Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Soul Connections

Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan

Fiji Times - Wednesday, November 02, 2011
TODAY is "All Souls Day" in the Christian calendar.
This follows All Saints Day (November 1) and perhaps more well known, as a result of commercialisation, All Hallows (Saints) Eve or Halloween.
All Souls Day is marked on November 2 (or the third if the second is a Sunday), directly following All Saints Day, and is an opportunity for Catholics and Anglo-Catholic churches to commemorate the faithful departed.
They remember and pray for the souls of people who are in Purgatory ù the place (or state) in which those who have died atone for their less grave sins before being granted the vision of God in Heaven (called beatific vision).
The reasoning behind this stems from the notion that when a soul leaves the body, it is not entirely cleansed from venial (minor) sins.
However, through the power of prayer and self-denial, the faithful left on earth may be able to help these souls gain the beatific vision they seek, bringing the soul eternal sublime happiness.
A 7/8th century AD prayer The Office of the Dead is read out in churches on All Souls Day.
Other rituals include the offering of Requiem Mass for the dead, visiting family graves and reflecting on lost loved ones.
In Mexico, on El Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), people take picnics to their family graves and leave food for their dead relatives.
While praying for the dead is an ancient Christian tradition, it was Odilo, Abbot of Cluny (France) who, in 998AD, designated a specific day for remembering and praying for those in the process of purification.
This started as a local feast in his monasteries and gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church toward the end of the 10th century AD.
In his letter for Millennium of All Souls' Day, Pope John Paul II wrote: "For the souls in Purgatory, waiting for eternal happiness and for meeting the Beloved is a source of suffering, because of the punishment due to sin which separates them from God, but there is also the certitude that once the time of purification is over, the souls will go to meet the one it desires."
As a Christian, I pay close attention to the special days within our community of faith, whether I participate in the ritual observances of them or not.
My wife is Catholic and I encourage her to share the rich heritage of her community of faith with my son and daughter (baptised in the Anglican Church).
However, as All Souls Day approached, I found myself on the phrase ù "All Souls".
Even removed from the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, the concept of All Souls can have significance for every human being if we reflect on the unity of spirit that we share.
Most of us would agree in the existence of a soul, even though we may express our understanding of it differently based on our cultural and religious contexts.
Our souls, our atman, our yalo, do not exist independently of each other.
On that level we can connect with one another, even though we may because of our physical differences, (ethnicity, gender, culture, etc) be separate.
Sometimes I wonder what it is that, while some are able to make soul-connections, or recognise our common humanity in that we are "all souls", many either resist or neglect to recognise the commonality of our human experience.
For some, we seem only to acknowledge those we are familiar with or find it uncomfortable to look into the eyes of a stranger and recognise that the person is a creature just like you and me ù a person who lives and breathes just like you and me ù a soul that struggles with all the physical and emotional weaknesses the human condition contains. This other, this neighbour is also a child of God.
Then the King will say to those on his right: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
"Then the righteous will answer him: Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
"When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
"The King will reply: 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:34-40)'."
While the above quotation is from the Christian Holy Scriptures, I am sure that one could find similar passages in the holy books of the many other faith communities of our fellow Fijians.
This week I invite you to reflect on the following:
Are we authentic in our response to the divine love we have and continue to receive?
What holds us back from recognising and embracing other children of God who are strangers to us?
What can you do today to show that you believe in the inherent goodness of human nature?
May your week be filled with light, love and peace.
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is a student of the International Graduate School of Theology at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. Email: (Facebook/Twitter).

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