Something bittersweet happens amidst the blood and guts that fill the nightly local news reports about murder and accident victims. Eulogies. These are stories of ordinary people who never made headlines before, but in their sudden exit from this life we discover how many lives they touched—and touched deeply. Hearing and reading their stories in the news media, with quotes from friends and relatives about how great they were, how they would have given you the shirt off their back and how much they meant to everyone they knew, you would think that all victims of circumstance are saints.
But this Sunday is our Church’s answer to that mystery. All souls matter. It’s fitting that All Souls Day comes after All Saints Day. While our minds are still focused on the great things associated with the great saints we celebrate, we are reminded that our saints were once ordinary people like all of us, and that all of us are equally important to our Creator.
Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom (wis 3:1-9) offers comfort to anyone mourning the passage of a fellow soul:
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.”
If we stopped there with our celebration of All Souls some among us might think, “this is a celebration of all GOOD souls; I’m a wretch. There’s no hope for me. But in our second reading (rom 5:5-11), St. Paul disabuses us of that notion:
“Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.”
Even ungodly victims of circumstance are connected to fellow souls who see redeeming qualities in them. It is those qualities that we celebrate today; nothing heroic, just the ordinary ties that bind us together—either through blood or friendship. The Bible isn’t only filled with the accounts of saints. Some of the most interesting characters are simply friends of the saints. Take Tabitha, for example. This was a friend of St. Peter. She died, but through Peter’s prayer, was brought back to life—just as Jesus brought his friend Lazarus back. In her brief moment in the biblical spotlight of the Book of Acts (acts 9:31-42), Tabitha (translated as Dorcas) is simply described as someone who was “always doing good and helping the poor.” In this passage, it states that all the widows were standing around Peter crying, “showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.” With that, Peter prayed to God and she was brought back to life.
These returns of ordinary people like Lazarus and Tabitha served a purpose in reminding us that all souls can be brought back to life in God. That was Jesus’ mission and the one he passed on to all the saints, as he stated in this Sunday’s gospel reading:
“I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”
Today we celebrate ordinary souls like Lazarus and Tabitha who lived every day as if it were their last. That lesson is their extraordinary gift to all souls.