This time of year I pine (pun unintended) for those crisp Fall days when I would get my pumpkin, think about eating some of it as a pumpkin pie, start wearing sweaters, rake up leaves, and drink a lot of hot tea. But something else goes on at this time of year. Our liturgical calendar ticks away and we get closer to the end of the year, with the season of Advent looming: the start of the new liturgical year. As much as I love Advent, I think it would be a mistake to focus on Advent too soon and rush through this time of year as if it was only a spring-board to getting us there. This time of year has a spiritual richness all its own. We just celebrated some terrific saints throughout the months of Ordinary Time which came before these late October days. October is also celebrated as a month in honor of Mary. This year we have the extra special celebration of The Year of Faith, and a remembrance of Vatican II which was 50 years ago. These are all excellent celebrations, but I do not want to lose the special gift of these weeks at the end of October and into November.
It is at the end of October and beginning of November that we shift our focus to those who have gone before us with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. While these two feasts are actually November 1 and 2, we always begin all our feasts on the eve of the night before. Therefore, in reality we begin this focus on October 31 at sundown. As a child I focused on Halloween and never really cared what it really meant, but as an adult I know it is not about costumes and pumpkins and the like. It is about remembering those who have gone before us and celebrating all those saints and loved ones who we cared about and in fact, still care about. It is a time when we should slow down just a bit when it gets dark earlier and spend some time being grateful for those people who have paved the way for us, both in our lives and in our church. We should listen to their wisdom, maybe reading a book written by or about a saint; and maybe it would be a great time to pull out those photos of our beloved dead and remember a story they told, or an event they lived through which is part of our family identity. If any of these people had not done whatever it is they did to contribute to the world, none of us would be who we are!
The ancient Celtic people had a tradition that when the light and dark were getting to be almost equal they would celebrate what they called the thinnest time of the year. They would hunt and prepare all the food they could store for the coming winter and have a festival on the night they thought was the thinnest, burning the entrails and bones as a way of saying thanks. These "bonefires" (hence the word "bonfire") would happen on the eve of All Hallows as a way to say thanks to God for the blessings they had received. This eve was a way of remembering that all blessings are spiritual and hence, they wanted to remember those who came before them in thanksgiving as well. This night was when they believed the veil between time and eternity was the thinnest, and this is why they called these weeks leading up to the equinox the thin times. While these traditions had their start in the pagan/Druidic Celtic culture, it was continued with modification in meaning and intent by the Celtic Christians, who understood that the Eve of All Hallows - (that which is holy is “hallowed”) - was indeed a time of thanksgiving, but also that it was a time of thanking God for the saints who went before. That is, it was a time of connection with the entire Church.
Sometimes it is easier to feel a sense of God's presence in the quiet of the night when things get a little more still and distractions are fewer. That is only true when we allow it to be so. We have to turn off the TV, computer, cell phone and other electronic devices, and we have to learn to take a few minutes to breathe in the quiet. If we allow ourselves to do so, it is amazing what can come into our consciousness in remembrance of those who have gone before us, and also of what God may be trying to awaken in us. Maybe a good challenge (truly a gift to ourselves and to God) would be to take up the Scripture from the liturgy of the day and let it seep into your heart and mind, reflecting on what God may be trying to say to you through it. Another suggestion would be to simply remember a family member or friend who has gone before you and share some story of them with other members of your family, and let them share stories, too. Or maybe you might share in an activity such as carving a pumpkin and saving the insides to bake a pie together.
This time of year is a gift from God to us if we let ourselves accept it. We lead such busy lives that it is as if God wants us to take the darkness and make it bright with our memories. And our activity is meant to be more focused on sharing with those we care about. That follows through to the season of Advent and Christmas, but rather than it being an abrupt shift we make after the Thanksgiving Parade or football game has finished, it can be a gradual shift we begin to make now. Once we have accustomed ourselves to the quiet in our heart, some focused activity and/or memory sharing, we can gradually turn on the lights and the merry making will feel so much more natural. It is not "four weeks and it's over", as our society would make us have in December. It is a time that begins now. And if we begin now, it will continue well into next year and into the seasons that we equate more readily with celebration.
Let us take the time to learn from this season which has begun and is highlighted by All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Let us attune ourselves to God's gentle presence as the days get darker and the hush of early nightfall is upon us. Let us accept the gift of shared memory and activities with our families and friends so that it carries through to the coming season of “Advent waiting.” ~ May you feel the closeness of your dear loved ones who have gone ahead of you and may you have a sense of gratitude for their gift of love to you. May you be open to the voice of the Lord who speaks His "I love you" to you in this thin time. And let us meet in the Heart of Our Lord who gifts us with all the Holy Ones in our lives. Peace!