Light for November: a time to remember loved ones

Light for November: a time to remember loved ones
The Sunday Gospel
Fr Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.

Many of us will be familiar with the opening lines of Thomas Hood’s delightful poem…

“I remember, I remember the house where I was born,

The little window where the sun peeped in at morn.”

Less familiar and less cheerful are his lines about November…

“No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds – November.”

November in the northern hemisphere is the sombre month when nature enters its winter sleep and summer’s vigorous sap returns to the roots in the earth.

In the old Celtic calendar there were two gates of the year. The first day of May was called Bealtaine, a festival of fire, frolics and fun to celebrate entering into the bright half of the year. Six months later, the first day of November, Samhain, opened the gate into the dark and cold side of life. It was thought that the dividing threshold between our physical world and the invisible world of the spirits was suspended on that night called Oiche Samhna, the night of darkness. It was a night when pranks were done to frighten people, suggesting that unseen, malevolent spirits were at work. It was a scary night.

Christian light

This dark November, greatly restricted as we are under the regulations of level five, we need a ray of good news. The Good News came to Ireland in the Christian message which brought a more cheerful message of love and hope to replace the terrors of the dark unknown. I feel disappointed at the way the commercialisation of the yearly feasts has brought back the scary witches and broomsticks. Hallowe’en has lost its meaning as the Eve of All Saints.

Our Celtic ancestors, by and large, were immediately attracted to the beautiful story of the incarnation, culminating in Christ’s resurrection opening up the gate of heaven. The terror of Samhain was replaced by the hope of heaven. On the Feast of All Saints I hope you can listen to a streamed Mass and take to heart these words of St John: “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children, and that is what we are. We are already the children of God but what we are in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”

Theologians call this the beatific vision. So, on the first day of November we celebrate All Saints, those people canonised or uncanonised, who have been taken to the loving arms of God. Life is changed, not ended. The saints are signs of hope for us and the good example of their lives can inspire us to a better life.

Stained-glass windows

I like to think of the saints as stained-glass windows. An ordinary window lets in the sunlight but the stained-glass window gives colour, shape and story to the light.

The saints in their various ways show us how to live the Christian life. Pope St John Paul II took great delight in declaring new saints and blessed because, at a time when scandals are rampant, the saints manifest the holiness of the Church. He often spoke of the lived theology of the saints. They gave human shape, story and colour to the light of God.

The words of the poet Longfellow can be applied to the saints.

“Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us,

Footprints on the sands of time.”

They inspire us by their holy lives, instruct us by their teaching and give us their protection in answer to our prayers. St Thérèse of Lisieux promised: “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth.”

This November let us forget the scary witches and recall the light of our beautiful Christian faith. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered our imagination all that God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor. 2:9).

Prayer of the Alexian Brothers

In the comfort of your love, I pour out to you, my Saviour, the memories that haunt me, the anxieties that perplex me, the fears that stifle me, the sickness that prevails upon me, and the frustration of all the pain that weaves about within me.

Lord, help me to see your peace in my turmoil. Your compassion in my sorrow, your forgiveness in my weakness, and your love in my need. Touch me, O Lord, with your healing power and strength. Amen

(Written by Dr Jerry Loch for the Alexian Brothers, a Congregation founded in the 12th Century to minister to people during a plague).

Silvester O’Flynn has recently published a book Gospel Reflections and Prayers (Columba Books).