I live in Cong. Over a year ago Mayo County Council started widening a dangerous crossroads at The Neale, maybe two miles away. They discovered human remains. Since then they have been carefully going over the site and to date have revealed about 130 remains.
From this work they hope to find out what life was like when those people lived almost a thousand years ago. Over time, the remains will tell much about the lives these people lived before their death and burial.
The big question, they won’t and cannot answer. Apart from their remains, do these people live on? The after life question. The November question.
Research and science cannot answer this. We cannot prove there is a next life. But proof isn’t the only path to a truth. Faith is also a legitimate guide.
In this case, faith in Jesus Christ. He is faith worthy because he has matched his words with action. He foretold his resurrection. It happened. He foretold our resurrection. It will happen.
His resurrection is a promise of ours.
In one of the prefaces for funeral Masses we say:
The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality. For your faithful people, life is changed not ended. When our body of our earthly dwelling lives in death we gain an everlasting place in heaven.
During November we all try to get to the family grave, bring flowers, do a bit of tidying and say some prayers. The flowers are a hope that is beautiful in the human life lives on. The tidying connects with the love and care our dead showed in the way they made a home for us. And the prayer answers our hunger to speak not only to our God but to them.
The flower. In 1926 a man called Howard Carter lifted the lid of the sarcophagus of the Pharaoh Tutenkhamem.
On the forehead of the dead pharaoh was a flower. Left there by his young widow, over three thousand years before. It still had hints of colour. Hope.
Tidying. Every death leaves unfinished business. The love not spoken. The moments not shared. The forgiveness not sought. Or not given. Regrets. Loose ends in the relationship. We tidy and weed and smooth the pebbles as a way of saying we had good intentions and we are sorry.
We pray. For them and for ourselves. The longer they are dead, the more we miss them. We’d love to phone . To hear their voice. To say we are calling down. To open the door and walk into the kitchen again and find them there.
We pray: O lord, support us all the day long,
until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes
and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over
and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in your mercy
Grant us a safe lodging,
A holy rest
And peace at the last. Amen.
Sometimes in our churches we put a small tree in the sanctuary for November. A tree with some leaves still. Over the month the leaves fall. We leave them where they are. There is no need to explain why.
We can do the same at home. Bring in a branch with other small branches off it. Leave it where we can see it.
In church and at home we can hang the names of those we wish to remember. And this prayer may help.
Lord, we give our dead back to you. We do so with heavy hearts.
Help us, Lord, to see that what is your remains forever ours also.
If we release them back to your love we never lose them to our hearts.
You have promised to prepare a place for us.
Prepare each of us now to live well so that
When it is over we will be where you are
And with the ones we have loved forever. Amen
Lord, as we look at this autumn tree and the names of our dead,
May we be reminded that we too, in time, will lose our grip on life.
Just as the leaves in death nurture new life in the tree,
We believe that those who have gone before us are with you,
Nourishing us by their prayers.
May they and we be united again at your eternal banquet,
Where every tear will be wiped away.
On that day, we shall see you our God, as you are.
We shall become like you and praise you forever
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Speak no ill of the dead. One of those bits of civility it is almost always easy to honour.
I’m thinking of people I’ve known who have died in the last few years. Warm people. Gentle body language. You now the phrase: comfortable in their skin. At home with their world, the people in their world, at home with themselves. Decent. Good to know.
Old people grandchildren cry their eyes out for. That the dog misses.
Do you remember the old Tom T. Hall song:
There ain’t three things in this world that’s worth a solitary dime but old dogs and children and watermelon wine.
People who lived that philosophy. The wisdom in the earthy, grounded, basic things of life.
I’ve been humbled so many times hearing a daughter say she never remembered her father go to bed without saying the rosary. Or have a son tell me his mother prayed for me every night. Saints.
Private, faithful spirituality that bloomed in simplicity, neighbourliness, generosity and a readiness for death when it came.
November is their month. The tried to understand life but finished up realising all we can do is our best.
St Paul spoke for them: For now we see in a mirror and see only a dark image. But then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part. Then I will know fully, even as fully as God knows me.