NOTE: Homily by the late Karl Rahner, S.J., on the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, which we have celebrated the last couple days.
All Saints day and All Souls day are the feasts of every saint and of every soul who has died and gone home into the eternal love of God. All of them and therefore not only those already celebrated by name in the church’s feasts throughout the year but also the silent, unknown ones who have departed as if they had never even existed. There are no legends about them; their lives are recorded neither in poetry nor in history, secular or ecclesiastical. Only one person knows anything about these saints, and that of God. He has inscribed their names in the book of life, which is the heart of his eternal love.
But we are supposed to celebrate these saints who are not known to us by name. How can we do this – really do it, with life and zest – if not by lovingly remembering our dead? They may already be forgotten by the world; perhaps their name is not even inscribed on a gravestone. Yet they not only live on with God, but also with us, in our hearts.
Let us then prepare our hearts for these feasts of the dead who live with God. May our hearts be mindful of the dead. Be still, O heart, and let all whom you have loved rise from the grave of your breast. Is there no one among All Saints and All Souls for you to celebrate? Have you ever come in contact with love and meekness, goodness and purity and fidelity in a person? Not even in your mother, so quiet and forgetful of herself? Nor in your patient father? Should you say, no, I think you would be contradicting your heart, which has its own experiences. It is not the heart’s experience to have met throughout life only darkness and no light, only selfishness and no selfless kindness.
But if you have met faith, hope, and love, kindness and pardon, great courage and fidelity in persons who now are dead – a grain of virtue such as these is worth a mountain of selfishness and vice – then you have met men and women whom your heart may seek with God. Up, then, and celebrate the heart-feast of All Saints, of All Souls – your saints, your beloved souls! Sorrow and joy, grief and happiness are strangely blended into this feast. Just as they are with the things of eternity. Celebrate an All Saints of peace and loyalty. Of yearning and of faith. Celebrate your dead who are still living.
Today, then, we want to remember before God our dead, all those who once belonged to us and who have departed from us. There are so many of them that we can by no means take them all at one glance. If our celebration is to greet them all, we must go back in memory over our path through life. When we go about it in this way, from our point of view it is like a procession of persons marching down the street of life.
At each moment, without bidding farewell, someone or other silently withdraws form the procession and, turning aside from the road, is lost in the darkness of the night. This procession becomes smaller and smaller for each one of us, for the new person constantly stepping onto our path through life only seems to be marching along with us. To be sure, many are walking the same street, but only a few walk together with each one of us. Strictly speaking, only those who set out together with each one of us are really journeying together with us. Only those who were with us at the very beginning of our journey to God – only those who were and still are really close to our heart.
The others are traveling companions on the same road; they are many, and they are constantly coming and going. We greet each other, and give each other a helping hand, and then, no more. But the real procession of each of our lives is made up of those whom we really love. This procession is always becoming smaller and quieter, until each one of us becomes silent once and for all, turns aside from the road, and passes away without a farewell, never to return.
That is why our heart today is with those who have already departed in just such a way. There are no replacements for them; no other human being could really fill the vacancy left by a loved one when she suddenly and unexpectedly departs and is at our side no longer. In true love no one can replace the beloved, for true love loves the beloved in those depths where each individual is uniquely and irreplaceably herself. That is why each one of those who have passed away has taken the heart with them, if death has trodden through our lives from beginning to end.
If someone has really loved and continues to love, then even before his own death his life is changed into a life with the dead. Could the lover forget her dead? If one has really loved, then her forgetting and the fact that she has ceased weeping are not signs that nothing has really changed, that she is just the same as before. They are, rather, signs that a part of her own heart has really died with the loved one, and is now living with the dead. That is why she can no longer mourn. We live, then, with the dead, with those who have gone before us into the dark night of death, where no one can work anymore.
But how are we supposed to be able to live with the dead in the one reality of our mutual love; how are we to celebrate a feast of all the holy dead? Is this possible simply because God is the God of the living and not of the dead, because his word and even the wisdom of this world tells us that these dead still live? Because we loved the dead and still love them, we must be with them always. But are they also with us? Do they belong to this love and to the celebration of this love?
They have departed, they are silent. No word from them reaches our ears; the gentle kindness of their love no longer fills our heart. How quiet the dead are, how dead they are! Do they want us to forget them, as we forget a casual acquaintance on a trip, with whom we exchanged a few insignificant words? If life is not taken away from those who depart this life in God’s love, but changed into eternal, measureless, superabundant life, why then should it seem to us that they no longer exist? Is the inaccessible light of God into which they have entered so faint that it cannot penetrate to us down here? Does even their love (and not only their bodies) have to abandon us in order to live with God in his light? Does their silence imitate the silence of their God, to whose home they have gone?
That is the way it is. For God is silent just like the dead. For us to celebrate his feasts in our hearts this silent God must certainly be with us, even though he seems so distant and so silent. We certainly must love him, too, as we love our dead, the distant and silent dead, who have entered into the night. Does he not give to our love an intelligible answer when we call him to the feast of the heart, and ask him for a sign that his love exists for us and is present to us? And that is why we cannot lament the silence of the dead, for their silence is only an echo of his silence.
