October 27, 2017

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Saints and souls are part of the family of God

Sean GallagherI’ve loved family gatherings as long as I can remember.

As the youngest in the family in which I grew up and the youngest among all of my first cousins, I got used soon to gathering with numerous family members older than me with lots of great stories to tell.

The number of family members with which I gather has varied. I’m the youngest of two siblings, and I have only one cousin on my mom’s side of the family. There are 11 on my dad’s side.

And then there’s my wife Cindy’s family. She’s the oldest of 11. My in-laws have 30 grandchildren, and the oldest is only 16. I won’t even go into the dozens of first cousins Cindy has. Let’s just say that we’ve been to a lot of weddings through the years.

No matter how big or small, though, family gatherings have always been a joy for me. I drink in the unique personalities of all my relatives. Their stories get ingrained into my heart and mind, becoming a part of the story of my own life.

Now I take joy in sharing with my five sons many of these stories and seeing my sons get to know their relatives and take their place in the extended family.

This love for spending time with family members and coming to know and love them is one of the main reasons that All Saints Day and All Souls Day are at the top of the list of my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical year.

For, you see, the saints who praise God eternally in heaven and the souls awaiting their final purification so they can join the holy ones there are all part of the great family of God. They’re all our family members, too, since each of us became adopted sons and daughters of God when we were baptized.

Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this blessed reality on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in 2006. He said that the family of God “will always accompany” the baptized person, “even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.”

And no matter how much the world around us may change, “God’s family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone.”

Celebrate, then, this divine family of which you are a member on All Saints Day on Nov. 1. And on All Souls Day on Nov. 2, keep in your hearts and minds the stories of friends and loved ones who have died and who could benefit from your prayers as they await their welcome into heaven.

These two great feasts can also be a poignant reminder that the joy we experience in our extended family in this life does not last forever. Funerals are times when families gather just as much as at the birth or baptism of a child.

The memories we cherish of our deceased loved ones are ways that they live on in our hearts. But they are so much more alive with us in God’s family, which we also call the communion of the saints.

This life beyond death is only open to us through Christ, our adopted brother in God’s family, which, as Pope Benedict said, “is communion with the One who conquered death and holds in his hand the keys of life.”

So enter more fully into God’s family by embracing the vibrant life of the Church. Treasure the stories of your brothers and sisters, the saints, and, with the help of God’s grace, add to them your own story of growth in holiness. †

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