Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rest: in Peace

All Souls' Day has always been one of my favorite liturgical events. My parents had quite a devotion to the Holy Souls, and always encouraged me to pray for and to my godfather, a chain smoker who died of lung cancer when I was six months old. (That was long ago enough that the link between cigarettes and lung cancer had not been made--at least not in the consumer's hearing.) When I was moved to a new school where the cliques had already been established and there was no opening for a new girl, Mom told me to "ask Uncle Burke to find you a friend." (Sure enough.) So maybe that was it.

Having a day solemnly set apart to honor and pray for people like Uncle Burke is also a lovely reminder of the vast network of relationships that we are in. When I was going through a particularly difficult spot not all that long ago, I felt real solidarity with the Holy Souls. There was nothing I could do to remedy my situation, but I could contribute to remedying theirs--just as they, powerless (and, the saints would tell us, unwilling) to do anything to change their condition, could intercede for me in mine.

Being in England, where every church has its mossy graveyard, has made the Holy Souls seem so much more cozily near. It is striking to see the schoolchildren playing amid the funeral monuments during recess, or to walk along a sidewalk only to realize that it was fashioned of repurposed headstones. (For quite a while I thought I was walking on graves, but Sr Mary Lou reassured me that at a certain point, the headstones are just recycled this way. Sure enough, on Saturday we passed a small stack of them in the yard alongside St Peter's in St Albans.)

As I wrote about our day in St Albans, it was the churchyard at St Peter's that allowed us to end our day with thoughts and prayers of peace. One inscription, in particular, moved me. It is an intimate picture of the spiritual support with which the heartbroken parents and their pastor accompanied a 14-year-old to the encounter we all have an appointment for, and also illustrates profoundly what the old spiritual writers meant when they referred to "a good death."

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

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