Now before the liturgical watchdogs attack me for demoting Easter and Lent (especially Lent where Catholics show their mastery in how to suffer), here me out. In November we celebrate two feasts that are at the heart of our everyday faith.
The first is November 1, the Feast of All Saints. In this beautiful celebration we celebrate the big ones and the little ones. We rejoice that there is the great multitude in heaven who worship before the throne that John says in his vision were too numerous to count. (Rev. 7:9) These people are described as those who survived the time of great distress. (Rev. 7: 13) They all made it; the famous and those whose names are known to just a few.
What is the great distress? Well turn to the Gospel of the day (Matthew 5: 1 – 12) and it becomes clear that all of us at certain times face great distress. At times we can be poor in spirit, mourning, meek and humble, victims of injustice hungry for righteousness, called to be merciful when it is difficult, try to remain clean of heart, persecuted and insulted because of our commitment to Jesus. Whether caught up in the cataclysm of world events or the whirlwind in our homes or even within us the call to sainthood is an integral part of our faith life. It is in the response to these struggles (as I said in my last blog) that our closeness to God is revealed.
This common denominator of struggling with our own personal great distress should lead us to support in each other through example and prayer. What a blessed gift we have been given that the love and care for those in our lives, in fact for all who call themselves followers of Jesus, transcends time and space. In the Feast of All Souls (November 2) we remember the loss of those we loved, but are comforted by the notion that “if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” (Romans 6: 5)
One of the greatest acts of charity is to pray for one another. For those, who like us struggled through life, the love and prayers for a life in paradise does not end with death. We pray for the mercy of their souls. We might commemorate their graves with a visit or take out their photographs and place them prominently in our homes. In some churches books are available to write the names of our dead. It is a simple action that powerfully states they are not forgotten but rather their memories are placed in sacred spaces.
With November comes the culmination of our liturgical year, the celebration of Christ the King. A recent feast by liturgical standards, instituted only in 1925, the feast is a call to faith as a response to the fallout and devastation from World War I. It is a call to remind us that our ultimate goal and worship goes not to any earthly power but to be part of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus tells Pilate “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” (John 18:36)
And who are the inhabitants of this Kingdom? Those who have gone through the great distress and have watched their robes clean. Those known and unknown, who mourn and strive for justice and stand up to persecution. Those we loved who died hoping to share in the resurrected life. Those we remember and pray for that they, like us someday, see the face of God.
For Americans, there is the additional bonus of Thanksgiving. It is the feast that best defines the US. One of pious aspirations that gets wrapped up in the crassness of gluttony and consumerism. Yet somehow it works in the great dysfunctional American way. And through it all we remember that there has to be someone to gives to give thanks to. Through all its excesses, God somehow still gets mentioned, even if it is lip service.
The winners of the race, the strivers for salvation, the celebration of a world beyond our daily toils, and a reminder that saying “thanks” still matters. This is November – the most wonderful time of the year.
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