Welcome to November. In South Bend, Indiana, this means that the sublimity of the Indian summer subsides and gives way to a crisp, chilly air that taunts us with the coming of winter. Each pleasant sunny day that happens to come our way we accept with gratitude, but also with hesitance, because we know that misery lies just around the corner. After four years at Notre Dame even before entering Moreau Seminary as a postulant this year, I am well acquainted with the way winter weighs on everyone’s consciousness with imposing inevitability, much like death. So it feels to me rather fitting that our Catholic tradition encourages us in this time to enter into the month of November by turning our thoughts and prayers to the dead.
But as a Church, we set the tone with All Saints Day—a celebration filled with hope and joy that contrasts with the despair and resignation with which I tend to anticipate South Bend winters. At Moreau Seminary, the All Saints Day Eucharistic liturgy itself was a modest affair, but I will mention something that struck me. Fr. Jarrod Waugh, C.S.C., made mention in his homily of those blessed ones who act as saintly models within the Holy Cross order—St. André Bessette, Blessed Basil Moreau, and a few other Servants of God whose causes for canonization are open. That was when it hit me what an amazing blessing it is for me to be stepping into a community that can claim as one of its own brothers a Saint in heaven, celebrated and recognized as such by the whole Catholic Church. And I’m not talking about any kind of religious prestige that accrues to a congregation as a result of having a canonized saint among its numbers. Rather the blessing lies in the challenge and the inspiration given to the rest of us here on earth to treat a life of sanctification through complete self-surrender to God as a real possibility for ourselves. More than a real possibility, it’s our God-given destiny, if only we are willing take it up.
On Monday, we men of Moreau joined in with many other Holy Cross priests and brothers living in or near South Bend for a celebration of All Souls’ Day. Keeping an eye to the saints in the same radically optimistic mindset, we lifted our prayers for those departed souls who are perhaps not yet in the midst of God’s heavenly chorus. This took place in a beautiful Holy Cross tradition of the All Souls’ Day Mass at Fatima House. After the Mass, it was a great honor for me to have a special role in helping to lead the Litany of the Saints in song as we all processed solemnly from Fatima House to the Holy Cross Cemetery. Our chanted prayer was especially directed towards accompanying those Holy Cross religious who had died within the past year on the continuing journey heavenward. We expressed this in a personal manner by including the patron saints of each of these religious men in our litany.
In this powerful moment, we were the Church on earth calling upon the intercession of the Church in heaven for the sake of the Church in purgatory. May we dare to hope that these bonds of prayer can really hold us all together as one, drawing us to a common end of everlasting communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Even in the face of the desolate winter of death, which separates us from the departed? Even in the face of the bitter chill of the crosses which we are often reluctant to bear here and now? I’ll let these final words from the burial prayer that Fr. Pete Jarret, C.S.C., read aloud in the cemetery this Monday, offer its answer to these burning questions:
We stand over the graves of our lost,
Our bodies entwined by a mysterious wind
Christ murmuring, “Trust. Trust.”
-from a Burial Chant by St. John Damascene
May Christ’s murmurings from the cross speak a word of assurance to all of us this month as we remember in our prayers those who have left this world.
Cameron Cortens graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2013. He then spent a year teaching in the House of Brigid program in Ireland prior to joining the Moreau Seminary Postulant Class of 2014-15. Cameron is originally from Boise, Idaho. He and his fellow postulants share their experiences and insights through regular posts to the Spes Unica Blog.