Dear friends in Christ,
Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week.
The month of November always tends to evoke memories and reflections within us. One obvious explanation for this is the annual service of Remembrance early in the month, when we remember the dead of the First World War and of subsequent conflicts up to our own time.
The solemn and even plaintive character of the act of Remembrance in London, and repeated at countless other services, seems to coincide with the season of the year. The world of nature appears to be in decline all around us and, as it were, is about to fall into a deep sleep.
The symbol of this decline are the colourful carpets of leaves we have been walking over in recent weeks. It is a time for reflection as the darker evenings gather in, and we have fewer daylight hours.
For us believers, November is also the month of the dead, or the Holy Souls, when we pray for the dead in the firm belief that we can assist by our prayers our deceased brothers and sisters on their way to God, to the joy and peace of heaven.
Throughout the Catholic world on the 2nd November – that is All Souls’ Day people make their way to cemeteries, light candles and lamps by the gravesides of their relatives and friends, both as a sign that they are not forgotten and also as an expression of prayer to God on their behalf. We carry in our memories those who have gone before us, and our dead live on in some way.
The practice of praying for the dead goes back to the earliest days of our faith, even into Old Testament times. There is the well-known example of Judas Maccabeus having sacrifice offered to God for those who had died in battle, in the belief that there will be a resurrection of the dead (2Macc. 12:43-45).
St. Augustine of Hippo describes how ‘the sacrifice of our redemption’ was offered on behalf of his mother Monica who had just died at Ostia, the port of Rome, in 387 AD.
The pious custom of remembering and praying for the dead is indeed an ancient one. Many of our churches today have also ‘November Dead Lists’, when the names of the dead are placed near the altar throughout the month and Masses offered for the repose of their souls. Another prayerful way of remembering.
Central to our Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, a belief which we profess Sunday after Sunday in the Creed. Christ’s triumph over death and the grave is the pledge of our own future resurrection, as the New Testament and particularly the apostle Paul so firmly insist on.
Our symbolic sacramental death in the waters of baptism will ensure that we too will one day share in the glory of the risen Christ. One apt and greatly consoling description of the holy Eucharist, the Lord’s body and blood, which we receive so often in the course of our life, is that it is the food of travellers, to sustain us on the final journey through death and beyond.
These quiet, still moments of remembrance which somehow come unbidden in November, can be occasions for renewing our faith in the God of the living, who is eternal and immortal. As we live through the change of seasons, passing from autumn into winter, and the apparent death of nature, we know that a spring will come and with it a season of new life and rebirth.
As we reflect from the perspective of faith on the world of nature in transition, the divine handiwork might be hinting that there is new life and a rebirth awaiting us who believe in Jesus, crucified and risen.
In the liturgy of All Saints Day we read the wonderful words from John in the Apocalypse: “I saw a huge multitude which no one could number from all tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” (Ap. 7:9). We can have the assurance of faith in this month of November that our dead too form part of that great multitude in the presence of God. And Saint Paul would say to us, “Comfort one another with these words.” (1 Th. 4:18).
May our dead, especially those who have died in conflict, and especially this weekend in acts of terror in Paris, rest in the peace of Christ!
Until next week – let us keep all those who died in Paris in our daily prayers – as well as for those who mourn and for those who injured,
May God bless you all,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster