Gospel Reflections

Feast of All Saints

John 6:37-40

Feast Day Reflection by Sister Jo-Ann Flora

Published: November 02, 2014


In 2007, All Soul’s Day came for me on the fourth of July. I was traveling with an interfaith group in the Czech Republic, and three of us decided to use a free afternoon to visit Terezin (Theresienstadt), a town that had been transformed by the Nazis into a concentration camp. After a half-hour ride from Prague on a crowded city bus, we entered the camp through an enormous cemetery with two sections, Jewish and Christian, which had been constructed after the liberation as a national monument. Some of the small gray headstones bore names and dates, some bore only numbers. Red rose bushes between the headstones brought welcome relief to the drabness. As we walked meditatively along the edge of the cemetery, trying to absorb the immensity of the reality before us, two girls approached us and asked if we were Jewish. They were visibly disappointed when we said that we were not. In the midst of that huge cemetery, they had discovered the grave of a young girl who had died that date, July 4 in 1942. They were attempting to assemble a minyan so that they could offer the traditional Jewish prayers for her. A minyan is the quorum of ten Jewish male adults required for certain religious obligations, such as praying for the dead. Some non-Orthodox streams of Judaism include adult females in the minyan. I thought, “What can we do?” I approached the girls and offered to pray with them, even though I was not Jewish and could not recite the traditional Jewish prayers for the dead. They accepted, and the five of us stood around the grave of Rosa, age 14, who had died in that wretched camp in 1942, on my country’s Independence Day, in the year of my birth – a powerful reality that I almost could not take in. When our prayer was finished, one of the girls held out her hand to me and said, “Here is your stone.” I accepted my stone, and felt honored to participate in this sacred Jewish ritual, and laid it on Rosa’s grave.

This year on All Soul’s Day, I will lovingly remember all my dear ones who have passed into new life – family members, friends, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. I will ask the good God to help me to live my life in a way that honors them. I will also remember all those nameless souls that we hear about on the evening news and read about in our newspapers, who are losing their lives because of aggressive imperialism, ethnic hatred, religious conflicts, deadly diseases, gun violence, starvation, and countless other evils. The news is often so overwhelming that we hardly know how to respond. Prayer is our only gift to these members of our extended family.

I will remember the feel of that little stone in my hand, and in my imagination I will place it on the last resting places of all these souls. A popular Israeli song contains the line, "There are men with hearts of stone, and stones with the hearts of men." My heart is in my stone.

 

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