â€œWhat did you mean?â€ we asked. She went on: â€œAnd those plots will include ours, sooner rather than later.â€
â€œHalf a world away, our granddaughters will join other kids in balmy Palo Alto, California, for trick-or-treat parties,â€ she mused. Alexia, 11, will dress up to resemble the Harry Potter series character Hermione, and Tai, 9, will pose as a ninja.
And in Ypsilanti, Michigan, our four-year-old grandson Lukas, has chosen to dress up as a ninja, but the turtle version. Shepherded by our son Francis and wife Tricia, heâ€™ll trot with other kids, in the mid-autumn chill, to knock on neighborsâ€™ doors for trick-or-treat handouts.
Two other grandchildren are here from years of living in their motherâ€™s Sweden. Swedes bring flowers and light candles at family graves on the first day of winter.
In parts of Latin America, families sometimes leave food offerings for the departed on DÃa de los Difuntos. They say Halottak napja in Hungary and Yom el Maouta in Syria. In Bolivia, cakes are left for souls on the table and the room kept warm.
Halloween is a contraction of â€œAll Hallows Eve.â€ In 1848, Irish immigrants brought those spooky costumes to the United States where it continues today as a fun-filled kidsâ€™ feast.
But reaching out to the departed goes back thousands of years. â€œIt is a good and wholesome thought to pray for the dead,â€ declares the ancient Book of Maccabees.
By the year 998, the Benedictine abbot Odilo of Cluny had picked Nov. 2 for remembrance. This practice spread to other countries, including the Philippines.
The living aid the departed, the teaching went, by asceticismâ€™s trio: prayer, sacrifice and alms. Theyâ€™d help atone for past transgressions, and pave entry into the Beatific Vision.
â€œLift us up, that we may see further, as one by one, You gather scattered families, from the distractions, strife and weariness of time, to the peace of eternity,â€ an ancient prayer goes.
The desire to â€œsee furtherâ€ echoes in jaded newsrooms with â€œde cajonâ€ stories:Â Traffic jams, jostling crowds, crammed cemeteries â€œturned into two-day cities zapped by karaokes.â€
This October, Pope Francis canonized together the first married couple in modern times: Louis and Zelie Martin were the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.
In her autobiography â€œThe Story of A Soul,â€ St. Therese, often called â€œThe Little Flower,â€ says her formative years were most shaped by her parents. After her dying mother received extreme unction, her father â€œtook me in his armsâ€ and had her kiss Zelieâ€™s forehead.
They underscore the centralâ€”and stunningâ€”reality remains of life beyond a handful of ashes.
â€œWe Filipinos use the idiom â€˜itaga mo sa batoâ€™ to assert utmost confidence,â€ Pastor Lino Pantoja writes.
â€œOh, that my words were engraved in rock forever,â€ the biblical figure Job wrote.
Words of Jobâ€™s primitive theology of the Resurrection proclaim: â€œI know that my Redeemer lives. And in the end, He will stand forth upon the earth. And after my skin shall have been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.â€
These words were written 2,500 years before Easterâ€™s empty tomb. And in 1741, George Frideric Handel had worked it into his soaring oratorio that the world has never forgotten: â€œThe Messiah.â€
Our grandchildren are the post-Vatican II generation. They never heard what echoed in the requiem services of our long-vanished youth: the â€œDies Iraeâ€ (Day of Wrath) in plain chant.
â€œTuba mirum spargens sonum/Per sepulchra regionum/Coget omnes ante thronum,â€ the choir would sing. My now-hazy freshman Latin translates that into: â€œTrumpets blare through sepulchers/calling all to appear before judgmentâ€™s throne.â€
Young and old, however, share the universal ache for assurance of what lies beyond the grave.
I recall writing the following much earlier:
â€œIf only I could see him, for just a second, and know heâ€™s all right, Iâ€™d be able to cope,â€ Seamus tells the priest blessing his sonâ€™s crumpled body, killed in an accident.
â€œI remembered Seamusâ€™ commentâ€ at a Mass for a student accident victim, writes Jesuit theologian Catalino Arevalo. â€œThe boyâ€™s classmates chose the Transfiguration for gospel reading. The one about Jesus going up to the mountain and changing into dazzling white, they suggested.
â€œIt struck me, for the first time, that Jesus allowed his friends to see, â€˜for just a second,â€™ what was beyond. Their reaction was strange: They did not want to leave the spot. Itâ€™s â€˜wonderful for us to be here.â€™ But Jesus reminded them they had to go down the mountain.
â€œWhat if we could get some vision, â€˜for just a secondâ€™? Or if we could, â€˜for just a second,â€™ see people whoâ€™ve gone before us, in faith, especially those suddenly or tragically taken, in that place of light that is Godâ€™s promise?
â€œWhat if we, too, had some authentic extended experience of what â€˜our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heardâ€™ of what God prepared for those who are faithful?
â€œIt is truly the better thing that an authentic extended experience is not given usâ€”because we would not want to leave the spot. Better still, because there is still so much of the humdrum, the frustrating, the difficult for us to endure, and if possible, with courage, to build some small beginnings of the Kingdom which Jesus wanted to make our work in this world.â€
Whether in the dim catacombs off Romeâ€™s Appian way, or in our garishly lighted cemeteries, All Souls Day speaks to us in Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagoreâ€™s poignant verse: â€œDeath is not the extinguishing of life. It is putting out the lamp, because dawn has come.â€
Juan L. Mercado served as a communication officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok. Thereafter, he was posted in FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, as attachÃ© de cabinet. He wrote for the Inquirer as a regular columnist from February 2004 until December 2014.