The days following Halloween bring a frequent complaint. Almost overnight, we begin to hear Christmas music and see Christmas-themed displays appearing in stores. Some call this ‘Christmas creep’ and it reaches further and further into autumn each year. It even overshadows the season of Advent, a time of joyful anticipation and preparation for Christmas. What also gets lost is the Church’s tradition of honoring the dead during the month of November, beginning with the Commemoration of All Soul’s on November 2nd.
This tradition of honoring the dead might seem alien in an increasingly secular culture. In America one could argue that there is a great denial of death. It is not a topic that people are comfortable discussing at cocktail parties or anywhere else. The whole goal in life is to cheat aging and death, though we know that this is impossible.
If we are honest, we are all afraid of death. As Woody Allen once put it, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!” One spiritual writer stated that to the extent you fear death, you fear to live. We should imitate St. Francis of Assisi, who knew that the journey to forever could only be made with Sister Death as a companion. After all, the most important day of our life isn’t the day we are born. It is the day we die. Death is the doorway that brings us face-to-face with Christ, our heart’s desire.
Many of us also carry the pain of grief, loss, and separation. We lose loved ones unexpectedly and sometimes in tragic ways. Grief has no timetable and it is so important to grieve well. We need the support of prayer, spiritual reading, and a loved one or friend to talk to about it.
As Clare Coffey wrote in a piece for NCR a few years back, “We will be reunited in the world to come, but until then, it is good to grieve for the separation. It is good to hold those who have gone before us both as objects of mercy and of reverence. To mourn as a Christian is to hold both the fullness of loss and the promise of restoration at once. And the promise will be fulfilled, ‘Blessed are those who mourn,’ says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘for they shall be comforted.’”
She suggests that we not yield prematurely to the flashier and cozier charms of Christmas advertising, “But let the dead have November. Let them have this somber, chilly month, with its purple-gray skies and bare, windy trees.”
This is the month to say a prayer for all our beloved departed, and if you can, try and visit the resting places of your beloved dead. May they rest in peace.