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Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Marking All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day

During the month of November, Christian churches have a tradition of remembering those who have died. The month begins with All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. There are special readings from Scripture that invoke this remembrance.

This passage from the Book of Wisdom is read during this time:

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment will touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
their passing away was thought an affliction,
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.”

The words are comforting — and true. No matter the particular circumstances of our dying, whether caused by sickness or accident or violent act or simply wearing out, we are assured that with death comes peace. So let us relax — and fear not. After we die, our destination is peace.

Even so, knowing that our loved ones will die — and we will die — causes us great anxiety and dread.

There is an organization in Santa Barbara called the Shared Crossing Project. Its mission is to help people understand the dying process and to lessen our fears as we contemplate our own deaths. My husband and I participated in a Shared Crossing workshop this fall, and here are some of the things we learned.

» It’s helpful to look back reflectively at our whole lives, to remember key moments and experiences — both positive and negative — that have shaped us.

» It’s helpful to bring to mind any regrets we have, to be remorseful  for them, and to forgive ourselves and come to acceptance.

» It’s helpful to create rituals that are symbolic of our forgiveness for ourselves, other people and life circumstances.

» It’s helpful to make a list of all the people, things and experiences for which we’re grateful.

» It’s helpful to make a list of the people and beings we love, and to tell them — often and out loud — that we love them, and to tell them that we will miss them greatly when we die.

Some things we learned about accompanying loved ones as they die are:

» If possible, be with them at this time.

» Prepare yourself before you sit with them. Be as centered and calm as you possibly can be.

» Take your cue from them and be sensitive to phenomena that may occur.

» As the person gets closer to death, the ego structure falls away.

» There can be a loosening of consciousness, which may bring about episodes of mental clarity or physical strength.

» Sparks may be seen in the room.

» Radiant light may be seen.

» Pets will often sense the time of death of their person.

» After the loved one dies, continue to sit with them until you are sure they have moved on. This may take a while.

And then what? What happens after we die? It may help to consider another passage from the Book of Wisdom:

"In the time of their visitation, they will shine;
they will dart about as sparks run through the stubble.”

Perhaps the image of sparks can help us to imagine what follows death. Perhaps today, at this time in our history, we can begin to glimpse some details of what imperishability and eternal life could mean for us.

Today we have a great deal of information about the evolution of Earth and all Earth’s creatures, including us. Today we have photos from the Hubble telescope that show us the birth of stars and galaxies. Today we know that the original material substance of our planet Earth — and of all that evolved on Earth — was the same substance that other stars are made of.

Might it be that our bodies will turn to stardust after we die? Might it be that when our time on Earth comes to an end, our bodies won’t just go away, but they will become part of that great, beautiful, swirling Milky Way galaxy? Might we then paraphrase the words of Genesis to read: “Stardust thou art, and unto stardust thou shall return”?

Mary Becker is a member and homilist at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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