October 29, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Remembering our forebearers on All Saints and All Souls days

Sometimes when I think about all the saints and holy souls who have gone before us, I think of some that I wish I could have known.

One of those people is my Grandma Blessinger, my Mom’s mom. She must have been a really extraordinary woman. She died of a viral disease when my mom was 9 years old. To hear the stories told by her 12 children, she must have been bigger than life.

In the early days of the 20th century, despite austere conditions of poverty, three of her children managed to become teachers. Two of them were girls, who were hardly encouraged to do so by the culture of the time. In her college years, my mom played basketball, certainly not the ordinary role of girls in her day.

What is most striking about the influence of Grandma Blessinger was the strong religious orientation of the Blessinger family. Several women would become religious sisters, two grandsons would become priests. I never knew much about the two oldest boys of her family, but I know the girls and Uncle Adam took their faith seriously.

We grandchildren heard repeated stories about the times that Grandma and some of the girls walked the couple of miles into Jasper to attend Mass. On the way, Grandma led the rosary. This was in the days before the devotion of the rosary became more popular.

There exists a 1915 letter from Grandma roughly translated from German into English. I quote the text translated by my godmother, Agnes Blessinger Stenftenagel: Dear Husband and Children,

I want to write you a letter as a remembrance for maybe I shall have to leave you soon.

Many a day and night have I suffered pain until it will please the good Lord to call me to another and better life. There, I hope that we will all meet again. But it takes much patience to bear everything that crosses our lives.

I hope you will all stay good children, and help each other when in need. Then what joy, and where joys there are blessings. And when does the Dear Lord not bless when in need?

I hope that you will never forget your parents even if their eyes no longer see.

I offer you all to God so that, dear husband and children, He may not desert you if I have to.

I wish you all a happy death and blessed arrival in heaven, dear husband and children and friends and benefactors, and a happy meeting when nothing hurts anymore.

We want to prepare for death every day as if it were the last, and when our difficult death comes we can say, O Lord, in your hands I deliver my soul.

I used to wonder if Grandma Blessinger really wrote the letter. But knowing Aunt Agnes, I do not think she would have made it up. In any case, it is part of the Blessinger family lore.

As I say, Grandma Blessinger was extraordinary as a mother of 12 in hard times. She made a dramatic religious impact on her children, and that impact has been pretty faithfully handed on to her grandchildren. It is my hope and prayer that our generation hands on the Catholic faith and religious sense to our descendants.

All Saints and All Souls days give us an opportunity to look back on our forebearers, and recognize our cause to celebrate them and to imitate them. And if there are some who we believe yet need our prayers for them to complete the purification of their lives, we remember them fondly as well.

Not many dioceses and archdioceses in the United States can claim a canonized saint within their boundaries, but Mother Theodore Guérin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, belongs to us. She had a lot to do with the propagation of the faith in our part of the world. I rather think that she continues to watch over us here in Indiana.

And we have fond hopes that someday Bishop Simon Bruté will be beatified and canonized. He was our first bishop, who drove himself to illness in his efforts to evangelize the scattered Catholics of the 1800s.

Today, unsung women and men like my Grandma continue to show us the way. All Saints Day is for them, too. And surely all of us savor a few moments on All Souls Day to pray fondly for our moms and dads and other relatives who have passed away.

And I recommend that we pray for those folks who have passed who have no one to remember them, those who have been forgotten or who died alone.

They belong to our human family, and deserve to be surprised by us as people who care. †

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