A Feast for All Souls

Editor's NoteRecently on the Feast of All Souls Fr Emilio Travieso, SJ delivered the following homily to the Campion Hall community. He reminds us in this homily of the role we play in the lives of the dead (and why that's not an oxymoronic phrase in itself) and, mysteriously, the role the dead play in our lives. Read the homily in full below: 

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Today’s feast of All Souls speaks to us about who we are as humans.  

Not just because it reminds us that we’re “being-towards-death,” but mainly, I think, because this celebration is about us being together with those who’ve died.

Of course, speaking of the dead as still among us says something about our life not fitting within the bounds of death, but I think that even more than Resurrection, what today’s feast emphasizes has to do with the relationship we have with the dead.

After all, if anything transcends death, it’s love, and so our human condition finds its best expression in terms of human community.

And what’s beautiful about the liturgy is that we find ourselves in this community that spans time and space, but in a way that’s not just about memory: on November 1st, we ask the ones who are able to pray for us, and on November 2nd, we offer our prayers for the ones who might need them. 

So there’s a nice mutuality going on between us and the dead in these back-to-back feasts, which tells me that ultimately it’s about remaining in that two-way love which gives us life beyond any constraints, and brings us into communion with each other.

If we look to popular mysticism, we find very real expressions of this.  On this day last year, I was in southern Mexico, and the custom there is for everybody to go to the cemetery, and literally share a festive meal together with their loved ones who have died.

Indeed, what we do every time we celebrate the Eucharist, with Jesus and the community of saints, isn’t all that different from that.

What, then, makes this night different from all the other nights?  What is special about today’s feast of All Souls, as distinct from any Eucharist?

Maybe it’s that today, we remember not only our own, but all the dead, including those who have nobody to visit their graves.

Today is when we’re in communion with the people who ended up as unclaimed bodies at the morgue.

Today is when we visit with the elderly who have died alone and forgotten in their apartments, to be noticed only when the neighbors complained about the smell.

Today is when the homeless who have literally frozen to death in the public square, for once have a special place at our highest table.

Today we express our love to the villages and ethnic groups that have been eliminated by militaries and development projects.

Today, we break bread with the migrants and refugees who have drowned at sea, or died of thirst in the desert.

Today, we acknowledge those who have died before being named, and we embrace those who have died in shame, shunned by the people they loved.

Today, when we remember all the dead in our prayers, without distinguishing names or anniversaries, we are of course sharing this meal with our own loved ones who’ve gone ahead of us, but especially with our sisters and brothers who we may have known, but never loved, the ones we’ve ignored or rejected.

Partly, we are grieving the violence that kills so many before their time, especially on the peripheries of history.  But again, this is about something more than just memory.

And again, it’s also about more than hope in what comes after this life, for us and for the victims of our time.

This sacrament, on this night especially, is about all of that, and all of them, but especially insofar as we are really present to each other here and now, thanks to the gift that brings us together.

This is Good News.  Thanks to that love that turns death into nothing more than a doorway, we still have the opportunity to recover our relationship with those who have died without us having loved them.

Insofar as many have died the way they died because we, as a society, live the way we live, we can ask forgiveness, not just from God but from the unrecognized victims themselves.

Insofar as their struggle hasn’t ended, it’s also an opportunity to encourage them, not least with our prayers.

And if we do those things – seek reconciliation and join in solidarity with those who struggle – then we will be well dressed for that banquet where all are welcome.

In the meantime, as we recognize the presence of those who’ve gone before us, let’s also ask them to help us see those around us who are invisible, and to remember those who we might be forgetting, even today.

Let’s ask them to bring us outside ourselves, and into communion.

Because that is what makes us human, and that is what will save us.


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(Photo by Lindsey Turner via Creative Commons)