Reflections on the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

The Beatitudes spoken by Christ over 2000 years ago,  apply just as much to the privileged as they do to the under-privileged. We find persecution of people in high places as well as among people without any status. We all hunger for righteousness and need to be comforted at times.

The Beatitudes tell us that the peacemakers are blessed. Here in The Hague, many of our parishioners are “justice and peace professionals” and are called to be peacemakers as well. In their day to day jobs, they often experience difficulty in combining idealism and passion for the good causes,  with the reality of the limitations and obstacles that their jobs present all the time. It is not that evident or easy to feel “blessed”.

Being ‘’merciful’’ or showing mercy in today’s world, requires inner strength, resilience and courage. The terrible incidents in the basilica of Nice,  the invasion of the church and the attack on the synagogue in Vienna, make us all feel afraid and targeted. The priests of the Nice basilica were informed that on All Saints feast there would be a terrorist attack but were taken by surprise a few days earlier. In despair, the Pastor reacted by saying, “Now not only out of fear for Corona, but also for fear of violence, people avoid places of public worship”.

How do the words from the Book of Revelations written 3000 years ago find relevance in our world today? “Who are these wearing white robes and where did they come from? These are the ones who have survived the times of great distress, they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Over the last 3000 years, we have been asking ourselves why innocent blood continues to be shed in the name of religion, and whether we have learnt anything from that, as our present world seems to be more and more divided on religious lines.

If we continue to think that only our “God is great” and that He needs us to defend Him then, we have truly misunderstood God. Our Creator can defend Him/Herself perfectly well, but He needs us to defend the poor, the weak, and those who mourn.

We are created in the image of God and show God’s true face when we are meek and humble of heart; when we act as peacemakers and comforters. It is not through a display of power or violence that we show that God is great but through the power of love. Only the meek will inherit the land. Only peacemakers are called children of God. Unfortunately in today’s world, the meek and the peacemakers are considered weak and are not listened to.

The feast of All Saints is celebrated for a reason. It is not just a celebration of those officially recognized as saints, but it is an appeal to the sanctity of every person. We are all called to holiness and to respect the dignity of life.

Our human institutions of religion and politics should never stand in the way of that calling. It is through humble service to the common good that life is exalted. Acting out of superiority or the imposition of a single truth will always create division and fanaticism between people.

Being a saint does not mean that we have to be perfect. Thank God not! So-called perfect people are unbearable. Only God is Perfect! We have the wonderful freedom to be both sinners and saints at the same time. Simply being human is good enough. The more truly human we become, the more divine this world will be.

Last but not least, the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls are two sides of the same coin. Our reward will be great in heaven when we create paradise in this world. Heaven is not just a reality for the after-life, but the poor and the persecuted need to see that life is worth living here and now. Just like All Saints, so also All Souls is for the living and the dead.

Making life hell on earth was never God’s plan. Neither is it the eternal destiny that God has in mind for us. Knowing God- and having faith- is Good News. It is a reason for joy rather than violence and fear. If we really want to glorify God, then we should start with glorifying and respecting all life on this planet.

November 2- Feast of All Souls 2020- A Memorial with No Closure

Over the years, we have participated in quite a few All Souls celebrations, possibly even in different continents and with very impressive local customs. The people in Africa and Latin America celebrate the Day of the Dead in a very different way than we do here in the West.

But this year there is something that unites us globally more than ever. Visiting graves this year or remembering our deceased loved ones today can only be done with social distance and without human contact. As if the distance between life and death was not big enough already. This year we do not even have the comfort of a large gathering community around us or even the possibility to travel to the places where our loved ones are laid to rest. So many people this year had to say goodbye to close relatives and friends without being able to be physically close to them, during their final days on earth. Funerals with only a few people. Mourning from a distance, and dying in solitude leaves many people this year with unimaginable sadness and without closure and an opportunity to truly grieve the loss of their loved ones.

I will never forget the weeks during the lockdown here in The Netherlands when I celebrated Mass online from my living room. During these weeks, Cecilia, one of our parishioners, lost both healthy parents to Corona in Los Angeles within 10 days. So many people around the world, and in our parish, are unable to go home and to be with the rest of the family, at times like this. Only when the pandemic eases and when it is safe to travel will they be able to see the empty spaces and the names on graves for the first time, which we hope and pray will give them the closure they need.

All Souls 2020 will be a memorial that will stand out in our lives as a memorial of Corona deaths, isolation, loneliness, and distance. We feel defeated, tired, and scared.

But during these months there was also the response to the questions from today’s Gospel about the people who made a difference to those who suffer. The Kingdom of God continues to be created every single day by many kind volunteers, caregivers, helpers, counselors, good neighbors, and solidarity events. When people were hungry, they gave them food. They welcomed strangers and cared for those who were ill. Many people did something extra for the least of their brothers and sisters. They organized food, clothes, and finance to get them through the crisis. Being isolated from each other and restricted in our options also brought out a lot of solidarity and creativity so that we could stay connected with each other.

In our search for God and for meaning to make sense of it all, many people have reset their priorities in life. They took a new look at their values and beliefs. They now focus on what is truly important. Inheriting the Kingdom of God, the Gospel explains today, has to do with caring for each other here and now; for ALL living souls.

If there is one thing that Corona helped us to reflect on, it is that life here and now is vulnerable and that our time together here is precious and finite. The more we care for each other now, the better we feel, because at least we can say that we have done our best and used our time well to make someone else’s burden a bit lighter.

All Souls 2020 is much more about the living than it is about the dead. All souls matter! Especially those entrusted to our care. The resurrection from this Corona year will only be possible if we truly care for each other’s lives here and now.  We should continue to do the good work that we are called to do. There is no better time than now!

Fr. Sjaak