Our tradition of celebrating the memory of the dead on the first day of November is as much a cherished yearly family ritual as Christmas or reunions set around grandparents’ birthdays. It is an interestingly happy event, though vaguely stemming from the Catholic Church’s solemn liturgical observance of the “Solemnity of All Saints” on this same day, and the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed” on the following day.
What was taught as an annual recollection of the ecclesiological communion of those of us still living, with the “holy ones of heaven” and with those “still in need of divine succor in purgatory,” has been
simplified into a curiously festive pilgrimage to the cemeteries that would last only for a single rowdy day.
It is essentially a boisterous family picnic, when we break bread with the buried dead, sealed for eternity in freshly painted stone tombs and niches. One may see a good number of lit candles and more introspective people, spending short and quiet moments in prayers for the deceased, but much of the time is spent in eating and idle talk, without mentioning the excuse for occasional card games, or the unfortunate experience of having to look for missing graves.
All the laughter and banter indeed contrasts so sharply with the catechetical expectation that such a holy day is spent in tranquil reflection of God’s graces, the sanctity of our patron saints, the fading
memory of our loved ones, or on the fragility of our own human lives.
Perhaps the lightness of joy with which we choose to spend this first day of November may be our unconscious way of coping with the fear of inevitable death and other ghoulish realities conditioned in us by the Western custom of Halloween.
Day for the dead
But the dilution of Catholic beliefs into our culture is understandable. Our day for the dead is the evolutionary consequence of the common anthropological need regardless of religion, to honor our ancestries, being strongly maintained within the Filipino context of close family ties.
In other words, the first of November has become an opportune time to bring the family together, both living and dead, in a single-day party to celebrate and be rejuvenated with the unseen solidarity between those who are still struggling in this life, and those who are already at rest.
This brings us now to a good theological Christian reflection: Above all, we must honor the Christ who fought and died against religious hypocrisy and oppression in His time. With uncanny humility and compassion for the marginalized, he vigorously preached and gave witness to the coming of the reign of God, a transformed social order in which fraternal charity and service will quash the injustices caused by an inordinate love for power, possession and prestige. He prophesied the advent of a divine utopia of selflessness, in which no one will be in dire need, and no one will be left behind. He advocated for and lived upon the value of simply being responsible for one another, thus hoping to recreate society from one so mired and obsessed with profits and subjugation.
This is what we must understand about Jesus’ mission–that his Father’s kingdom will come, and that we should not be caught unprepared for this dawning of a consummated social justice and peace. In the kingdom being ushered in by Christ, God gives us the promise that all will transcend death at the proper time and place, “His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We depart from this life at the Father’s bidding, not at the hands of a treacherous another.
But in remembering our dead, we may come to an oft-forgotten realization that many of those who have already passed on, have met an untimely demise. It was not yet their time to go. It is important to be aware that when people die under inappropriate circumstances, when they leave us too soon, or simply that they should still be alive to this day, it is because injustice still reigns, pride and selfishness still pervades the minds and hearts of this living generation, and the cruel race of a “survival of the
fittest” goes on. How many have lost their lives due to poverty, malnutrition and starvation amid the wealth and extravagance of others? When lives are needlessly extinguished because of the obvious disparity
between those who are in dire need versus those who have much more than enough, then it is a clear sign that the kingdom has yet to come.
How many have died or sought to kill themselves because of angst, alienation and hatred? How many perished in all those clashes and wars within disadvantaged communities, unnecessary social upheavals
caused by the bigotry and discrimination of a privileged few? When lives are needlessly sacrificed because of the continuing refusal to recognize the equality of all, then it is a clear sign that the kingdom has yet to come.
The outcasted poor; the neglected sick; the lonely and forsaken ones who commit suicide; raped and murdered women and children; victims of violence and carelessness; drug addicts and other criminals who are unjustly executed; those who are succumbing to the coronavirus only because our country is too poor–their deaths are not mere accidents in the whirlwind of history, as if “I couldn’t do anything more for them.”
Every passing should be meaningful, purposeful
If every birth is seen not as an accident but has meaning and purpose, then shouldn’t every passing be also meaningful and purposeful? If we still think that human lives can be used and thrown away or wasted, or are just statistics on the scoreboard of our “good performance,” then it is a clear sign that the kingdom has yet to come.
We can only hold onto the hope that the Spirit will receive into his bosom, all who have been taken in innocence. He will receive them with a special compassion, fully knowing that they died against His will. His love for these souls may lie on another divine level, because they paid the price for a kingdom that could not come because of an unruly humanity. Therefore, it should not surprise us if the Father will contemplate disturbing our power with his infinite might, and making us pay for their deaths with a much higher price.
The first of November will always understandably be a joyful day to relieve the pain in many of us who are compelled to remember those who should have been. Behind the seemingly inappropriate laughter and banter lies the actualized solidarity existing between living and dead victims of injustice: through hearty meals over cold memorials, we all need to draw inspiration from their sufferings of the past, so that we are strengthened in our struggles of the present. The first of November must be a day to comprehend that the kingdom of God must come, a grim reminder that we are still irresponsible sapient beings, but also a destiny that we mus continue to work hard for. Let us be forewarned that God would never have it any other way, and that he will always be on the side of those determined to make it happen.