TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: The month of the Holy Souls

The following TUESDAYS WITH TERESA article is from the week of 5 November. Please disregard the date listed.

The month of the Holy Souls has begun, a month in our liturgical year when we remember those who have gone before us.

I was wondering through the week what will happen in the future, when some of our customs and practices are no longer passed on to enough people for them to be part of who we are as Catholics.

The month of the Holy Souls may well pass into obscurity.

I imagine this is how it might be for the indigenous peoples of our world who practised and passed on many stories and traditions only to have them diluted by the emerging dominant society that removed them from their lands and sacred sites while enforcing upon them a new language. I am sure part of their ongoing struggle is the disconnection between the elders of these communities and their young people and the loss of story.

This appears to be a future Christianity may face and maybe the timely place of a Plenary Council here in Australia. I know that there is a great sense of lament for those with whom I have gathered to assist in animating the Listening and Dialogue process for the Plenary Council and yet there is trust and hope in sharing the stories.

And so this past weekend I was strengthened again by our reading which recalled the Jewish Shema Prayer which is prayed by observant Jews at the beginning and end of each day. I begin with Sunday’s Gospel:

Mark 12:28b-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"
Jesus replied, "The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these."
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbour as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

I am sure that each year I write something of the Shema prayer as part of one of my messages because of its power and link to our own beliefs. So today I wish to share with you the whole Shema prayer which is a compilation of three parts of scripture.

The first paragraph is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and is the most fundamental expression of Jewish belief. The second paragraph from Deuteronomy 11:13-21, adds the promises of rewards and punishments for not honouring this prayer, and the third paragraph, Numbers 15:37 – 41, repeats the prayer and the traditions.

The Jewish people cover their eyes with their right hand while reciting:

Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One.

(Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.)

You shall love the L-rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L-rd your G‑d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L-rd's wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L-rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates - so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

The L-rd spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to attach a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner. They shall be to you as tzizit, and you shall look upon them and remember all the commandments of the L-rd and fulfil them, and you will not follow after your heart and after your eyes by which you go astray - so that you may remember and fulfil all My commandments and be holy to your G‑d. I am the L-rd your G‑d who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G‑d; I, the L-rd, am your G‑d. True.

On Sunday I once again had the privilege of joining the people of the Upper Hunter in the Plenary Council process. Here I was in the presence of people of great faith and their real wish to pass on this faith to their children, and their children’s children and to those in the wider community. And the words of the Plenary Council song struck a chord in our hearts – Listen to what the Spirit is saying. I am sure that as we departed, all we could hold dear was our need for prayer and for listening.

As this is how the Shema prayer begins -

Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

It reminds us to hear, or to listen.

And so I finish my message this week with one of the prayers we prayed at our staff prayer on All Souls Day:

We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you
Whether in brush arbours or cathedrals,
Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses
Where your name was lifted and adored. 

We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil,
Strong hands and those gnarled with age
Holy hands
Used as wave offerings across the land. 

We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted,
Head ragged or aproned,
Blue-collared or three-piece-suited

They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.

Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints, God.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.

We ask this together through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Prayer by Safiyah Fosua. n.d. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-prayer-meditation-for-all-saints-day.
© Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Used with permission.

So during the week we remember to love God, love ourselves and our neighbour and to remember those who have gone before us.



Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.