|Gospel Commentary for All Souls
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, 31 OCT. 2008 (ZENIT)
The feast of All Saints' Day and the
commemoration of All the Faithful Departed have something in common, and
for this reason, have been placed one after the other. Both celebrations
speak to us of what's beyond. If we didn't believe in a life after
death, it would not be worth it to celebrate the feast of the saints,
and even less, to visit the cemetery. Who would we go to visit or why
would we light a candle or bring a flower?
Thus, everything in this day invites us to a wise reflection: "Teach us
to count our days," says a Psalm, "that we may gain wisdom of heart."
"We live like tree leaves in autumn" (G. Ungaretti). The tree in spring
blooms again, but with other leaves; the world will continue after us,
but with other inhabitants. Leaves don't have a second life; they
disintegrate where they fall. Does the same happen to us? That's where
the analogy ends. Jesus promised: "I am the Resurrection and the Life.
He who believes in, even if he dies, will live." This is the great
challenge of faith, not just for Christians, but also for Jews and
Muslims, for everyone who believes in a personal God.
Those who have seen the movie "Doctor Zhivago" will remember the famous
song from Lara, the sound track. The Italian version says: "I don't know
what it is, but there is a place from which we will never return …" The
song points to the meaning of the famous novel by Pasternak on which the
movie is based: Two lovers find each other, seek each other, but they
are those whom destiny (we find ourselves in the tumultuous epoch of the
Bolshevik Revolution) cruelly separates, until the final scene when
their paths cross again, but without recognizing one another.
Every time I hear the notes of this song, my faith brings me almost to
shout out inside me: Yes, there is a place from where we will never
return and from where we will not want to return. Jesus has gone to
prepare it for us, he has opened life for us with his resurrection and
he has indicated the path to follow him with the passage of the
beatitudes. A place where time will stop to make way for eternity; where
love will be full and total. Not just the love of God and for God but
also all honest and holy love lived on earth.
Faith doesn't free believers from the anguish of having to die, but it
soothes us with hope. A preface of the Mass (for All Souls' Day) says:
"If the certainty of having to die saddens us, the hope of future
immortality consoles us." In this sense, there is a moving testimony
that also comes from Russia. In 1972, in a clandestine magazine a prayer
was published that had been found in the jacket pocket of a soldier,
Aleksander Zacepa, composed just before the World War II battle in which
he would die.
Hear me, oh God! In my lifetime, I have not spoken with you even once,
but today I have the desire to celebrate. Since I was little, they have
always told me that you don't exist. And I, like an idiot, believed it.
I have never contemplated your works, but tonight I have seen from the
crater of a grenade the sky full of stars, and I have been fascinated by
their splendor. In that instant I have understood how terrible is the
deception. I don't know, oh God, if you will give me your hand, but I
say to you that you understand me …
Is it not strange that in the middle of a frightful hell, light has
appeared to me, and I have discovered you?
I have nothing more to tell you. I feel happy, because I have known you.
At midnight, we have to attack, but I am not afraid. You see us.
They have given the signal. I have to go. How good it was to be with
you! I want to tell you, and you know, that the battle will be
difficult: Perhaps this night, I will go to knock on your door. And if
up to now, I have not been your friend, when I go, will you allow me to
But, what's happening to me? I cry? My God, look at what has happened to
me. Only now, I have begun to see with clarity. My God, I go. It will be
difficult to return. How strange, now, death does not make me afraid.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher.