Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Memorias Defunctorum

"Memorias Defunctorum" - Remember the Dead.

The month of October brings with it all sorts of creepy symbolism that to our 21st century mind is nothing more than indulging in our love of horror films.  In actuality, the symbolism of tombstones, skeletons and ghosts goes back to the practice of remembering our deceased brothers and sisters... and a reminder to ourselves that we too will die.

To read an earlier post I made giving a brief history of Halloween, click here.

Putting up the Halloween decorations, I kept thinking of my maternal Grandmother, who used to take my older brother and I to the local Hills department store every October for their annual "pumpkin hunt".  They would scatter piles of hay, and hide little plastic pumpkins within the hay... containing candy... and even a few with certificates for store merchandise.  It was like the Halloween version of an egg hunt.  My brother and I loved this annual tradition, and it still makes me smile thinking of going there with Grams -- then off to McDonald's for lunch -- a Happy Meal served in a plastic Halloween bucket.  Anyone remember those?

Thinking so much of Grams, I lit a candle in her honor and for the repose of her soul.  Doing this made me think of another tradition from my youth, this one coming from my first grade teacher, Sister M. Dorothy F.S.S.J.

In my former parish of St. Joe's (now closed), the founding pastor of the parish was given the honor of being buried in front of the Church he helped to build.  Every so often, Sister would take us on "field trips" to the grave site to pray for Father. 

In such a sterile world where we don't "like" to think of death, it seems like an odd custom.  Sister Dorothy was from a different school of thought however, one that encouraged the living to remember those who had gone before us.. to pray for "the souls of the faithful departed".

I decided to light another candle.  This one for the souls who had no one left on Earth to remember them.  This is another aspect of the Catholic faith that has been increasingly swept under the carpet.  It's a beautiful sentiment, to take time to remember those who perhaps have no one left to carry on their memories.  Remember praying for the poor souls in Purgatory??  Yea.. that's becoming "obsolete" too.  

Ironic.. so many "religion" classes teach nothing more about our faith than "community"... yet we have forgotten to include those community members who have gone before us.

While I have certainly hopped on my religion soap box, again lamenting the laziness and secularist tendencies of modern day Catholics.. I assure you there is a reason for my rant.

Regardless of your own spiritual belief system, there are people out there who volunteer to "adopt a gave" at their local cemeteries.  I think this is an awesome practice of human compassion and historical preservation.
Every time I go to a cemetery I find a grave stone that is being overwhelmed by vegetation and un-cared for.  Perhaps that person was the last of their family, perhaps no one else lives in the area, or perhaps the grave is so old, there is no one left to remember that person.  Pick a grave or two and help take care of it if you have noticed no one else is doing so.  Give respect once again to the name of the person on the marker.

One day it will be our turn - who will remember us?

1 comment:

sally said...

That is the most compassionate suggestion that I have ever heard. Having lost my Mother recently, I now go often to the cemetery, so will look for an under-loved burial site. Thank you for the suggestion-may you always have someone take care of you like you take care of others.