Fr Kevin Hegarty
November is the darkest month. Christmas lights in our windows illuminate the night sky in December. By January the shortest day of the year has passed and the pendulum swings gradually towards the light.
In November the winter landscape reveals itself. The last of the leaves are swept from the trees, the remaining flowers have faded and are about to decay, grass growth has stopped and the lawn mowers are housed for the next few months. The lonely cries of the sea birds by the shore is the mood music of November.
In tune with the natural world, the Christian Church has chosen November as the month to remember especially our deceased family members and friends. The month begins with the celebration of the Feast of all Saints.
In the Catholic tradition there is a hierarchy sainthood. Those who have been officially canonised are recorded in the Church’s calendar. Usually they are people who have given extraordinary or heroic commitment to the christian way. For example, take Fr Maximilien Kolbe, the Polish priest who was imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941.
When three prisoners escaped in July of that year, the deputy commander of the camp decided to send ten inmates, picked at random to the gas chambers in retaliation. Among those chosen was a young Jewish man who cried out in despair ‘My wife, my children’. He thought he would never see them again. Kolbe offered to take his place, and somewhat surprisingly, the request was granted. Kolbe met his inevitable fate with courage.
Important as his witness is, the Catholic Church does not highlight it or similar stories during November. November is the month of remembrance for the ordinary saints known only to those who loved them and whom they loved. Their path to holiness was to follow the way of the Beatitudes, the Christian identity card. Pope Francis provided an explanation of what that means:
“Being poor of heart that is holiness, reacting with meekness and humility that is holiness. Knowing how to mourn with others, that is holiness. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, that is holiness. Seeing and acting with mercy, that is holiness. Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love, that is holiness. Sowing peace all around us, that is holiness. Accepting daily the path of the Gospel even though it may cause us problems, that is holiness.”
Among those remembered during November are grandparents who had a special bond with their grandchildren; husbands, wives and partners who in the intimacy of their love gave meaning to each others lives; parents who nourished, protected and treasured their children; teachers who inspired us; friends and relatives who shared our joys and sorrows. They had their foibles and failures but their lives were tilted towards goodness. They are the kind of people of whom the Irish language poet Seán O’Riordán wrote in ‘Adhlacadh Mo Mháthar’:
Do chuimhníos ar an láimh a dhein an scríbhinn, / Lámh a bhí inaitheanta mar aghaidh, / Lámh a thál riamh cneastacht seana-Bhíobla, / Lámh a bhí mar bhalsam is tú tinn.
In translation those words of Ó Ríordáin on the burial of his mother read:
I remember the hand that did the writing, / A hand as familiar as a face, / A hand that dispensed kindness like an old bible, / A hand that was like balsam and you ill.
By remembering our deceased loved ones they continue to enrich our lives.