On this final Sunday in October, we celebrate the 30th Sunday in the Ordinary Time of the Year. This week’s Gospel reading continues the episodes of tension and conflict between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. In this episode, a scholar of the law steps forward and attempts to discredit Jesus and his authority to teach. He asks which of the six hundred thirteen commandments of the law is the most important. Jesus offers not one commandment, but two – love God with the entirety of your person, and love your neighbor as yourself. For Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor are intimately connected and embrace all the other commandments. Jesus is faithful to the tradition of the law and thus teaches with authority.
This week we celebrate two major Feast Days that are celebrated back to back, sort of like Act 1 and Act 2 of a two act play. On Wednesday, November 1st, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. It is one of the six Holy Days of Obligation that are observed in our country. We take time to honor and remember all of the holy men and women of every age who have struggled with the same issues that we face in our lives as faithful disciples of the Lord. They have gone before us in faith and now live with God. We look to them for encouragement and trust in the support of their prayers as we continue to live our lives here on earth. Masses will be celebrated beginning with the anticipation Mass on Tuesday evening at 7:00pm. We continue on Wednesday at 6:30am, 8:15am with the Grade School community, 12:05pm and conclude with an evening Mass at 7:00pm. All Masses will be celebrated in the church.
On Thursday, November 2nd, we will celebrate Act 2 with the Feast of All Souls. We remember all of our beloved dead and hold them in prayer. We will especially remember those whose names have been entered in our Parish Book of Remembrance. Masses on All Souls Day are celebrated at 7:00am, 12:05pm and 7:00pm (our annual Parish Memorial Mass). At our evening All Souls Memorial Mass we remember those of our parish community who have died during the previous year. Following the homily, we will pray a Litany of our Beloved Dead and read the names of each parishioner who has died during this past year. All present are welcome to light a memorial candle for their deceased relatives. It is a very powerful and moving celebration. All are welcome to participate in this annual Mass.
Celebrating these feasts at this time of year could not be more appropriate. Gone are the warm summer months and the growing season. 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. Our All Souls Day Masses remind us that we are still connected to our beloved dead through our faith and our community celebration assures us that we do not grieve alone.
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 that both of my parents are gone. 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 up 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, like the holiday season, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other significant dates. At other times an unexpected low comes out of nowhere. There are no schedules for healing. We may experience many slips and spills before our feet are on firm ground again. Often it may be sixteen to eighteen 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 has 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 family home or retirement. Other losses might be in times of transition, like graduation, a transfer or job/career change. Something familiar is no longer available to us. Sometimes our goals and dreams change when we realize that something we 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 invite us to be more aware of our losses than others. As our Liturgical Year comes to a close at the end of November, the Scripture readings remind us about the “end times.” All Saints Day, All Souls Day and Veterans Day on November 11th invite us to remember those in the past. The seasons are changing and nature is preparing for the death of winter. The nights are longer and the days are shorter. As we pull indoors, we are invited to ponder larger matters. If something doesn’t feel just right, look for a loss of one kind or another. Chances are that some are present, and with them, the need to grieve. Our faith offers us some good news here – the same Lord who saw us though the losses we experienced in the past will see us through our present ones.
As we celebrate Halloween on Tuesday and change our clocks next weekend, the beauty of autumn is quickly fading. The earth is preparing for the death of winter. Our Scripture readings will soon turn our focus upon 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