Monday, 28 October 2013

Headhunters and Holy Souls

It is that time of year again; filling-in what we called up-North the "Pious List".  I'm writing down the names of the Holy Souls to be prayed for during the month of November.  The NLM has a rather cold post on why it is only the faithful for whom we pray, and indeed they are correct.  Liturgically, it is the faithful departed that fill our prayers on November 2nd and for the rest of the month.  The name of the list as the "Pious List" makes this abundantly clear.  This post is my meditation on the departed, in particular those who were not "pious".

Living quite close to Oxford, I do like to pop into the Pitt Rivers museum (a museum of anthropology), and whilst there I feel very close to my roots.  It could be one of my great grandfather's opium pipes in one of the cabinets.  It could actually be one of my ancestors or indeed a piece of their handiwork when I look at the cabinet of headhunted trophy skulls from the Iban people of Sarawak. I don't have to travel too far back in my ancestry to be in a very unfamiliar, heathen, and somewhat savage world.  These people had souls, these people had guardian angels.  They are part of me, I see their features in me.  I should pray for them, shouldn't I?

Iban Dayaks from Wikipedia: (Tropenmuseum source)

Another great grandfather was a very well respected and by all accounts good man.  He was very rich and donated money to charitable causes, many of them Christian.  He himself was Taoist.  My grandfather sat his scholarship exam for a Christian school under a portrait of his deceased father who was one of its benefactors.  A good man.  His wife became a Catholic after his death.  I should pray for him, shouldn't I?

Then there were the Japanese Navy Officers who during the Occupation of Malaya, forgot about sides and ethnic differences and protected my dad's life.  Their sense of duty to an infant first born son was stronger than any ethnic, religious or patriotic hatred of a Chinese Catholic.  Every time the air raid sirens went off, they'd rush to my grandparent's house to collect and protect my father.  They also provided him with food and medicine.  After the Surrender, as the Japanese Navy limped back home they were all torpedoed to oblivion by the US.  I should pray for them, shouldn't I?

And then there is Abdul.  Abdul was a Muslim homeless man who I got to know.  It remains a mystery how a Muslim  could end up homeless and destitute.  What had he done?  The Muslim communities are usually very good at caring for their own.  Abdul, however was destitute and relied on Catholic charity in his final months of life.  All the other men at the hostel that I knew were Catholics and their names make it to the Pious List.  What about Abdul?

Some non-Christians make it to my Pious List because they have been there for years, before I really thought about any of this, and it seems churlish to take them off.  Yet the prayers for these souls are very different from our prayers for the faithful departed.  Most people we encounter are gifts from God and Christ is the Sovereign of all people.  All are possible agents of Grace.  Some may be angels in disguise.  Our prayer for them is a prayer of thanksgiving to God.  When the Last Judgement is upon us, it will be how we responded to them that will largely determine our salvation.  God loves them, God knows what is in their hearts, leave their salvation to God, but give thanks and praise for their lives.  Though I'm sure a "Requiem aeternam" is also valid.

The faithful and in particular the Catholic faithful are another matter altogether.  They have been given (and indeed through Confirmation have themselves desired) so much; the very life of Christ.  Yet they have snubbed grace at every turn, just like we do.  They didn't nurture the ground for the fruits of the Holy Spirit to become manifest in them as they ought to have done,  just like we are doing now.  They were lukewarm, timid, forgetful, easily distracted and pride-filled, just like we are today. We know them so well, because we are so very much part of the same body.  The lowest, most painful depths of Purgatory will only contain Catholics; those given so much who squandered their gifts most stubbornly.  It is for those that our prayer is most sombre and most heartfelt. It is those for whom the Liturgy at this time is designed.  Our prayers for the non-faithful are part of our every day praise of God and are equally important. The Holy Souls in Purgatory are very close brothers and sisters to us, indeed one day they could be us. 


Robert said...

This is a very beautiful post, very thoughtful. I agree, certainly, all these people should be in your prayers, and especially the Catholics. We Catholics have many blessings and advantages that others do not have, and when we do poorly, the responsibility is greater, "more will be expected of him who has received more..." and so we need the prayers and help from our nearest relatives in the household of our faith.
Let us be sure to continue to keep each other in our prayers.

Ttony said...

I have always avoided "pious lists" because of having to leave people out: I like God to interpret "faithful".

One of the joys of Microsoft Office has been Novenas: putting a text and the names of the people the Novena is for as a calendar entry for nine days works really well, and at the start of November, a Novena for the normally-and-differently-faithful departed allows me a chance to get as near to heterodox as I dare.

Rita said...

I sent one list off to a missionary order that had quoted from the odious Kahil Gibrain on the top of its paper for the list: they got all and sundry. My parish list got only the Christians who were also relatives, friends, priests and religious. I always forget somebody.

I'm desperate to avoid Rahner's concept of the "anonymous Christian" by treating everyone the same. But yes, at the same time I don't want to pass judgement on anyone's "faith". Nothing is satisfactory.