Victory over despair
Fr Lukasz Jaksik
Some non-initiated spectator could be astonished while visiting a church on 1 November. Instead of the mood of depression he will see gold colours of the liturgical robes, triumphant songs, incense and loud bell ringing. This is exactly one of the paradoxes of Christianity.
The mystery of Easter joy included in the words, ‘O death! Where is your victory?’ sounds extremely powerfully on 1 November when the Church venerates the saints about whom no papers and Vatican bulletins wrote. John Paul II helped us get to know the procedure of canonisation. It became familiar thanks to the reports in the media and even found its way to our consciousness because there have been hundreds of beatified and canonised recently. Therefore, we have heard about complicated causes for canonisations, hearing witnesses, documentation concerning miracles and appropriate decrees many times. On 1 November we venerate the saints that reached the glory of heaven although they were not canonised since they were ordinary people and they realised their sanctity anonymously. How many of our ancestors did they include? How many priests, neighbours or collaborators?
Destined to hope
What do we think about standing at graves on All Souls’ Day? Our reflection takes a slightly different direction when the colours of the liturgy lose something of their festive character. There are prayers for the dead in cemeteries and the faithful focus on passing and sin. Then we focus on our dearest that are still waiting for their final encounter with the Lord because they must repent. Emphasizing only memory would make our faith poorer. Memory successfully characterises these who show impressive humanism but is it enough in case of Christians? The words uttered during the funeral liturgy can be helpful. Then priests read the words of the Eucharistic prayer, ‘Lord God, make the one who through Baptism is made partaker of the death of your Son, may also be partaker of his resurrection.’ Here we can see another joyful message of Easter. It is thanks to the faith in Christ’s resurrection, even more, thanks to Christ’s resurrection, that every Christian can build his hope on the joyful message that none of us is doomed to despair. We can utter these words despite pain, longing and loneliness. We cannot omit the description of Jesus’ tears caused by the death of Lazarus (John 11: 1-44). Here Martha heard the words that are so often uttered during the funeral liturgy, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ Despite tears, which we understand from our human perspective, and which are needed, despair should not characterise Christians. That would mean contradicting one’s faith, that would be inconsistent, some kind of hypocrisy and falsehood.
Free from fear
People’s hearts beat when they hear about death and passing. In some Western societies one can see an alarming tendency to erase death from contemporary dictionaries. Funeral processions more and more avoid going through city centres and cemeteries are not built as earlier – around churches. How should Christians behave then? What attitude are they to show on the November holiday? The higher their heads are raised talking about death the greater testimony they leave for others. You cannot omit the subject of death at the beginning of November although someone’s death happened several years ago; it still deserves to be one of its kind. It is hard to think about the passing away of John Paul II if he was the first pope who was dying in the public lights. His death was of global character. The cameras of the whole world were directed towards the window of the dying Pope. And when the media reports about the presence of medical doctors that would resuscitate, some people had doubts. Resuscitation of a seriously ill and aged person would have been prolonging his agony. Could the Pope have given up his teaching about persistent therapy? Could his collaborators not have understood the papal message? But it turns out that John Paul II was a perfect disciple. ‘Let me go to the Father.’ Those words do not only follow Christ’s relationship with God but also the Pope accepted his destiny, his death and passing away.
What does All Saints’ Day teach us? It is true that the textbooks on anthropology point to a very concrete moment from which the history of mankind began. Since the existence of cemeteries, when people began worshipping the memory of their ancestors we do not deal with man-shaped creatures but with people. Will such memory suffice for Christians? Standing at the graves of your dearest it is worth asking about daily prayer or Mass for their intention. But it is also important to remember the simply folk saying, ‘In a cemetery there are people who were there where we are now and we will be there where they are now.’ The less fear this reflection evokes in us, the smaller despair the death of our dearest causes, the more wisdom we have drawn from the November celebrations.