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One continuous and continuing flow: All Saints and All Souls Days 2012

Sacred Heart Grove at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

For some time now, the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls days have sort of morphed together in my mind, each feast blended into the other. The distinction between the two feasts has more or less disappeared for me.

On All Saints day we recall (to state the obvious), all the saints — official and unofficial. I doubt there are many of us who do not include our deceased loved ones “in that number.” And I don’t doubt that many of us believe we know persons about whom we say, “S/he’s a living saint.” Then, the next day, we celebrate All Souls. I used to understand that as the opportunity to pray for all the deceased who have not yet entered heaven.

But, I have to admit, the more my ideas about God have changed over the years, the more we Sisters of Providence have studied and prayed  a spirituality of Providence, the more uneasy I am with the idea that God would expect, require, create a “waiting period” for anyone. God is infinitely compassionate and loving; Jesus assures and reassures us of this. So … what’s the deal? (Please understand, dear reader, I’m only sharing with you my personal wonderings and puzzlings; I am not making any doctrinal statement!)

Because of my curiosity about these two feasts, I was happy to come across a passage that has helped me. I am reading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. In a chapter entitled “Amnesia and the Big Picture,” Rohr reflects on his understanding of heaven and hell. He writes: “Life is all about practicing for heaven. We practice by choosing union freely — ahead of time — and now. Heaven is the state of union both here and later. As now so will it be then. No one is in heaven unless he or she wants to be, and all are in heaven as soon as they live in union. Everyone in heaven has plenty of room for communion and no need for exclusion. The more room you have to include, the bigger your heaven will be. Perhaps this is what Jesus means by saying ‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house’ (John 14:2).”

So, has this helped me in my wondering? Yes, in the sense that it has added to my wondering. Here are my new questions. After we die and live in a new way, do we continue to make choices — for union or isolation? For selflessness or selfishness? If heaven is both now and then, isn’t every moment an opportunity (as Deuteronomy taught long ago) to choose life, not death? If so, and if heaven is union/communion, then all those ways I have now of excluding, judging, lowering my tolerance level certainly will have an impact on my being in heaven or hell — now and then, as Rohr says.

To collapse the construct of time and to view our lives as one continuous and continuing flow, helps me — if nothing else — celebrate the two feasts with more joy and clarity.

It’s not like I haven’t had an inkling of this before; but Rohr’s ability to collapse the construct of time and to view our lives as one continuous and continuing flow, helps me — if nothing else — celebrate the two feasts with more joy and clarity.

All Saints celebrates the times I and others do, did and will widen the tents, enlarge the circle, “break boundaries and create hope.” It is a feast to celebrate the best of ourselves and to give thanks to our provident God!

All Souls celebrates the times I and others do, did and will fall a bit short of our true selves and our deepest desires to include and celebrate diversity in ideas, in ideologies, and in the persons who hold them. It is likewise a feast to celebrate the struggle it is to be our best, our deepest hopes for ourselves and to ask our provident God to continue to offer us insight, courage and friendship as we journey together.

Happy Feasts! Know you are in the prayer of the Sisters of Providence daily.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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