The Church has traditionally dedicated November to reflection on the mystery of the Communion of Saints and its related practices, especially prayer for the “poor souls” in purgatory. The value of praying for the dead souls and to the dead saints, once obvious to most Christians, is perhaps now a little more obscure. And it requires a special effort on our part to reclaim it. The first reading today, however, reassures us that “Wisdom … is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her.”
Our general insensitivity to the dead probably owes much to the extreme “presentism” of our lifestyles: that is, technological shifts and mobility have made it difficult to feel the influence of the past upon the present, or of the dead upon the living. We do not generally practice, for instance, the profession of our parents and grandparents (and do not, therefore, depend concretely on them for skills and wisdom); as a rule, we no longer live and die on an ancestral plot, decorated with family tombs and cultivated by the industry of past generations; libraries and the internet have replaced “elders” as the sources of information about the past. American mythology, moreover, tends to praise “self-made men”—cowboys who have “gone West” to lose their past, business tycoons who have gone “from rags to riches.” Though it still makes sense to us to respect our forebears while they are alive, death seems to cut off all traffic between us and them. Everything in our culture, in other words, reinforces the idea that we neither receive any special help from the dead nor owe them any special gratitude.
This stands in stark contrast, of course, to the great anxiety that the Thessalonians felt for their fellow Christians who had died. Read the rest of this entry »