Whenever I turn the page on my calendar indicating the arrival of November, I am reminded of a poem by Thomas Merton entitled “St. Malachy,” which speaks of the days of November, when the air smells cold as earth, as a time to remember the dead. On the alternating days of sunshine and cold, when all around us there is evidence that winter is fast approaching, the Church and society also offer us some variety in what we celebrate and remember.
We begin the month with the celebration of the Feast of All Saints on Nov. 1. Surely the Communion of Saints is one of the most consoling doctrines of the Church. We remember all of those who have gone before us who have fought the good fight and now enjoy the rewards promised to those who have loved God and served Him here on earth. Although the Church has recognized hundreds of people through the centuries as canonized saints, we know there are millions more who also enjoy the blessedness of heaven. We celebrate them on this day and we pray that God will invite us to join them when our earthly life is over. Likewise, we take comfort in the belief that family members and friends who have been an inspiration to us in life are now giving God praise in the joy of all eternity.
The following day we commemorate All Souls. On this day, we turn our liturgical attention from those who already enjoy the presence of God toward those deceased Christians who are completing their preparation for the citizenship of heaven. The Church’s doctrine of Purgatory should be a consoling truth for all of us. At the time of our death, most of us will be in need of continued prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that all who die in God’s grace and friendship are assured of eternal salvation; but after our death most of us will need to undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (cf. CCC 1030).
The practice of prayer for the dead is mentioned in Sacred Scripture. From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that they may attain the presence of God. It is for that reason that we have Mass offered for our deceased loved ones. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead. (cf. CCC 1032). It is through our prayerful participation in the Eucharistic memorial of our Lord’s dying and rising that we are most able to direct our loving help to those who have left this life. In years gone by there was often a quote on memorial cards from St. Ambrose: “We have loved them during life, let us not abandon them until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of the Lord.” This is a fitting sentiment for all of us to keep in mind as we remember deceased parents, spouses, relatives and friends who have gone before us into eternal life.
Our civil society also encourages us to remembrance on Nov. 11, Veterans’ Day. Veterans’ Day was originally established after World War I as Armistice Day commemorating the end of the Great War marked by the signing of the treaty of Versailles at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. Following World War II, in order to commemorate all veterans, the name was changed to Veterans’ Day. In this celebration, we remember not only those who lost their lives so that we might be free, but also all who have served their country in all wars and in peacetime. As we remember our veterans, I hope you will also remember those currently protecting our country. Past and present members of our armed forces deserve our prayers and our gratitude.
November days invite us not only to remember but also to be thankful. We are grateful for the example of the saints who made real for us, in a variety of ways, the great commandment of love; the souls in purgatory, beacons of hope for we who are still on our earthly pilgrimage and veterans whose sacrifices enable us to enjoy our freedom. As we remember, let us also be grateful!
If you wish me to remember a special intention in prayer or a person in the Armed Forces, please send your request to me at P.O. Box 511, Syracuse, N.Y. 13201.