We enter into the month of November on the heels of the powerful feasts of All Saints on Nov. 1 and All Souls on Nov. 2. Celebrating these feasts at this time of year could not be more appropriate. Gone are the warm summer months. As the world of nature around us gradually dies in preparation for winter, we remember those who have gone before us in faith and who now live with God just beyond our reach. At our annual Parish Memorial Mass last Thursday, we lit memorial candles as the names of each of our deceased were prayerfully read. While we are still connected to our beloved dead through our faith, our community celebration assures us that we do not grieve alone.
“Life is not given to us to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in turn.”Pope Francis
Grief is one of the strongest feelings we experience in life. Somewhere, I heard grief described as “love not wanting to let go.” That made a lot of sense to me then and even more so now. Grief can be expressed in many different ways, often with physical, emotional or spiritual reactions. While some speak of grief as a staircase with steps leading to our goal of resolving it, my experience is that it is more like a roller coaster, with a number of ups and downs, highs and lows, and a lot of curves. Some lows are predictable, such as the Christmas season, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other significant dates. At other times, an unexpected low comes out of nowhere. While time alone heals, there are no schedules. We may experience many slips and spills before our feet are on firm ground again. Often, it may be many months before we begin to sense that the dips on the roller coaster are less intense.
While we might be most aware of grief when we experience the death of someone we love, grief is the normal reaction to any loss we experience in our lives. Have you ever had a time when you felt that something was not quite right in your life? A closer look may reveal that a change or a loss of one kind or another happened and you were grieving – without even being aware of it. Besides the death of a loved one, common losses can include a miscarriage or experience of infertility, a separation or divorce, an experience of theft, or the loss of a cherished pet. Losses might lurk in personal or family changes like mid-life, an empty nest, selling the home, retirement, or aging. Other losses might be in times of transition, like graduation, a transfer, or a job/career change. Something familiar is no longer available to us. Sometimes our goals and dreams change when we realize that something we’d hoped for or dreamed of is never going to happen. Losses are all around us, and the normal way we deal with them is to grieve. The same dynamics that are present when we grieve a major loss like a death are also present when we grieve the more common everyday losses that we face. The first step in grief, though, is to recognize that we are grieving.
This time of year seems to make us more aware of our losses than others. The nights are longer and the days are shorter. As we pull indoors, we may ponder larger matters. If something doesn’t feel just right, look for a loss of one kind or another. Chances are that one is present, and with it, the need to grieve.
Since we constantly face change and loss in our lives, all of us are grieving to one degree or another. Perhaps the most helpful thing we can do is to name our grief for what it is so that we can work through it accordingly. And our faith offers us some good news here – the same Lord who saw us through the losses we experienced in the past will see us through our present ones.
In November 2017, we began the practice of celebrating a special Mass of the Anointing of the Sick twice a year – once in the autumn and again during Lent. That practice was paused during the pandemic. We have been asked to resume this custom, and we will do so on Saturday, November 18, as we celebrate a special Mass at 11:00 am in the main church during which the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick will be offered to those who desire to receive it. Anyone who is struggling with a physical, mental or spiritual illness may request to be anointed. We will have all three priests available to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick following the homily. Please extend the invitation to those you know who may be homebound.
As we mark the seasonal time change to Central Standard Time on Sunday morning, the beauty of autumn is quickly fading as the leaves drop from the trees. The earth is preparing for winter. Our Scripture readings will soon turn our focus upon the end times and our ultimate destiny with God. It is time to focus on the truly important things. May we do so as best as we can. As always, may God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
– Father Jim Murphy