The twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel gives us an image of the final judgment. There, Jesus tells us that we will be separated much like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. Those chosen for the heavenly flock will be the ones who saw Christ in the hungry, poor, naked, sick, or imprisoned souls and responded to their need; the others will be cast aside. As October turns to November each year, the church calls us to reflect upon our earthly end during the three days of unity with, and prayers for, the dead: All Halo’s Eve, All Saints Day, and the Commemoration of All Souls. In these days of darkness, we contemplate death, judgment, purgation, punishment, reward, and legacy.
In the eleventh month, as we witness nature falling and dying around us, we consider the eleventh hour of our own mortality. Now that I am sixty-three and officiate over funerals of peers who die of natural causes, I am more cognizant of my own inevitable demise. Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI, recently invited his followers to write a personal spiritual will or obituary that highlights three areas. The first has to do with spending your earthly years in sync with what God wants for you; this presumes that you talk with the Lord regularly and listen to His will for you. In this, you (I) should want to give your (my) remaining time to more intentionally living that will. The second area has to do with owning your (my) regrets and seeking forgiveness from those you’ve wronged as well as forgiving those who have wronged you along the way. And the third has to do with bequeathing grace or breathing energy into certain individuals placed in your path who you can positively impact. By reading his article, “Writing Your Own Obituary,” you will find a more personal way to greet these days of mystery. As he notes, there are people who, each year at this time, review and update their spiritual eulogy to assess how they are living out the purpose of their creation. It’s a powerful exercise that we each might do well to take up.
Meanwhile, after my appeal last week for food to stock the shelves of Saint Therese Little Flower Parish’s food pantry, I am overwhelmed by your generous response. Carloads of groceries were dropped off at my home. People showed up for Sunday Mass with their arms filled—so much so that we incorporated their gifts into our offertory procession, filling the sanctuary with bags of food. Each subsequent day, others drop off food in my garage and still others take the trip to the inner city to deliver nourishment and see how they might help there. Your nature of feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, and looking out for our brothers and sisters is right in line with God’s mission for you. It reminds us that the final judgment doesn’t occur just at the end of earthly life but every day that we live and with each opportunity we’re given to help someone in need.
While kids dress up in costumes as ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, reminiscent of death’s inevitability, some don costumes of saints and heroes to remind us of the champions of this world and the world beyond. While many people, starting with Latinos, create altars that commemorate Loved Ones, with candles to symbolize the light of Christ and sheer material that flows in the breeze to symbolize the Holy Spirit, they remind us that, though our body returns to dust and ashes, our soul goes to God’s eternal care and our spirit remains—much like the Holy Spirit of God—to help direct others onward and upward from darkness to the eternal light. The altars also contain candy, chocolate, or sugar treats to illustrate the sweet life that awaits those who do the will of God; the costumed children collect treats as an incentive to treat others well and sweeten the world by their goodness. Since it is only through death that we will experience everlasting life, these days can have an enlivening impact upon us, whether we give treats to little ones, treat the least among us with compassion, or spend some reflective time thinking about our own future passage from here to eternity.