3 Nov 2018

November 4th 2018 - Death, Dying and Grief - November the month to remember our dead and reflect on our deaths

On this weeks programme, we reflect on death, grief and the reality of the final journey that awaits us all. We have our regular reflection on this weeks Sunday gospel as well as the saints of the weeks and other odds and ends. 

You can listen to the podcast of the programme HERE.

Death, Dying and Grief - Remembering our dead and reflecting on our deaths

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape….
Blessed are those that she finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
 - St. Francis of Assisi,
“Canticle of the Sun”

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem.  Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.  

May angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.  May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, the poor man, may you have eternal rest.

In the Roman Catholic tradition November is the month of the Holy Soul's where we pray for those who have left this mortal world but may not enjoy full the vision of God. November can be a hard month for many people as we recall the memory of our beloved dead - for the dead can drive you hard. But with the darkening of days and the drawing in of nights it seems to be an appropriate time to reflect and pray for our dead as the year and seasons move towards the death of winter. It is the time of year when we can reflect on our encounters with Sister Death and ultimately an encounter which we will all have.

Sister Death is the shadow at our elbow, the constant friend at our door, our faithful companion throughout the journey of life who may at any time say come, your time is complete. Irish folklore has many comments and reminders about it with sayings like "there are no pockets in a shroud" to "there is no trailer after a hearse", or "it doesn't matter how much land you have, you will still end up in a plot 6 X 3".

St Francis of Assisi reminds us that “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that have received--only what you have given.

But coping with death and grief is difficult and the gift of rememberance can ease the pain although for some it can also renew that pain like reopening an old wound.  It is fair to say that grief never leaves us - we only get better at carrying it with us, for the dead remain dead. When you have lost someone, when it feels like a person has been ripped away from you, when you very heart bleeds at the loss, no matter how long has passed the heart can still pain - a smell, a noise, a memory, a favourite song or something of theirs which you happen across can be the trigger to that moment of renewed  pain. Especially for families where this November will be their first with that missing person we need to be gentle with them and with ourselves and remind ourselves that there was a logic to the Victorian tradition of observing a period of mourning; to allow people to become accustomed to carrying that pain in their lives.

But death is not the end, for "death where is thy victory! where is thy sting!" We celebrate and remember because as Christians we say life has changed not ended, in Christ's victory we have our hope! 

As we pray this November, let the words of In paradisum be our heart prayer for our dead, balm to the soul for those who have gone before us .
May angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.  May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, the poor man, may you have eternal rest.
Over at iBenedictines, Digitalnun wrote a wonderful reflection for All Souls in 2012:
Catholicism can be an uncomfortable religion to live by, but it is a wonderful religion in which to die. As death draws closer we are surrounded by prayer, our bodies are anointed and we receive the Viaticum to help us on our way. At the moment of death a singularly beautiful prayer is prayed, and after death our bodies are accorded the simple rituals I described in an earlier post. But that is not the end of of the matter. The Church goes on praying for us, perseveringly. November, in particular, is a month when we pray for the dead with special earnestness. Today, on the feast of All Souls, everyone will join in praying for all the faithful departed — not just the people known to us, but those unknown, those who have no-one else to pray for them. The feast of All Souls thus unites the living and the dead. 
Last year I summed it up by saying 
"Instead of pushing the dead out of sight or surrounding them with euphemisms, we state the facts baldly and pray for the dead as we pray for ourselves, asking God to remove every trace of sin from those not yet ready for the blessedness of heaven. We believe that our prayers can help those who have died and are undergoing the final purification of purgatory, when the soul is prepared for the vision of God. To pray for the dead is thus a work of charity, a way of helping those who cannot help themselves."

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. 
For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect."
-- From the Book of Wisdom

And death shall have no dominion

Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon; 
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot; 
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; 
Though lovers be lost love shall not; 
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily; 
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break; 
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through; 
Split all ends up they shan't crack; 
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores; 
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain; 
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies; 
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion. 

- Dylan Thomas

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
Pope Francis at All Souls’ Mass: Today is a day of hope
Pope: Don’t forget the souls in Purgatory!
All Souls Day and the Shock of Death
What is All Souls’ Day and how is it celebrated around the world?
Pray St. Gertrude the Great’s powerful prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory
5 Prayers for the dead (that you can take to the cemetery)

Memento Mori

Focusing on your death may seem morbid, unhealthy, disturbing, and perhaps even diabolical. And in some cases it can become so. Death in itself is an evil. Saint Augustine wrote that death is “the very violence with which body and soul are wrenched asunder.” But Jesus has changed the nature of death for those who believe. Before becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote: “The sting of death is extinguished in Christ.”

A long-standing Christian tradition recognizes the powerful spiritual value in remembering one’s death in order to live well. The Rule of Saint Benedict, written in the 6th century, includes the imperative to “keep death daily before one’s eyes.” As the Catechism points out, both Scripture and the teachings of the Church remind us of “the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny” (1036, emphasis mine).

The practice of remembering that you will die helps you to keep in mind that your life will end, and that it has a goal: heaven.

Visual reminders — often called memento mori, the Latin phrase for “Remember that you will die” — are one way we can keep our impending death in mind. Saints Jerome, Aloysius, and Mary Magdalene, among others, are often depicted in classic paintings with skulls. Saint Francis of Assisi once signed a blessing to Brother Leo with the tau cross and a small drawing of a skull. Pope Alexander VII commissioned Italian artist Bernini to make a coffin that he kept in his bedroom along with a marble skull for his desk to remind him of the brevity of life. Blessed James Alberione, the founder of the Daughters of Saint Paul, also kept a skull on his desk.

Atlas Obscura - Memento Mori
Memento mori - How religious orders remember death
Young Nun, Former Atheist Says: “Remember Your Death”

You can listen to the reflection in part 2 excerpted from the main programme podcast HERE.

Gospel - Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,"Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this:Hear, O Israel!The Lord our God is Lord alone!You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,with all your soul, with all your mind,and with all your strength.The second is this:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.There is no other commandment greater than these." The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.You are right in saying,'He is One and there is no other than he.'And 'to love him with all your heart,with all your understanding,with all your strength,and to love your neighbor as yourself'is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,he said to him,"You are not far from the kingdom of God." 
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Reflections on this weeks gospel:

English Dominicans
Sunday Reflections
Centre for Liturgy

Liturgical odds & ends

Liturgy of the Hours - Psalter week 3

Saints of the Week
November 5th - St Martin de Porres
November 6th - All the Saints of Ireland
November 7th - St Willibrord
November 8th - Bl John Duns Scotus
November 9th - Dedication of St John on the Lateran
November 10th - St Leo the Great

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