Today is All Souls’ Day, Dia de los muertos, the Christian version of the universal aspiration to preserve the memory of and to give comfort to our beloved departed.
Dia de los Muertos Altar
Sorrow tempered with hope
We mourn our dead. So much life lost that gave us life in the first place. The spaces of who we are have been built by the love we have shared with those who are no longer with us. Mourning and gentle recollection of those who meant so much to us are natural and holy things. For those from a faith tradition believing that God loses no one that God has brought into being, there is the hope of future reunion. The Christian tradition is to believe that God became one us to make it possible for this human flesh to behold the face of God. A pathway to the beatific vision is in the footsteps of Jesus. Pope Francis reminded us of this on All Souls’ Day four years ago: “Jesus was the first to make this journey. We are following the journey that he made. And it was Jesus himself who opened the door” . In art, this belief is celebrated as the harrowing of hell, where Jesus leads the ancestors of old out of the dreary confines of death into the light of heaven. Such a hope is especially comforting in these troubling days when the ordinary course of death has been magnified by the more than 230,000 Americans lost to the pandemic. The heavy toll of death weighs upon us, whether our loved ones have passed from the pandemic or from other causes. We mourn for our own and, in the spirit of the beatitudes, we mourn with others. Pius Parsch captured succinctly the Christian spirit and meaning of our present commemoration today: “True sympathy, genuine sorrow, but restrained by deep Christ-like love” .
Harrowing of Hell, 1129, Frankenhorst, Germany
Recent and long dead
This year’s high mortality becomes a test and a calling forth of faith. In remembrance of a season of war when death hung the air, Pope Francis, at the American Military Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, three years ago, reminded us of hope: “So often hope is born and sets it roots in many human wounds in so much human affliction” . We want to be mindful of the raw grief of these days of COVID-19 and walk gently with our neighbors, in love and support. Today’s memorial reminds us, also, of loved ones of old. Memories of relatives, spouses, children, and friends now gone are never far from us, and when we recollect them, we cannot do so without missing them deeply.
Loved Ones Awaiting Us, sarcophagus, 6th century, Split, National Archaeological Museum
Remembering and living well in their honor
The invitation today and throughout this month to keep them in mind aids the desire not to let our loved ones fall into oblivion. In their honor, we have the ability to live well and uprightly. Christian faith teaches us that our actions on behalf of our beloved deceased – especially prayer, sacraments, and the aid and betterment of those in need – are exactly the things that our loved ones can see so clearly now and desire to be done. Our good works in love and memory have the power to break the barriers between this life and the next. Together, we move towards the beatific vision where, with our loved ones, we have the promise of refreshment, light, and peace. So, today, share a sweet treat and smile with others, hang a photo of your loved ones, and bring comfort and peace to someone in need. Make the Commemoration of All Souls a foretaste of heaven.
 Pope Francis, Homily on November 2, 2016.
 Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, tr. William G. Heidt (Collegeville, MN: 1958), vol. 5, p. 322.
 Pope Francis, Homily on Nov. 2, 2017, at the American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.
Wikimedia Commons and Brother Charles