The month of November is upon us and that means many things ~ the start of the holiday season and all that entails, cooler weather, shorter days and all kinds of signs that winter is about to begin. For Catholics the month also begins with All Saints Day, followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd. What these two days in the church calendar signify is remembering ~ taking time to pause and think about, reflect on and give thanks for those who have died or as the saying goes “gone before us” (which I always find a rather odd phrase, yet one that definitely reminds us that we all going to “go,” ugh, I mean die).
Growing up I never gave the month of November much thought, especially not its significance in the church calendar. I did know that Halloween derived its name from All Hallows Eve, which was the night before All Saints Day, which typically meant I had to go to church but that obligation was offset by the fact that we always had November 1 off school and I had a pillowcase full of candy to keep me happy.
Yet as I became an adult, I started noticing that my parish set up an Altar of Remembrance during the month of November and invited parishioners to bring photos of loved ones to be displayed. This is such a meaningful community gesture, by providing a sacred space where the whole parish family can gaze lovingly on all those who have died and hold deep, abiding and holy spots in the hearts of those who took the time to contribute those photos.
You’ve heard me write in prior blogs about the deaths of those close to me. In an odd way, I look forward to the ritual of taking the pictures of my mom, dad and son off of their revered places in our home, ensuring my name and phone number are clearly labeled on the back of the frame, and taking them to the parish office to be arranged by the parish staff just so, making sure each photo is lovingly and tenderly featured.
This time also provides another opportunity for me to talk with my daughter about her grandmother, grandfather, and older brother who she never knew. Of course, I try to do this all throughout the year, but somehow having her participate in taking our family pictures to the Altar of Remembrance and spending time at the altar after mass feels more impactful than just a passing conversation about them in the course of our everyday lives.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of remember is “to bring to mind or think of again.” How beautifully and profoundly simple that is ~ and how holy that we as a church set aside a whole month to do just that. Bringing to mind and thinking of again all those wonderful souls who loved us, impacted our lives, taught us the big (and little) lessons of life, laughed and prayed with us, cried with us, and held us close when we needed it most. It is for them that we pause and remember, and give thanks for their lives, however brief or long. May they always Rest In Peace. Amen.
Ellen Kelly is a spiritual director. She earned a MTS from The Jesuit School of Theology