All Souls’ Day
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.
A few days ago I found myself in a Catholic cemetery. Somehow the reality of life, family, dreams, sadness, and eternity are never so palpable as among gravestones with dates and labels of family and friendship, while a statue of Christ watches over. For the occasional common headstones, some dates were closed while others still open, a wife outliving her husband a decade or more. And then there was the monsignor I’m sure I met years ago, now resting peacefully, right next to the future place of his friend, another monsignor, who today turns ninety-four.
Yesterday St. Bernard told us in the office of readings that the feast of All Saints does nothing for them, but it should spur us on in our struggle. The thought of the saints should rebuke our laziness, encourage our pluck, and see us start again. By divine providence, while on retreat I was also reading a biography of St. Bernard; his asceticism, mortifications, prayer, but most noticeably his all-embracing charity help to refocus our spiritual sights on the one thing necessary. The path to Christ is well lit; we start again with determination.
“But our dispositions change.” Dante had written over the gates of the Inferno, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!” The laconic charge leveled by St. Bernard should stand over Purgatory: “But our dispositions change…” We had a high ideal, one to strive for, but through weariness or distraction or self-indulgence we cut corners. Give us long enough, we can rationalize and tell ourselves this is how our heart was supposed to look all along; it’s better, not just smaller.
And then we visit a cemetery. That each person there has stood before Christ to render the account is chiseled in the headstone date, and we have to ask ourselves just how attached we are to our comforts, to those corners we cut off.
I may not resemble the saintly abbot and doctor of the Church, crusade preacher and friend of St. Norbert, but I don’t have to. Fasting to the ruining of health and overexposure to the elements are not necessary for holiness. But I have to be inspired by his integrity to put those corners back on, to open my whole life without exception to the action of Christ; I have to be a good son of St. Norbert.
And that means praying for the dead. Our Order was always known for this. Prudence advises it. Charity demands it. One day it will be me in that cemetery, reminding the passer-by of what is truly certain, and quietly begging him the alms of his good prayers.
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’”
It can be an uncomfortable experience when we’ve “put in our place,” reminded of our lower status, that we are not always in charge. This is what appears to be happening in the daunting scenario Jesus proposes to His apostles today.
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