Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Visit to Grandma

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Visit to Grandma

Article excerpt

One morning a few years back, I had occasion to call a neighboring parish, the name of which is All Souls. Not having the number handy, I dialed information (this was when real people still answered) and had this exchange with the operator:

"I need the number for All Souls in Englewood, please."

"What's the name again?"

"All Souls."

"All what?"

"All. A-L-L." I spelled slowly and deliberately. "Souls. S-O-U-L-S. All Souls."

Silence from the operator, and then: "That's a strange name. Does it mean something?"

When you work in the church, it's easy to forget that not everyone speaks Catholic. If they did, they would know that All Souls occupies a special place in our hearts, on our calendars (November 2), and in our faith tradition. It is an occasion for doing one of the things scripture and tradition require of us--remembering. To call to mind those faithful who have gone before us, to thank God for the gift of their time on earth, and, yes, to pray for their souls.

A friend of mine who converted to Catholicism in adulthood insists that her Methodist grandmother would have been offended by the idea of anyone praying for her after she had passed on. This old woman believed strongly that her life would speak for itself, thank you very much, and she would take her chances with God on Judgment Day.

Catholicism is a religion that looks suffering and death square in the face without flinching. On our crucifix we show the broken body of Christ poured out for us; and even as we celebrate Resurrection, our language abounds with images of sorrow.

Still, we are a Good News people and our message, even in the face of death, is one of hope. In the church's infancy, the pagans' funeral ritual was called vale, a final farewell, but that of the Christians was vivas, a prayer that the departed might live in God and intercede for the living.

In my family, regular outings to the cemetery, far from being maudlin affairs, were frequent and rather pleasant experiences. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, Daddy would abruptly rise from his chair, put down the newspaper, set his coffee cup in the sink, and announce he was going to see his mother. …

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