“Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’” (John 6:39)
November 2, 2014
The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
All Souls Day: it’s a very particular occasion to face squarely what death means to us—and what it has done to us. This day may unleash anxiety about what is to come, may conjure sadness about what once was, may even summon yearning for what will be just the other side of it. Yes, today we stand in wonder before the great mystery.
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Yet even before this day’s arrival with its insistence that we consider our mortality, the starkness of a mid-September news blurb captured me, the report of one man’s very public stance before approaching death. I share with you an excerpt from that story:
“A television news anchorman fighting brain cancer in Illinois told viewers he has only four to six months to live, but he hopes to work as long as he can. During a newscast, Dave Benton told viewers that doctors recently told him that his brain tumor is too large for surgery or radiation. The 51-year-old says he’ll try a new treatment to slow the tumor’s growth, but that his goal is to add ‘a few more days and make them the best they can be.’ He had previously updated his fans of his cancer treatment earlier in the year, but after completing radiation treatment in February, the cancer came back.
“Benton is a born-again Christian and said on-air that he believes he’s in God’s hands and knows that he will take care of the days ahead. He thanked his viewers for their support in the emotional broadcast and says he wants to make the most of his final days.” (Associated Press, September 12, 2014)
On this All Souls Day, we remember those who have attained heaven having passed through the fearsome gate of death. We pray for ourselves that we might have faith and courage like Dave Benton’s, and that we might live each day in the confidence that God wants the best for us, both now and unto eternity. To this, Jesus attests in the gospel passage we hear today as he says, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39)
Indeed, we profess to believe that we will be raised up on the last day. Many of us, though, need raising up today, tomorrow and the days to follow. While faith assures us of resurrection at the last, many of us need resurrection in the immediate! Consider what effect daily reports of troubling and tragic world events have on our spirits. Consider what effect increasing demands of family and finances can impose on us. Consider the increasing challenges of living in ageing bodies. Yes, we need resurrection right now!
Following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed by their countrymen, world relief organizations sought to provide for the material and psychological relief of the survivors of the massacre of approximately 20% of the country’s total population. Among these imported caregivers were western mental health workers who arrived with a particular mindset about the treatment of depression. Offering a commentary on the results of their efforts, a Rwandan spoke with writer Andrew Solomon and said the following:
“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide, and we had to ask some of them to leave. Their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave." (themoth.org/posts/stories/notes-on-an-exorcism)
On this All Souls Day, I expect we could all use some African-style therapy as we face fearsome death so squarely. For many of us, the death of a loved one has been alienating, removing us from what support the community can offer. At such times we may naturally turn inward, grief numbing us to offered expressions of compassion. More so in former days than at present, cultural norms sought to give legitimacy to what death has done to us as the grief-stricken wore black clothing, retired from social obligations, and often lived behind pulled shades at home for considerable lengths of time. Yes, for us westerners, death shut us up, shut us in, and shut us out.
Not so for Africans—at least as reported by the Rwandan mental health worker. What does one need to do for health’s sake in the face of even the most horrific manner of death? One needs to get outside in the sun, engage in music and drumming, and, most importantly, tighten the bonds of companionship with community.
Which is exactly what we do when we gather for worship on All Souls Day! We gather in the presence of God’s own son, Jesus, who said, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39) Bathed in the songs of faith that have long sustained us, we stand together in tight witness to The One who brought us thus far and who will carry us onward.