All Soul’s Day at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6
The celebrations of All Saints and of All Souls have in common their teaching for how Christians should live. The program for living is given in the Beatitudes and throughout the Sermon on the Mount. It gives the conditions for entering the kingdom of heaven and the spirit which should animate our aspirations to that kingdom. It seems like the spirit animates us sporadically, inconsistently. It seems to animate us either by empowering us to live these principles or by feeling quite dissatisfied when we fall short. St. Bernard, in his Sermon on Conversion, shows how the beatitudes shed light on this awkwardness of one’s journey to God. Living in the truth is not easy. It is not the way portrayed in the media! But it is portrayed in the lives of those we remember on this All Souls day. We have witnessed their fidelity to the self-emptying monastic way of life. Either way, Christ is not losing those He was given.
In recalling our own awkward efforts at the Christian way of life, we are in a position to empathize with those who have gone before us. On this All Souls day, each of us recalls loved ones in her personal life. As a community we remember our sisters in our cemetery. They are examples of perseverance and of reliance on grace and mercy. And they remind us that we are examples of these to one another.
As exemplars, each brings her own life-history and temperament to the task of the Christian life. Ones temperament is that which God gave each person. It is part of a blueprint in each that God gave along with an inner drive toward realizing that blueprint. That blueprint is how we are to be useful to God and neighbor. It is how we are to live out the Love Commandments.
The Christian life, as a set of sanctions and prohibitions, is burdensome. As a response of love to love, though, it is quite a different experience. It is a guide to living out that blueprint. A guide is meant to take us to a destination. So, clarity about our life’s destination is a trait we can find in our sisters who have gone there. Clarity about one’s destination does not necessarily mean that we make “all the right moves” toward the destination, but it does assure that we’ll be dissatisfied with going astray. As Bishop Sheen said, “To be a sinner is our distress; to know it is our hope.” That is the two-fold function of humility: to restrain us and to empower us by the animation of the Spirit toward the kingdom. Humility thus makes us clear about the true importance of all that we encounter along the way. That clarity is the light we go by.
C.S. Lewis, in describing the Christian way of life, put it best. He wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
All Souls Day at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Is 25:6a, 7-9; Acts 10:34-43; Jn 14:1-6 ]
The celebrations of All Saints and of All Souls have in common their teaching for how Christians should live.
This year both feasts follow the gospel of the 30th Sunday teaching us the two great Love commandments. They are commandments yet, as love, they must be done freely. That's how we should live. The commandment to love God with one's whole heart, mind, and soul is an absolute and unconditional command. So who can live up to it? That's an important question so the church gives us All Saints Day to learn of those who made exemplary efforts in the distant past, and it gives us All Souls day to remember those to whom we were close and to renew our appreciation for their efforts to live this command and its companion command of loving one another.
So we began our Eucharist doing that; we recalled the lives of Sr. Augustine, Mother Columba, and Sr. Regina. For those living the vowed life, marital and monastic, All Souls day has a special significance.
Those who have taken marital vows recall that they have vowed their love to one another “until death do us part.” They recall, too, those who have exemplified this perseverance.
We monks and nuns pause to remember those who “persevered in the monastery until death.” We admire their perseverance at living the love commandments. However awkwardly, they persevered.
Perseverance in the vowed life consists largely in submission to a process of formation. That process took them from purification to generosity. The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience directly addressed the major obstacles to living out the absolute demands of the love commandments. They simplify life by taking the focus off of a multiplicity of objects and directing it to the One Thing necessary.
Each of the sisters we remembered earlier came to the monastery saying with Jesus, “I came … not to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me.” Then she discovered in herself the will to control. The will to control is the will to avoid the upsetting. As a reason of the heart it competes with the desire to unite with what one loves. This Gethsemane-struggle explains the awkwardness of perseverance.
On this All Souls Day, the perseverance of our departed sisters should witness to us that the love commandments will edge out the will to control when we live the vowed life. This is because the will to control is about the use of our freedom. “True Love wants to rid itself of its most dangerous enemy: its own freedom of choice. Hence every true love has the inner form of a vow; it binds itself to the beloved.”1 It becomes a self-gift. This love and self-gift is not imposed on the beloved. Instead, it seeks the will and wish of the beloved and that determines the measure of the self-giving. Indeed, the self-giving is done by the power of the beloved. Our openness to this power, to whatever the beloved wants of us is our greatest expression of love.
Today, we must remember this great truth: All the finest beauties of the human soul, its greatest victories and achievements, are always those which no one else knows anything about. Every inner response of the human heart to love and every conquest over self-love is that inner form of a vow, that deeply personal.
The women we remember today said “YES!” to this love when they professed their vows. We can recall the awkwardness of that yes, but the visible results of it are not important. What is important is their inner “YES!” shown in their perseverance.
We honor them on All Souls Day not because they loved perfectly, but because they died trying.