Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 31, 2005
Remember what we have learned from the dead
All Souls Day can be a time of prayerful and joyful thanksgiving
Light One Candle
The history of All Souls Day - Nov. 2 - goes back to early Christianity, when the names of the dead were entered into a book and a day was set aside to remember them.
Through the centuries the remembrance of the dead has been held on various days, but the choice of Nov. 2 is attributed to the Benedictine Abbot of Cluny, France, in the 11th century. He is believed to have set aside the day after All Saints as a special day of prayers for the dead.
A CANDLE IN THE DARK
As a youth, I remember the solemn Requiem Masses on All Souls Day, followed by what to the young and kneeling altar boy seemed like a very long Litany of Saints. It was only many years later that I was able to put what always felt like a dark day into a much broader perspective.
I was on a business trip in Chicago and stopped for an All Souls Day Mass at a parish near my meetings.
After the Gospel, the priest gave a short homily on the meaning of All Souls Day and then said something that burned into my mind: "When we pray for those in our lives who have died, let's not forget to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the time they were with us. Remember that we learn from everyone who is in our lives and so, on All Souls Day, we should be grateful for the lessons we have learned from those who died."
People close to me have died; some of them quite young. These losses hurt and sometimes even stirred anger, but, inevitably, I'll recall what the priest in Chicago said on that memorable All Souls Day.
While there is the sadness of loss, I should also be thankful for the time they were in my life and for what they taught me. It's a hard thing to do but, when I do, it always puts death in a different perspective.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
A good friend lost his wife a few years ago. The night before her funeral, he told me that he really missed her but whenever the sorrow started to get to him he'd say a little prayer of thanksgiving for the 48 years they had together.
"My sorrow doesn't go away," he said, "but I balance it with gratitude for the time we had."
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Julia Quinlan on our Christopher Closeup television show. Julia's daughter, Karen Ann Quinlan, lapsed into an irreversible coma on April 15, 1975, at the age of 21, and existed in a permanent vegetative state for 10 years.
The subsequent events and the perseverance of the Quinlan family became international news. It even led to changes in the care of the dying and expanding of hospice care - not just for the dying, but also for their families.
DEATH AND DYING
I cannot begin to imagine the loss parents feel when their child dies. I know that 30 years later Julia still mourns her daughter's death. She would give anything to have Karen Ann with her today, but I also know from our conversation that Julia feels that her daughter's struggle made the world think about death and dying.
Her death is a loss to those who loved her, but it also taught the larger world a lesson. On All Souls Day, let's pray in gratitude for all of those who have died and for what they taught us - and all they gave us.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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