October 30, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Feasts of All Saints and All Souls are an opportunity to pray for parents

Those of you who have followed my column over the years know that, almost as regular as a five-year cycle, I reflect about my mom and dad this time of year.

Two events bring my parents to mind—three events really.

The first is the October date of their wedding anniversary. The second is the passing from beautiful fall into the gray skies of winter. The third reminder is that of All Saints and All Souls days at the beginning of November.

It has been at least five years since I quoted the beginning of William Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Death of the Flowers.”

His poem comes to mind because almost always during my early youth at this time of year my mom would quote his poem, usually while we were doing the supper dishes on a gray evening. At least that is how I remember it this many years later.

“The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread;
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
and from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.
Where are the flowers, the fair young flowers, that lately sprang and stood
In brighter light and softer airs, a beauteous sisterhood?”

Bryant wrote the poem to commemorate the death of his sister, who apparently died in early November—thus the gray and grieving tone of his poem.

Most of us can probably relate to the melancholy feeling of the often sunless weather of late fall and approaching winter. And we also grieve about the loss of our loved ones, but we can grieve with hope because of our faith.

My mom was not melancholy by temperament. Nor was she the bubbly type of personality. She was just steady and balanced, a good witness for me and my brother and dad.

As a teacher, she loved poetry and would decry the fact that reading and memorizing poetry had slipped away, for the most part, from elementary and secondary academic curricula.

Above all, she was a woman who lived her Catholic faith on good days and melancholy days. She wasn’t very demonstrative about her beliefs and practice. She carried her share of suffering and burdens in life, but she took them as they came.

She has been on my mind as I have been “doing rehab” for my shoulder replacement. Mom had broken both hips and was faithful in rehabilitation. I remember how much I respected her for that.

Mom’s kind of holiness was less than dramatic, but it has become more and more attractive to me over the years. It is how I remember her fondly, both on All Saints and All Souls days.

Not surprisingly, the marriage of my mom and dad was also less than dramatic, unless remaining steady and faithful is considered dramatic.

And in the culture of our times, I suppose their fidelity and perseverance through the trials and difficulties of their life together should be described as dramatic.

I was too young to realize how difficult it must have been for folks of their generation to endure the poverty of the Great Depression.

Someone who grew up in similar circumstances as I did was remarking to me recently that we didn’t really know we were living in difficult times. The poverty wasn’t dire, but we did without things and were part of a close family. Our parents led the way, and we can only be grateful.

I think this time of year, as we approach the end of another liturgical Church year, it might be good to revisit how we responded to our parents during the years of growing up.

We remember good times, but we may not always have been as appreciative as we wish we had.

The feasts of All Saints and All Souls might be an opportunity to pray gratefully for our deceased parents. And for those who are blessed with living parents still, a review of your response to them and a grateful prayer for them would be a good thing as well.

Believe me, I know that some of you do not have happy memories of your parents or one of your parents. That is very painful, and life was or is unfair for you. It would be a generous act to pray for parents who may have been wayward and seemingly unloving.

Prayer and the consolation of speaking with a spiritual guide might lead to healing peace. I pray for that for you in any case.

Our faith can help us live with hope. †

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