The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed
Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30
Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
Wis 3:1-6. 9; Romans 5:5-11; Psalm 26:1. 4. 7-9. 13-14. R v.1
TODAY we commemorate all the Faithful departed more commonly known as the Feast of All Souls or All Souls Day. As a community from different cultural backgrounds, we all have different beliefs and customs in celebrating this day.
For example, in my culture, we actually combine this feast with All Saints Day, which we observed yesterday. In fact for us, Filipinos, All Saints Day is the day we go to cemeteries and pray for our dead relatives and loved ones.
We have such varied ways of observing these feast days because, again as a community coming from such diverse cultures, at the root of all these customs and practices is our different beliefs about death and the dead. Much as we love to live in this country, we may find that Australia, being founded on western culture, has different views about death and the dead.
What do I mean by this? Just try reading the obituary pages of your favorite newspaper. You will be surprised that while these pages are intended to announce the death of a person, they rarely use the word “death” or “died”. Instead we read words or phrases such as: “Passed away”, “Moved on”, “To depart this life”, “At rest”, “At peace” or even “Assume room temperature,” “Bite the big one”, “Bite the dust”, and “Kick the bucket.”
It is a reality that unlike other cultures, in the Western culture, death is a taboo as a subject. Death is seen in a negative perspective—a topic that is being avoided, whether consciously or unconsciously. Worse, death is usually associated with evil. I’m sure those of us here who attended Halloween costume parties probably dressed up as Dracula, zombies, even as the devil himself. This negative, undesirable notion about death is being reinforced by the media and entertainment industry. For example, anybody here who has seen the horror film Poltergeist? It’s about a housing project that was built on top of a Native American burial site. This led the residents of these houses to be haunted by “bad” spirits and brought them great evils.
If we revisit our Christian beliefs; our faith as stated in the Creed, the notion of death that is associated with decay, evil and other negative connotations is simply and completely wrong. For one, the places where we bury our dead relatives are blessed places. One priest asserts that the presence of a burial site should actually lead to a premium on the houses’ value; because the site is sacred.
More importantly, as Christians, we view—and should view—death in a more positive sense. Not that we are going to wish death to our neighbours nor are we going to seek death recklessly. But think about the reality that comes with death—that is new life!
The Gospel of John gives us a beautiful imagery. “Unless a grain of wheat falling to the ground dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it carries much fruit” (Jn 12: 23). What a better way to demonstrate this than what Jesus had undergone himself. From his death springs everlasting life for all those who believe in him. For us, Christians, death is not the end; “all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death” (OCF, 27). This is because we believe that God IS the GOD of the living as scripture says!
Moreover, when we commemorate the dead, we are not just recalling past events of people but we are living that reality that the dead are present with God. I said before that we Filipinos celebrate All Saints Day than All Souls Day. This is not because we do not want to face the reality of death but because we believe that our dead relatives and friends are indeed in heaven with the Father as we heard from the first reading: “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God.”
If the dead are present with the God, then should we not also believe that they are present among us? Since whenever we are gathered to pray, Jesus is present with us—God is present. God—and God’s love—is the one that unites us. Again, this points to one of our fundamental beliefs that is the communion of saints.
A Dominican priest preached these words to his community: “The prayers of the Church on earth, united with the prayers of the saints in heaven, embrace the souls of our brothers and sisters in the love of Christ. Our hope is not deceptive, our prayers are not solitary or unheard, the Church is not separate but one, as the saints triumphant unite with us in Christ. The commemoration of the holy souls should renew in us an understanding of the unity of Christ’s Church, while at the same time confirming in us our sure and certain hope in the resurrection.”