Our society likes to forget about death. A common motivation for doing so is to avoid the pain of having to deal with the limitedness of our own existence. Nevertheless, just as a student who has a paper due will have to face the deadline no matter how hard he tries to forget it, at some point, we too will have a deadline at which we will be judged accordingly. Many of us want to give ourselves to God, but only if it does not require too much pain on our part. Teaching us the error of this mentality is part of the reason the Church celebrates the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed or All Souls Day on November 2nd, and why we Dominicans celebrate our very own All Dominican Souls Day. Remembering the dead serves as a reminder for us of our own mortality and our need to detach ourselves from the world of the flesh, constantly turning our gaze towards Christ, the source of all light, all grace, and all truth.
When I was growing up, my father would recount a story of his own grandmother as she approached death, telling him “La vida vuela y antes de que lo reconozcas, llegas a ser anciano y al borde de tu muerte” – “time flies and before you know it you’ll be old and at the edge of death.” Her lesson was a reminder to take advantage of our time on Earth for the sake of our future eternity. Our family’s home was decorated with manifestations of this belief—most notably a life-sized crucifix and a very realistic-looking ceramic skull prominently located in our living room. Being brought up in such proximity to death may seem shocking to some, but I am honestly grateful that I was constantly reminded of the eternal quality of life.
This upbringing fits in well with life in the Dominican Order. As sons of St. Dominic, we center our spirituality on the crucified Christ, and frequently meditate on the reality of our own mortality. This occurs particularly in the way we pray for the dead and dying. Every week we offer a Mass for all of our deceased friars, family members, and benefactors. Every night before dinner, we remember the friars of our Province who have died on that day by praying the De Profundis (Psalm 129). Finally, we make it a point to stay close to our eldest brothers during their last days, spending time with them, helping them, and most importantly praying with them, especially the Rosary and the chanting of the Salve Regina. This experience gives us an opportunity not only to prepare them for their death and judgement, but to remind ourselves of our own mortality, just as my great-grandmother reminded my father, and my father reminded me.
To many people, this outlook seems morbid and cynical, but for us it is quite the opposite. So great is our confidence in Christ’s promise to us that “those who hear will live,” (John 5:25) that we do not despair, but have great hope for our deceased loved ones and ourselves. We place our hope on the promise of the Gospels: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
On this Commemoration of All Dominican Souls let us pray for the souls of our departed Dominican brothers and sisters. Let us also recommit ourselves as followers of Christ, always keeping in the forefront of our mind the goal for which we strive. Let us choose to die to the world and the flesh and live for Christ in eternity.
-Br. Elias Guadalupe Ford, O.P.
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