The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God
“...Only me beside you. Still you’re not alone.
No one is alone, truly. No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood. Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good. You decide alone, but
no one is alone... Someone is on your side.
Someone else is not. While you’re seeing your side,
maybe you forgot; they are not alone. No one is alone.
Hard to see the light now, just don’t let it go. Things will
come out right now. We can make it so.
Someone is on your side, no one is alone...”
From “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim 1986
“...And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning...”
It’s impossible to overestimate the daily effects of all the deaths and catastrophes we are living with at this moment now, and have been for years. Don’t run away from this... please, but contemplate what you believe is happening and why us ? Why now ? I always tell people at Mass, we were born to live now, this is not an accident. God knows we are capable of making some difference now. Think of the people born in the eras of the Medieval devastating plagues, or just recently, WW 1 or WW 11 ? They must have wondered why us ? Why now ? On November 2 we celebrate the feast of the Holy Souls and we are watching millions of souls rising into God every day. As if every day was 9/11. As the song says....... “over and over I keep going over the world we knew...”
I remember living in Manhattan during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic and I felt my vocation was to be a “midwife to the second birth.” At that time Stephen Sondheim came out with another one of his masterpieces- always centered on the cultural kairos times- and I was blessed to see the original broadway version of “Into the Woods,” in the late 1980’s, several times. I’d go to broadway shows as gifts from/with young men who were afflicted with AIDS and I saw many shows, but none affected me more than this show. The words, “...sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood...” were too close for comfort, and would wound/afflict my heart so deeply. I never got used to these young men dying by the thousands but I accepted my vocation to accompany them right to the doorway. Often they would die before I could get back to the hospital, and when I went in to see them, and found they had gone, I’d go outside in a kind of instantaneously, violently forced trance. I would take to the streets and walk miles up and down Manhattan; to get my bearings. I was disoriented; vertiginous. It was as if some huge part of me left too, or wanted to, and I needed to be grounded. Walking was my way of pounding the earth as an assurance that I was still here . I identified with the image of the tarot card “le pendu” or “the hanged man” - halfway on earth and halfway in the realm beyond life. I have never gotten back to the way I was before that time; fully on earth. My heart collapse in 2012 exacerbated this precarious state and I have accepted it as a “supra-normal, ab-normal,” condition. I mean it’s how we all live right now; part here, part there. I imagine that anyone who had these daily experiences would feel exactly the same way. The young men who were dying would often tell me that their relatives or someone they loved who had passed, was visiting them and “coaching” them into the process of coming home, of letting go. Almost any hospice doctor or nurse will tell you exactly the same things.
I have always been attracted, since childhood, to the devotion around the Holy Souls and you can read about this in the lives of many of our saints like Catherine of Genoa, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Padre Pio, Adrienne von Speyr, or the Austrian mystic, Maria Simma. But you don’t have to go into these Catholic visionaries to understand that we ache to remember and communicate with those we have deeply loved. I have often read that the feeling on their part, is mutual . They are literally waiting to hear from us and are willing, longing, to help us out in any way they can, for our brief time on earth. For some people the accounts of these holy people visited by souls, are terribly frightening, and so, there is no need for that. The best thing you can possibly do is to have Masses offered for them and to pray for and with them yourselves.
Every year on November 2, I place a large scrapbook filled with pictures and names of people who have passed into God, beneath the Eucharist at Mass and pray for them. Because we ultimately live forever, this passing is part of our continuing lives. The wildly veeringly/creative psychologist, Carl Jung thought of death as a Wedding. Right before he died, he asked a friend to drive him around his native villages, and the car was joyfully halted by several Weddings. This delighted him.
“Hard to see the light now, just don’t let it go. Things will come out right now. We can make it so...”
I love the last Requiem Mass ever composed for the dead by Maurice Durufle’. All the ones after Durufle’ are concert pieces. It is so soft, gentle, and like a small boat floating peacefully down a stream. Not at all the grand and portentous electrifying Mozart or Verdi. Durufle’ is a premonition of Vatican II and it’s theology of death-into-life. Just listen; you’ll hear and see. White vestments instead of black. An emphasis on life everlasting. It’s just utterly beautiful, and comforting.
“May light eternal shine upon them O Lord, with your saints forever, for you are Merciful. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon them. With your saints forever, for you are Merciful. With your saints forever, for you are Merciful.”
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 November 2021