Tuesday, November 04, 2008

All Souls

We have a tradition in our community on All Souls Day, (which we are observing today instead of two days ago): we read the names of every sister who has died in community, beginning with our founder Mother Ruth. Next come the names of all our relatives and close friends who have died... for example, my mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, etc... and finally the names of all who have died in the past year for whom we have said or sung requiems. 

It's a long list.

Names that were high points of mourning several months ago suddenly bring tears again, even though they have not been specifically on my mind since we laid them to rest. Why go through all that? Why live in the past that cannot be changed, only remembered with pain or nostalgia?

Two reasons I can think of off the bat: one... these people were important to us. My litany of names may mean nothing to the sister standing next to me, but she holds me in prayer and comfort, just as I hold her when her names are read. It's something tangible we do for each other, we remember together, pay tribute together, pray for their souls together.

The second reason was mentioned in the sermon Saturday (the part I never got to in my post yesterday.) We ask the saints to pray for us, and we, in turn, pray for them. Is this foolishness or the mysterious reality of the timeless nature of creation? I cannot answer that for you, of course. (I can barely answer it for myself.) But I know that these people I have loved live on in me... some in my DNA, some in my memory, some in their teachings that moved me forward on my own path to God.

Remembering the dead is nice, but it is not enough. I thought of my grandmother today, who always worked the polls on election days. Both she and my grandfather were working class Democrats and took great delight in announcing at supper "I voted a straight Democratic ticket." If my aunt and uncle, the Republicans in the family were there, there would be heated discussion about choosing a candidate on his own merits rather than his party. I was a child, and listened to these discussions with little interest, yet they stayed with me... even as I voted today. 

When Kennedy won the presidency my grandparents were dead. They would have had to choose between voting for a Democrat or not voting for a Catholic, and I have no clue which allegiance or prejudice would have won out. Today the issue is partly religious, but much more about race. Those who struggled hard in the 50's and 60's to bring Civil Rights to all of America see this election as a culmination of their efforts. My vote will be one that supports those efforts as well. My dear friend Robert Dubie was a freedom rider in the 60's. His was one of my names read at mass this morning. They live on in us. Of that I have no doubt.

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