I set out to write this column regarding the month of November and the days of All Saints and All Souls and what they teach us about life and eternal life. However, things have changed somewhat and now the reflections on the Eternal Life to which we are called, which we received in our baptism, has now become very personal as I sit by my father’s beside at hospice in Saint John’s Hospital in Springfield , Ill., praying with him into eternal life. I am writing this, as I have occasionally done before, on my iPhone.
For these days and this month, I found these words from All Souls Day yesterday in a parish bulletin from a church where I celebrated Mass: “We do everything possible to eliminate the thought. Yet for the Christian, death is not a moment separate from the rest of life. The deepest hope nourished by the faith is the final encounter with Christ. But that final encounter with him requires we face on a daily basis many options during our lives before that final meeting. The love and the fullness of joy at this final birth are built a day at a time by the efforts that we knowingly exerted because we opened ourselves to the Holy Spirit.”
All Saints Day and All Souls Day have their roots in sacred Scripture, which contemplates the mystery of life and death and our eternal life in the resurrection of Christ. The history and prayers for these days, which go back to the 10th century, were nuanced and clarified and celebrated in various cultural contexts. I have had the blessing to experience these days both in Italy and Mexico. These days remind us that although we are individuals, these passages from death to life are rooted and secured as a response of faith in community. We are not solo and not our own masters.
As I sit here with my father waiting for his passage into eternal life, I remember that we are not far from what was once called the hospital’s “expectant fathers’ waiting room” where he waited for me to be born in the early hours of May 10, 1951. I specially thank the staff of hospice at Saint John’s Hospital. Through their ministry and professional and loving palliative care (like that of the St. Joseph Health system in Orange County) they have ensured that he is not in pain and does not suffer. Their work in palliative and hospice care assures that while the patients here await the Lord’s call, they do not suffer and are not alone. Their presence here is a reflection of the Paschal Mystery of Christ and Saint Paul’s words, “O Death, where is your victory, O Death where is your sting?”