At the Fenwick All Souls’ Day Mass, a junior cross-country runner from Burr Ridge recalled how her late grandpa would utter ‘cheesy’ quotations and loosen hard-to-open pickle jars.
By Student Preacher Natalie Poleszak ’23 (Burr Ridge, IL)
Today, we celebrate All Souls’ Day. Every single year, Catholics gather on November 2nd, commemorating the dead. But why? For Catholics, this day gives us the opportunity to pray for all who have passed away. We pray for our departed brothers and sisters, our loved ones, and our friends. And we also pray for all those still in purgatory, that they may be cleansed of their sins to be finally carried into heaven to rest with God. Personally, I use this day to remember one of the people that I loved the most, my grandfather.
No matter how many people you are surrounded by, I think the most interesting thing is that we can still feel so alone. That’s why it’s so important to know that you will always have a community to fall back on. Even though we may not depend on them for our every need, just knowing that you have someone there to listen, help or even just silently pray for you is a big help. Your community can be your parents, your siblings, your friends, your classmates, even your Starbucks barista … anyone you trust really. But sometimes, all we need is that one person who will help us through the thick and thin. For me, that was my grandpa. Whenever any minor inconveniences would happen in my life, I would go to him. Whether I needed someone to open a jar of pickles, or someone to referee the fighting between my sister and me, grandpa was always there. While he did not always know how to fix the problem, he was always present there for me and willing to listen. I often wished he could fix all my problems as easily as he could open a jar of pickles. Instead, often he simply gave me advice through a cheesy inspirational quote. When I think about his impact today, all those cheesy quotes may have actually helped — that he not only gave me the solution, but made me work for the answer. Through looking back at his words, everything that has happened to me has been a lesson, even if I was blinded by that lesson in the moment. But, sometimes, learning from our experience isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we need to experience deep personal and spiritual reflection before we get the answers we are searching for.
My relationship with God has not always been perfect. To be quite honest, after my grandfather died, I did not have much faith in God. I was angry and sad, struggling to comprehend my own emotions. Not knowing who to turn to or what to do, I instinctively decided to just sit and pray. One day, I decided to bike to church, and then sat in front of the altar. I began to talk to God, telling him my thoughts on and on until about two hours passed. I wish that I could tell you that that specific moment turned me into a new, enlightened person, but it didn’t feel like that at all. I did feel somewhat relieved, but it didn’t change the ever-present fact that my grandpa was gone. The real impact was when I went to Sunday Mass the next day. At Mass, no one sat in the seat I had sat in the day before. Every seat around it was filled with people … and yet, that one singular seat was completely open. No, no one was saving a spot. It wasn’t due to social distancing. Nor was it even a seat for someone’s coat or purse. That seat was just completely empty, almost as if it was beckoning for me.
At that moment, I realized that God heard my prayers. As weird as it looked, I truly believe that I received a message from God. I came to understand that God would leave that seat open for me whenever I wanted to come in and bask in his grace. God would always save me a spot as his table, like he saved a spot for my grandpa in the kingdom of heaven.
Later it turned out that the seat was empty because a kid spilled applesauce on it before Mass, but a part of me still believes it was God’s own humorous way of showing his presence, love and care for me, just like my grandpa had.
The Commemoration of All Souls gives us a day to remember all those who have died. It also provides us an annual opportunity to reflect on how they have and still impact our lives. As much as we wish we could, we cannot bring our loved ones back to life, so instead we are gathered here today to do three things:
Firstly, we are here today to honor them. We honor their words, their beliefs and, most especially, the love they gave us.
Secondly, we pray for their eternal repose. We pray that through God’s great mercy, they might come to spend eternity with Him, in his kingdom.
Lastly, in recalling the example of our departed loved ones, we are challenged to take the love we received from them and pass it on to others, through our own words and actions. May we recall those things that had a greatest impact upon us and do those same things for others.
As I take leave of you today, let me make it known:
If you ever need someone to support you or loosen the lid of a jar of pickles …
I am your girl!