All Souls Day calls us to remember our loved ones with purpose. CAFOD’s Ben Payne reflects on the life of his grandad and the Rosary given to him by his auntie, then a Dominican nun in South Africa.
My grandad died a few weeks after he had celebrated his 90th birthday. It was a quiet, calm and not entirely unexpected death.
His was a good, long life and whether he wanted us there or not, he died surrounded by members of his sprawling, loving family. We sang songs, made jokes of varying quality and told stories. He was a fan of all three of these activities and we all associate them strongly with him.
As he died, he clutched in his hand a Rosary – a present from his auntie Ena, a Dominican Nun stationed in South Africa, and one of the only items of his to not be lost in all his worldly travels. For 75 years or more, he carried it with him almost everywhere he went – from Blackpool to Kenya, from Singapore to Croydon.
Remembering loved ones on All Souls Day
It is fitting that All Souls Day on 2 November – a day on which to remember our loved ones – should follow a month such as October, dedicated to the Rosary. Through the Rosary, we are given the opportunity to remember and reflect with Mary upon the mysteries of life. It is a meditation.
Mary herself exemplifies this reflective, meditative state soon after giving birth.
With a baby Jesus in the manger, the shepherds arrived from nearby fields full of stories of visitations from angelic throngs with messages of wonder and joyful mystery.
This was the culmination of a pretty full-on year for Mary. She had herself already conversed with angels. Explaining the miraculous nature of her circumstances to her husband would be exhausting enough, let alone the trek across the country to give birth in a stable.
The shepherds were no doubt excitable – their news perhaps more a barrage than of godly enlightenment – yet Mary accepts them with tranquillity:
“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in the heart.”Luke 2:19
This is suggestive of a considered silence. Mary ponders inwardly, calmly and quietly. There is a gentle confidence in this non-combative mulling over of ideas and overwhelming, exciting news thrown at her by the shepherds. The Son of God? The King of Kings? Mary ponders these things silently and her pondering is little and calm and peaceful.
Serenity in an instantaneous age
In stark contrast to the instantaneous nature of the modern age – where all knowledge is at our fingertips, so people speak incessantly without ever really stopping to think – Mary practises true serenity.
It is this meditative state that Catholics seek to emulate as they recite the Hail Marys through the Rosary. For some, the words themselves are not as much the focus. Instead, through meditation, they are brought closer to the present.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes: “To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment.”
It is easy to think of “horizons” as something only in front of us, of something we must move towards, of something in the future. But a horizon line encircles us completely, it is behind us constantly. Therefore, “horizons of understanding” are just as much in our pasts as in in our futures.
Through meditation and prayer we can become “serenely present to each reality” and through this serenity we are afforded an ability to look back, not only on our own lives – our faults, our privileges, the things we regret not doing, and the things we are proud to have achieved – but also on the lives of others.
If you do not already do so, try putting some time aside to say the Rosary. Like Mary, try practising serenity. By the time All Souls Day arrives, you may be in a better headspace to think more clearly of your loved ones who have died.
Remembrance through a Rosary
Of course, anyone who has experienced the death of someone close to their hearts will remember them continually. Remembrance of a loved one cannot be confined to a single day.
However, All Souls Day provides an opportunity for people to remember with careful attention. It marks a day of meditative remembrance where we are not simply triggered into reverie at the sight of a robin, an OXO cube or curly, silver hair (as I am with my grandad). Instead, we are called to remember our loved ones with purpose, with detail and with the respect that is their due.
With his Rosary, I remember my grandad as little, calm and peaceful. Memories of his calming peacefulness are wells from which I still draw strength. As a family, we gently mocked his littleness (5 ft 7 inches and shrinking in his later years) but he never took offence. I remember him saying: “Don’t take offence, take a gate instead.”
Giving in memory
At CAFOD, we believe that a donation in memory of a loved one is a wonderful way to celebrate their life and continue their legacy. The people who changed your life can change the lives of others for years to come.