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The Feast of All Souls

by the Rev. Charles Allen, S.J.

The best friend of my childhood was my paternal grandfather. He had retired from working in the train yards outside of Boston just about the time that I was born and with my grandmother he lived in a small house only two houses away from my own.

During those warm leisurely summer days when a five year old doesn't have a care in the world my grandfather would take me on long walks. Normally, there would be a purpose in the walk; to visit a local doctor, do some shopping for my grandmother, or visit the hardware store. On other occasions we would walk just for the sheer joy of the walk itself. My grandfather used to love to talk about his own childhood on a farm in Vermont and, with the eagerness of youth, I was delighted to listen.

As I grew into my teenage years I saw less and less of my grandfather. He was moving into his eighties and was becoming much slower mentally and physically. I was making a host of new and far more exciting friends and I was quick to forget the happy times that we had once had together.

During my second year of college I received a call from my father telling me that his father, my grandfather, had died. Because of the cost and time of travel, I was unable to attend his funeral. Ever since receiving that telephone call, somewhere, in the far recesses of my heart, there has been a touch of sadness at losing a close friend which the presence of a thousand other friends cannot erase.

On November 2, All Souls' Day, the Church encourages us to once again be close to those whom we loved in the past but who no longer grace us with their physical presence. Some Catholics heed this call in a far more direct way than do we Americans. For example, in the Philippines Catholic families spend the night before All Souls' Day at the graveside of their relatives.

I am not about to try to convince American Catholics to "camp out" at a favorite graveside, but we should certainly try to spend part of All Souls' Day once again talking to those who were close to us and are now separated from us by death. There are so many reasons for doing this. First, it gives us the opportunity to enjoy again the enriching company of dear friends. My grandfather taught me so much when I was a child. Should his death mark the end of his presence as a teacher in my life or should he continue in our conversations together to be my instructor?

Second, it gives us a sense of time. Americans love to live in the present. When we talk "computereze" we love to refer to things that happen in "real time," that is: here and now. But our lives are far richer than just the here and now. We are people with a past and insofar as we can connect ourselves with the people of our past we are the wealthier for it.

Finally, and most important of all, we, as Catholics, believe in the Communion of Saints. We believe that those who have gone before us have not died in vain and that the tomb is not their final resting place. We believe that those whom we loved are still very much a part of our lives and insofar as the goodness of their lives has brought them to the throne of God, they now stand there pleading for us.

We are often advised that we should look to the future and forget the past. Hard as we might try, however, the past is always a part of us and we ignore it only at our own peril. On November 2, let us heed the encouragement of the Church, and once again unite ourselves in prayer with those who were dear to us in times past and who are close to us in God's love in the present.

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