Such is the nature of living in time, the future is always uncertain, not entirely predictable, however much we think we know what to expect. Anno Domini 2020 has made that abundantly clear.
According to some old wisdom, however, two things in life are certain, death and taxes. We may not even be so sure about one of those anymore, but still you are in November, the month of the Christian year when death, or rather the dead, are more in our minds than at other times. The Feast of All Saints begins the month, closely followed by the commemoration of All Souls. We turn our minds to those whose lives in this world have ended, both those who now live in God beyond need of our prayers and those who, at death, were in need of God’s grace and mercy, whom we believe we can help by our prayers.
Knowing how imperfect most of us are in life, we presume that the latter group form the vast majority of our dead, so in our parishes our Masses throughout November are offered for the “Holy Souls” collectively, individual parishioners associating themselves with that corporate prayer by requesting “November Masses” as, at other times, they might request Mass for a particular deceased person. For many, this is an act of charity, a conscious prayer for the forgotten dead who may have no one else to pray for them. I mention these things thus briefly for those who might read these lines who have never really understood what Catholics are on about in November.
I don’t want to suggest that we know all about death or what happens to us when we die. St John’s First Letter rightly observes that “we are already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. All we know is that we shall be like him, for we shall see God as he really is”. The Council of Trent likewise ordered that preaching on heaven, hell, purgatory and so on, should not be too florid and descriptive, as it often had been, or encourage speculations about the afterlife that go beyond what little we actually know. Rather, here we are in the realms of faith, hope and love. Faith that leads us, like Christ, to face death saying “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit”. Hope that, like Christ, we shall be raised to life. Love that, like Christ’s, moves us to want to be with the Father and to want all others to come to that fullness of life as well.
So, Dear People of the Future, you who know whether Trump won or not, you who cannot tell me in my present what to expect when I get to the first Tuesday in November, we live in time and we are locked into it. When I get to November, I shall know what you now know. So, it is with all those who have gone before me in life. And when I get to November, I will, with all the Church, remember them, remember that perhaps they need my prayers, remember that their present, the eternal present, is my future. I hesitate to use an expression so bandied about at the moment, but in this whole life-and-death thing, “we’re all in this together”. People of the past, present and future, living and dead, we’re all caught up in the journey to life. “I believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”