I’ve never missed a family reunion. I’ve either never missed one by actually attending the event, or I never missed one — that is, regretted — not being able to attend the event. That might sound like a jaded view of my family, but we all have had those less than favorable family dynamics we’re all glad we were able to avoid — at least for one year.
In November, the church celebrates her own family reunion in an intense way. An earthly family reunion includes young and old, grandparents and babies, crazy Cousin Eddies and effervescent Aunt Agathas. In the same way, the church’s great get-together might best be described in James Joyce’s phrase, “Here comes everybody.”
Each Nov. 1, Catholics celebrate All Saints, those persons officially recognized as saints by the church, as well as those holy souls who have attained heaven unknown to us. The next day, Nov. 2, we observe All Souls’ Day, a time to pray for purgatory’s poor souls, that they might make a quick entrance into heaven.
Our Catholic Church, which is the mystical body of Christ, then, is a big family, with members in heaven, souls in purgatory and relatives on earth. Each of these clans — beatific brothers, suffering sisters and carnal nieces and nephews — come together and reunite at the Mass’ altar, the beating heart of the mystical body.
In a family, each member contributes — or is supposed to contribute — to the good of the whole. Parents and children and uncles and cousins and in-laws (yes, even in-laws) support, teach, serve and pray for one another. So, too, do members of the family of faith assist one another with prayers, sacrifices, indulgences and Masses. November is a privileged time to “have each other’s back” on our common road to heaven.
The latest sibling squabble or in-law drama aside, the church teaches that family life is a part of both nature’s and God’s design for begetting and raising children. Pope St. John Paul II says, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” The domestic church is the primary school of holiness and joy.
But this divine and human truth doesn’t make family life any easier. A priest friend of mine, whose family is by all accounts a model of Catholic life, once quipped: “Don’t be fooled: Our family puts the funk in dysfunctional!” Part of a family’s virtue comes from its members rubbing off one other’s vices.
So consider coming to this November’s family reunion — along with Cousin Eddy, Venerable Solanus Casey, St. Padre Pio and the rest of “here comes everybody.” It’s a reunion you won’t want to miss (that is, skip) — and you’ll regret it if you do!
By Christopher Carstens
Director of the Office for Sacred Worship