This is a very poignant time of year as we celebrate the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. The month of November seems to encapsulate the reality of these two celebrations. In the world around us we’re confronted with change as the clocks go back one hour, the darkness of the evenings close in, the trees become stark and bare as their brown and golden leaves fall to the ground.
Everywhere nature seems to be in turmoil as it prepares for the death of winter, the cold crisp mornings remind us of past frosts and snow which brought our roads and our streets to a standstill. Wind and rain will never be far away, even though compared to the extremes of climate and storms which affected North America we remain only relatively untouched or disturbed. Everywhere we look we’re confronted by the changing nature of the world we inhabit, nothings stays the same.
On a regular basis I find myself conducting burial services and rites of committal in our local cemeteries. Whether it be Ardmore, Ballyoan or the City Cemetery it’s a sobering and humbling experience to walk past the rows of head stones.
Each is usually headed by a surname, a short inscription detailing date of birth, date of death and often who they are mourned by - spouses, children, grandchildren, other relatives and friends. In a few lines, our lives are summed up as parents, grandparents, spouse or partner, friend and colleague.
When all is said and done what in this world lasts? At the time of death, either in the hospital or a wake house as the family gathers, many a story is told and recounted about the life and times of the deceased. It’s a time for laughs and tears in equal measure as we try to make sense of the life of a loved one, so we can better understand why we gather to mourn and grieve. We try to appreciate better the person who has died and what has been lost and the effect it will have on our lives.
Often a family member will tell you how the deceased was a good man or woman; they never did anyone any harm, they lived a good life. In some respects we try to explain how our loves one never caused God or any other person any injury or offence. We look for reasons to hope as our minds begin to reflect on what life after death might entail and ultimately we start to think on the type of God who awaits all of us when we die.
Ultimately the God who awaits all men and women when we die is the same God we acknowledge through our daily lives, the God we recognise in the daily struggles and celebrations which form the heart of who we are. Somewhere in our minds and psyches we believe we have to earn
God’s love, we have to be good or we will be punished. Like children we condition ourselves into thinking God is the great guardian and moral enforcer who is waiting to judge all men and women according to their actions.
Reflecting on the reality of people’s perceptions of God, Ron Rolhesier explains ‘Trying to be good should still not be an attempt to somehow earn love or heaven, but rather an acknowledgement, a humble one, that one still needs a lot of help in knowing how to live in the face of love.
Why be good if God loves us anyway? For the same reason that an artist doesn’t deface a masterpiece and a lover doesn’t violate his or her beloved. Ethics follow naturally when truth, beauty, and love are properly appropriated.’
According to Rolhesier, it is in the nature of love to love back in return. God loves us regardless of what we have done, despite our achievements or failures but if we truly are to be his children and acknowledge God as our Father then out lives have to be shaped according to the nature of his love.
To be recognised at the end of our lives as members of God’s family involves walking the path of discipleship and allowing ourselves to be shaped by the great commandment of Jesus, loving God and our neighbour.