In the Christian tradition the feasts of All Saints and All Souls point to the continuation of life here-after. The resurrection of the body is proclaimed, and life everlasting promised. It is a matter of Faith. Nowadays the spiritual power of this time of year has been diluted by commercialised ghosts and ghouls, skeletons and witches, bats and zombies and various shades of Dracula figures. You could say that Hallow’een, the evening of the Saints has been hollowed out and its meaning scattered. Let the children have fun indeed, with trick or treat, but there is more to the season than carnival.
Reality breaks in when we are faced with sudden and unexpected death. We are pulled up short when a 23 year old neighbour meets his end in a car crash, or a young mother is struck down by a fatal stroke. It’s a shock to the system. Even while most of us will die in our beds, the letting go can be difficult and the transition can be full of anxiety. These feasts offer a consolation, to all of us, whether we consider that we have lived our lives well or not. Ultimately, the judgment of this is God’s business, and our God has a vested interest in forgiveness.
All Saints include our deceased parents and those we have loved most. All Saints include your friends, and your enemies. God’s goodness in the hereafter extends to all. Most people most of the time try to do the best they can with whatever qualities they have. They try to play the best hand which life has dealt them. The saints are ordinary people who allowed themselves be drawn by the light, or in religious terms, who responded with integrity to the call of the Gospel.
All Souls sees the same people from the perspective of human incompleteness or imperfection. The saint and the sinner co-exist. We speak of purgatory, and many of the devotions on November 2nd ask for deliverance from imperfection. In a peculiar way, our imperfections can provide an argument for the afterlife: we experience in this earthly life a hunger for completeness, and we hope whatever is incomplete in us when we die may find fulfilment in the changed, after-death life, by the grace of God.
Believers, and indeed unbelievers, visit the graves, lay wreaths, remember the dead, stand in silence, linger with memories. Flowers will brighten the November cemeteries. It is a moment to accept that essential to being human is letting go in death.