After watching Game 7 of an exciting 2017 World Series and a few post-game interviews I shut off the TV. It was just after midnight and since November 2 is All Souls Day I decided to pray Matins from the Divine Office. I began:
Open my mouth, Lord, to bless Your holy name; cleanse my heart from all vain, perverse and distracting thoughts; enlighten my understanding, inflame my affections, that I may be able to recite this Office worthily, attentively and devoutly, and may deserve to be heard in the presence of Your divine Majesty. Amen.
For the next 45 minutes I did my best though I’m sure I slurred and nodded off at some point.
I have written on the subject of All Souls Day before, both in 2011 and 2014. When I learned of that this morning I wasn’t sure I felt the need to write about it again. In fact I think both of those entries hold up well. But I read a few things this morning while browsing Twitter over breakfast that I wanted to share on the occasion.
The first is a commentary written by Gretchen Filz called 20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Now before my non-Catholic readers roll their eyes Ms. Filz includes a section called “Church Teaching on Purgatory” at the beginning of her piece. It’s only four short paragraphs long, and includes just one link, but serves as a tidy introduction for those who are open to learning about something before casually dismissing it.
Moving on, she then lists her “20 Ways.” I usually perform number 11, 13, and always 16. I’m going to also do #5, the Holy Souls Rosary, tonight for the first time.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
All Souls Story
Next I read a story written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker back in 2008. It begins:
I was living in England as a young Anglican priest when my younger brother came to live with me. Some weeks after his arrival he learned about the death in a plane crash of a young friend of his we shall call Tom.
Tom was about 5’2″ with a shock of blond hair, a round tanned face with freckles. He was brought up as a Baptist, but had never been baptized and he was in a state of rebellion against the faith when he died unprepared.
My brother Daryl told a priest named Fr. Philip about Tom and the priest said, “We must have a requiem Mass for Tom.” So the two of them got together with another priest named Fr. Roger. Fr Roger agreed to celebrate Mass for Tom’s soul. They decided that it would be best if the Mass were a semi-private celebration, so they went into church and locked the door and proceeded to say Mass for Tom.
Fr. Philip was an extraordinary man with a gift of second sight and the ability to read souls. This spiritual or psychic gift was a benefit to him in an active healing ministry. As the Mass proceeded my brother was overcome with emotion, and at the point of kneeling to receive Holy Communion he felt that Tom was actually there with them and that he was disturbed and confused by what was going on. Daryl (my brother) said that he felt as if Tom was there next to him at communion and he re-assured Tom that everything would be alright and urged him (in his mind) to simply accept the gift he was being given.
After Mass Daryl recounted his feelings to the two priests. “It was like Tom was actually there!”
“Oh he was there.” said Fr. Philip, “I saw him.”
I encourage you to read the rest.
In his homily for All Saint’s Day yesterday at my parish, Fr. Eckrich talked about what Catholics believe regarding those present at each and every Mass on earth and the communion of all saints, not just those formally recognized as those canonized by the Church. I once had it described to me in the following beautiful and simple manner: the Mass is when the Church Militant on earth gets together with the Church Triumphant in Heaven to pray for the Church Penitent in Purgatory (more on that here).
“There it is.”
Some of you are sitting back with arms folded and muttering “Jeff, Jeff…enough with the supernatural hocus-pocus.” Ok, I’ll close with this.
“The lack of transcendence in secularism is its greatest weakness, alongside its carnality and its hubris of man-as-god. It fails to satisfy what’s deepest in us.” – Fr. Arne Panula
I read that quote this morning in an article commemorating Fr. Panula who had died this past July. I’ve had many a conversation with those who are Catholic, Protestant, liberal or conservative about the loss of the sacred and the transcendental in our modern age and the destructiveness it is having on our society. “But Jeff, that was a softball. You quoted a Catholic priest.” Fair point. So I’ll close with these words from Paul Kingsworth, former environmental and conservation activist. I read them on Rod Dreher’s blog this morning via Twitter as well. Kingsworth is not a religious man, but he has a religious sensibility. In his essay “In The Black Chamber” (which I recommend as a good read) he writes:
I wonder if there has been a society in history so uninterested in the sacred as ours; so little concerned with the life of the spirit, so contemptuous of the immeasurable, so dismissive of those who feel that these things are essential to human life. The rationalist vanguard would have us believe that this represents progress: that we are heading for a new Jerusalem, a real one this time, having sloughed off ‘superstition’. I am not so sure. I think we are missing something big. Most cultures in human history have maintained, or tried to maintain, some kind of balance between the material and the immaterial; between the temple and the marketplace. Ours is converting the temples into luxury apartments and worshipping in the marketplace instead. We are allergic to learning from the past, but I think we could learn something here.
The rationalist delusion has a strong grip on our culture, and that grip has been getting stronger during my lifetime. Every year, it seems, the areas of life that remain uncolonised by scientific or economic language or assumptions grow fewer. The success that science has had in explaining what can be explained has apparently convinced many people that it can explain everything, or will one day be able to do so. The success that economics has had in monetising the things which science can explain has convinced many that everything of significance can be monetised.
Environmentalists and conservationists are as vulnerable to these literalist trends as anyone else, and many of them have persuaded themselves that, in order to be taken seriously by those with the power to save or destroy, they must speak this language too. But this has been a Faustian bargain. Argue that a forest should be protected because of its economic value as a ‘carbon sink’, and you have nothing to say when gold or oil of much greater value are discovered beneath it.
Speaking the language of the dominant culture, the culture of human empire which measures everything it sees and demands a return, is not a clever trick but a clever trap. Omit that sense of the sacred in nature – play it down, diminish it, laugh nervously when it is mentioned – and you are lost, and so is the world that moved you to save it for reasons you are never quite able to explain.
I’ll say it plainly, because I’ve worked myself up to it: in ‘nature’ I see something divine, and when I see it, it moves me to humility, not grandiosity, and that is good for me and good for those I come into contact with. I don’t want to be a god, even if I can. I want to be a servant of god, if by god we mean nature, life, the world. I want to be small in the world, belong to it, help it along, protect myself from its storms and try to cause none myself.
I know there are others who feel like this, and I know there are others who don’t. It is not a position to be argued from. I don’t want to try and convince you if you’re not already convinced. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I do, and I can’t argue it away. There it is.
(Feast of All Souls Day, 2017)