Yesterday I picked up one of the All Souls envelopes off the table at the back of the church to prepare mine to go on the altar at the beginning of November, the month given over to remembrance of our beloved dead. Then I pulled out my list.
The names on the list are of the deceased for whom I pray particularly and personally. It is quite the exercise of memory and affection to read through it: all four of my grandparents; a boyhood friend who was hit by a car; a high school girlfriend; a college classmate who died in a fire when we were freshmen; college professors; priest friends and collaborators who died in the fullness of years or tragically young; and many others. But each year brings new names to add.
William Cardinal Baum, whom I first met before I entered seminary, a lofty figure of grace and ecclesial influence. While I studied in Rome, he was a wise and encouraging protector. Four years later, I entered his service as secretary, and he was my patient guide and teacher, a generous master. In his latter years, he was my dear friend, always sharing the depth of his faith with me in his pain and illness.
Father William Thompson, my first pastor after priestly ordination, and my predecessor as Pastor of Saint Bernadette. Gruff and generous, pragmatic and obedient, he was widely regarded by my seminary classmates as the best pastor any of us had. He, too, took what could have been just being my boss, and turned it to being my friend.
And Andrew Esherick, whom I met when he was still a child. He started as a student among students here, and member of a family with whom I was close enough to visit at home. As his identity and faith developed toward adult fullness, he generously brought me along. Eventually introducing me to his future wife, then his first child, though he lived states away, he did the work of staying engaged rather than leaving me merely his childhood pastor.
All three of these names will be on the roll I call at our parish All Souls Mass. Offered especially and by name for these and all who have been buried from our church this year, over time this beautiful liturgy has become increasingly poignant to me. With each additional year as pastor, I have known more of the people on the list, and their families, longer and more intimately. These thoughts come crowding forward fresh and alive with their names.
As these sentiments and memories come, the richness of the Requiem Mass brings to bear all the power of the prayer of the Church. These are not mere names of those who once were, but now no longer are. These are lives entwined with our own even now, and we invoke their names before God in that pure act of love for them we call prayer.
As the list grows longer with our lives, what could seem a burden brings also a boon. All these souls for whom we offer our precious time and memory are unable to pray for themselves, but can and will pray for us. Thereby is not only distance, but also difference overcome; and even when, to those who lack eyes of faith, death seems to have put the relationship past rescue or repair, the reconciling work of Christ is accomplished.
So come, hear these names called out before the throne of grace, and lend your prayer to their perfection. The All Souls Requiem Mass will be Monday evening, November 2, at 7:30. And for the prayers and sacrifices we will offer throughout the month, prepare your own envelope, and your own offering. But first, linger over your own list.