We think of the easter season from Easter to the Ascension of Jesus into heaven as a period when little happens, but St. Leo the Great thinks otherwise.
Great mysteries are expressed and deep truths revealed in these days between Easter and the Ascension, St. Leo the Great says in a sermon:
“In those days the fear of death was removed with all its terrors, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh was established.”
To remove the fear of death, keep your eyes on the two disciples on the way to Emmaus whom Jesus accompanied “to sweep away all the clouds of our uncertainty.”
“He reproached them for the slowness of their timid and trembling hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, they are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with him. How much more blessed is that opening of their eyes, to the glorification of their nature, than the time when our first parents’ eyes were opened to the disastrous consequences of their transgression.”
Keep your eyes on all the disciples at this time, the saint says: “the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at his death on the cross and backward in believing his Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.”
All Souls Day, says a homily I received in email this morning from the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome, recognizes our fears before the mystery of death. “From the perspective of Gospel wisdom, death teaches us an important lesson because it makes us see reality without filters. It encourages us to recognise the falling away of all that appears great and strong in the eyes of the world. Before death every motive of human pride and jealousy is lost and instead all that is truly worthwhile reappears.”
All Souls Day is a frank admission that we find it hard to face death in ourselves and in others. It’s an experience we cannot prepare for adequately, despite all the resources of faith and reason we have at hand.
Yes, the hope of resurrection encourages us. But as a holy bishop says in our readings for the Office of the Dead:
“As we are saying all these things some unknown feeling causes us to burst into tears; some hidden feeling discourages the mind which tries to trust and to hope. Such is the sad human condition; without Christ all of life is utter emptiness.
“O death! You separate those who are joined to each other in marriage. You harshly and cruelly divide those whom friendship unites. Yet your power is broken…We do not really belong to ourselves; we belong to the One who redeemed us.” (Saint Braulio)
This is day that recognises our “sad human condition” as its struggles to believe. And as our prayer for today says:
“Merciful Father, as we renew our faith in your Son who you raised from the dead, strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever an ever. Amen.