds with others. Our kinship with family and our relations with friends extend our arms to embrace the world beyond our immediate environment. Our instinct to be and create community is so much a part of what it means to be part of the human family. With the rest of the world, I was horrified by the terrorist’s attacks in Paris. I was, however, edified by the love and humanity that was expressed by people of good will around the world. “Je suis Paris” seemed to appear everywhere. What a beautiful expression of global community!
We are a human family, a community. For me, as a Catholic Christian, it is a natural association to consider how my Faith lifts me and guides me. I love the Liturgical Year and its rhythmic interfacing with the natural seasons. The month of November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls, invites us to remember our place in the entire human community…the Communion of Saints. In my youth, I was introduced to the Church as all the living and the dead: The Church Triumphant, those with God in Heaven; The Church Suffering, those being purified and readied for entry into Heaven; The Church Militant, those on earth still struggling to embrace their holiness in life.
Maybe it’s the connection of the rhythm of the seasons to the embedded metaphors of Robert Frost. Maybe it is woven into my training as an academic and a catechist. Whatever the context, I know that it is the beauty of late fall that draws my heart to themes of redemptive suffering and the ebb and flow of dying and rising. As I walk along the dirt road near my house or through the woods adjacent to the road, I am celebrating and remembering all holy men and women and the lives and souls of the just. These special days of remembrance, All Saints and All Souls and the entire month of November, are an invitation from the Church’s liturgical calendar to enter into that spirit and celebrate Community.
In my role as instructor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s, I am frequently honored and humbled by the personal sharing of my students. So many of them have suffered almost unbearable wounds. Some carry lingering questions about the purpose and meaning of their suffering. While meditating on the Crucifixion, or the entire Stations of the Cross, one can be touched by the ineffable truth and value of suffering. God’s good grace with our tenacious will can wrestle meaning and purpose from anything. I’ve recommended Victor Frankel’s “Man Search For Meaning” and Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” I have often sought comfort in a prayerful, meditative reading of the Twenty Third Psalm. The month of November offers a beautiful opportunity to enter into the heart of the Church and rejoice in the graces that the trials of life offer us.
As members of the Communion of Saints, let us offer our prayers for those who have died…
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed
through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Susan O’Hara teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College.