There was a couple that had been married for more than 50 years when one day, unexpectedly, the husband passed away. A few days after the funeral, their pastor visited the widow and found that even though she was grieving, she was filled with peace and joy. “Mrs. Winslow, I’m glad to see you’re holding up so well. But even so, I’m sure you must miss your husband terribly.” The widow responded: “Oh, yes, I miss him more than ever. But I think of it this way. For years, I would wait all day for him to come home from his job. I’d keep busy here with work around the house and look forward to the time he’d walk through our front door. I’d always have dinner ready and, each evening, we would enjoy our time together. All these years, I was the one waiting for him to come home. But now, he’s waiting for me.” (adapted from Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book, p. 102)
In each of our lives, there is one certainty: we will all experience death. Perhaps it will be the death of our parents, after which we will feel as though we are orphans. Perhaps it will be the death of our spouse, after which we will feel abandoned and alone. Perhaps it will be the death of our friends, after which we will feel the need to reflect and ask: “Am I next?” Or, worst of all, perhaps it will be the death of a child. For those of us who have experienced this tragedy, myself included, we know how we have cried out to the Lord: “Lord, why my child? Why couldn’t it have been me?”
It is at our baptism when we begin our Christian journey. If we think about it, it is though the words spoken by the priest or deacon set our lives in motion. At the anointing after baptism, we hear: “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” During the clothing with the white garment, we hear: “May we see in this white garment the outward sign of our Christian dignity. With our families and friends to help us by word and example, may we bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” And during the lighting of the Paschal candle, we hear: “May we always walk as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts so that when the Lord comes, we may go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
And so, on this celebration of All Souls, we need to remind ourselves of where we are headed—and of what God has promised us. We are headed for glory in the kingdom! We are headed for everlasting life! We are headed for reunion with those we love and continue to love us, who are now in union with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom!
The Holy Scriptures remind us of this reality: That the souls of the just are in the hand of God. (Wisdom 3:1-9); That the Lord is our Shepherd. (Psalm 23); That our hope rests in Christ Jesus, who does not disappoint. (Romans 5:5-11); and that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life and shall be raised on the last day. (John 6:37-40)
In the year 125 A.D., a pagan author named Publius Aristides attempted to explain why Christianity had been spreading: “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.” (Zuck, p. 106)
Our Christian understanding of death is this: First, that we are journeying from one place to another. And second, that our movements are from a temporary dwelling to an eternal home. In considering death, most of us feel frightened, especially of the unknown. As such, we must always keep our ultimate goal in mind.
Late one evening, as evening drew on, a little girl entered a cemetery which she frequently used as a shortcut after school. An old man walking near the cemetery gate stopped and asked her, “Aren’t you afraid to go through the cemetery in the dark?” To which she replied, “Oh, no. For my home is just on the other side.” (Zuck, p. 110)
On All Souls, may we pray for those who have died and for those who are dying. And to borrow words from Blessed Solanus Casey, may all of our prayers “thank God ahead of time.” After all, our true home—with Him— is just on the other side.