All Saints, All Souls Remind Us of Our Mortality

Stephen Lynch Features

As he often does for feast days and holy days, Stephen Lynch, OFM, provides  a reflection, this time on life and death, good vs. evil, and how we approach the way we live.

Christians opened the month of November by celebrating the afterlife with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. November is a good time to reflect quietly, but seriously, on our own passing from this world.

One of the most mind-stretching mysteries ever to challenge human thinkers is the question: What comes after death? Some answer, an afterlife; others say, oblivion. Eastern religions generally see death as the blowing out of the flame of self-existence. This condition is referred to as Nirvana, where the individual soul disappears in a state of permanent quietude in an endless oblivion of nothingness, where all relationships cease.

The Bible presents us with a two-fold message: this world is passing, and life goes on beyond the grave. As to what comes after death, Jesus Christ teaches that afterlife not only exists, but that God’s moral judgment will reward good and punish evil.

From the beginning, human beings have had a propensity for both good and evil. Jesus did not remove the human propensity for evil. But he helps us deal with our human weaknesses by being willing to forgive us our failings when we repent.

However, Jesus also warned that if we want God’s forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive one another. The way you see your destiny will be one of the most significant factors in determining how you live your life, how you treat others, and what you value or do not value. It will also play a determining role in how you finally face your own dying.

As he put his head on the chopping block, St. Thomas More momentarily delayed the executioner’s ax to move his beard away from the path of the blade. With a smile he quipped, “After all, my poor beard is not accused of treason.” More could joke playfully in the face of death because he believed in heaven. In his goodbye to his loved ones, he said, “Pray for me and I will pray for thee, that we might merrily meet in heaven.

Children with cancer at Santa Monica Hospital were asked what they thought heaven would be like. A number of children described heaven from their view of hell, saying: “Heaven is a place where I won’t have to go to the hospital for chemotherapy treatments any more.”

The story of “Two Wolves” sums up the tension between good and evil. One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One wolf is evil. It expresses itself in anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment and lies. The other wolf is good. It expresses itself in joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather:

“Which wolf wins, the good wolf or the evil wolf? The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The wolf you feed is the wolf that wins.’ ”

St. Francis of Assisi died in his mid-40s. Francis’ dying became his most moving sermon on the meaning of life. Consciously aware of God’s presence in our world, Francis knew that a saving relationship with Jesus Christ meant treating others, as we would like them to treat us.

In his exhortation to his friars, Francis reminds us: “Pleasure is short; punishment is everlasting. Suffering is slight, glory is infinite. Many are called, few are chosen. But all shall receive their due.”

Two special women were very close to Francis during his lifetime: Clare of Assisi, with whom he founded the Franciscan Order, and Lady Jacoba, a dear friend who lived in Rome. When Francis was dying in Assisi in 1226, he made a request for some special food, only this time he wanted the food to be brought by a special person, Lady Jacoba. Francis had one of his brothers write the following letter: “To the Madonna Jacoba, Brother Francis sends his greetings in Christ Jesus. Come quickly if you wish to see me still alive. Please bring with you some ashen-colored cloth like the Cistercian monks make to wrap my body. And I beg you to bring me some of the almond and honey cake you used to give me when I was sick in Rome.” Lady Jacoba with her almond and honey cakes was at Francis’ side, along with his brother friars, when he passed from this world.

The prophet Micah reminds us: This is what the Lord requires of you: only to do what is right, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God. All people of good will would all do well to imitate the prayer of King Solomon,  “Give me a listening heart, that I may know the difference between good and evil, and that I may live the way you want me to live.”

— Fr. Stephen ministers at the Church of St. Mary in Providence, R.I.