But if we keep silent and meek, if we listen to this silence of God’s, then we begin to grasp with a comprehension that exceeds our own power to evoke or even to understand why both God and the dead are so silent. Then it dawns on us that they are near us precisely in our feast of the holy souls. God’s silence is the boundless sphere where alone our love can produce its act of faith in his love.
If in our earthly life his love had become so manifest to us that we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt what we really are, namely, God’s own beloved, then how could we prove to him the daring courage and fidelity of our love? How could such a fidelity exist at all? How could our love, in the ecstasy of faith, reach out beyond this world into his world and into his heart? He has veiled his love in the stillness of his silence so that our love might reveal itself in faith. He has apparently forsaken us so that we can find him.
For if his presence in our midst was obvious, in our search for him we would find only ourselves. We must, however, go out from ourselves, if we are to find him where he is really himself. Because his love is infinite, it can dwell openly and radiantly only in his own infinity; and because he wants to show us his infinite love, he has hidden it from us in our finiteness, whence he calls out to us. Our faith in him is nothing but the dark road in the night between the deserted house of our life with its puny, dimly lit rooms, and the blinding light of his eternal life. His silence in this world is nothing but the Earthly appearance of the eternal word of his love.
Our dead imitate this silence. Thus, through silence, they speak to us clearly. They are nearer to us than through all the audible words of love and closeness. Because they have entered into God’s life, they remain hidden from us. Their words of love do not reach our ears because they have blended into one with the joyous word of his boundless love. They live with the boundlessness of God’s life and with his love, and that is why their love and their life no longer enter the narrow room of our present life. We live a dying life. That is why we experience nothing of the eternal life of the holy dead, the life that knows no death. But just in this very way they also live for us and with us. For their silence is their loudest cry, because it is the echo of God’s silence. It is in unison with God’s word that it speaks to us.
Over against the loud cries of our drives, and over against the anxious, hasty protestations with which we mortals assure ourselves of our mutual love, God’s word enwraps us and all our noisy words in his life. This is the way he commands us to relinquish all things in the daring act of loving faith, in order to find our eternal homeland in his life.
And it is precisely in this way that the silence of our dead also calls out to us. They live in his life, and that is why they speak his words to us. They speak the word of the God of the true life, the word that is far removed from our dying. The dead are silence because they live, just as our noisy chatter is supposed to make us forget that we are dying. Their silence is the word of their love for us, the real message that they have for us. By this word they are really near to us, provided only that we listen to this soundless word and understand it, and do not drown it out through the noise of everyday life.
It is in this way that they are close to us whose feast we celebrate today in the silent composure of the heart. They are near us together with the silent God, the God of the silent dead, the living god of the living. He calls out to us through his silence, and they, by their silence, summon us into God’s life.
Let us therefore be mindful of our dead, our living. Our love for them, our loyalty to them is the proof of our faith in him, the God of everlasting life. Let us not ignore the silence of the dead, the silence that is the most ardent word of their love. This, their most ardent word, accompanies us today and every day, for they have gone away from us in order that their love, having gone into God, may be all the closer to us.
Be mindful of the dead, O heart. They live. Your own life, the life still hidden even to you, they live unveiled in eternal light. Our living who are with the God of life cannot forget us dead. God has granted our living everything, for he has given them himself. But he goes further and also grants them this favor: that their silence will become the most eloquent word of their love for us, the word that will accompany our love home to them, into their life and their light.
If we really celebrate All Saints and All Souls as the feast of faith, of love, of quiet remembering; if our life is and is always becoming more and more a life of the dead who have gone before us in the sign of faith into the dark night of death, where no one can work; then through God’s grace our life becomes, more and more, a life of faith in his light during the night of this Earthly life. Then we who are dying live with the living who have gone before us into the bright, shining day of life, where no one has to work, because God himself is this day, the fullness of all reality, the God of the living.
When we stand by the graves, or when our heart must seek distant graves, where perhaps not even a cross stands over them any longer; when we pray, “Lord, grant them eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon them”; when we quietly look up toward the eternal homeland of all the saints and – from afar and yet no near – greet God’s light and his love, our eternal homeland; then all our memories and all our prayers are only the echo of the words of love that the holy living, in the silence of their eternity, softly and gently speak into our heart.
Hidden in the peace of the eternal God, filled with his own bliss, redeemed for eternity, permeated with love for us that can never cease, they, on their feast, utter the prayer of their love for us: “Lord, grant eternal rest to them whom we love – as never before – in your love. Grant it to them who still walk the hard road of pilgrimage, which is nonetheless the road that leads to us and to your eternal light. We, although silent, are not closer to them than ever before, closer than when we were sojourning and struggling along with them on Earth. Grant to them, too, Lord, eternal rest, and may your perpetual light shine on them as on us. May it shine upon them now as the light of faith, and then in eternity, as the light of blessed life.”
Be mindful of the dead, O heart. Call them into your heart today, listen to their silence, learn from them the one thing necessary: celebrate the feast of your saints. For then the God of all the living will be mindful of us who are dead, and he will one day be our life, too. And there will be one, single, eternal feast of all the saints.