We’ve had All Hallows Eve, we’ve carved jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treated till the cows (and monsters and pirates and Angry Birds…) came home, and now it’s November! Which means two things:
- It’s the Solemnity of All Saints
- That means I get to tell you about my Grampa!
There he is, the man himself: Charlie Andersen with my Grammy, Gertrude. They passed away 12 and 7 years ago, respectively, and our family–like most–has missed them ever since. Their love story was epic, punctuated with little stories about how Grammy worked as a nurse and Grampa would pick her up for lunch during her shift or how they met when they were 4 and 6 admiring bunnies at a backyard hutch. Grammy was the walking definition of a homemaker who displayed habits and concerns that the rest of the family still lightheartedly makes fun of; she was always puttering, always set the table for breakfast the night before, and wouldn’t leave you alone at night until you’d accepted her offer of either pretzels, a cookie, or ice cream after dinner. She once gave me a small porcelain dish in the shape of a butterfly that said, “Happiness, like a butterfly, lands on you when you least expect it” and that phrase has come to define my life’s journey in ways I never thought possible. It was because of this that I’ve come to associate her with butterflies, and at more than one point in my life a butterfly has shown up at the most peculiar and needed time. I’d like to think it’s my Grammy sending her love in those moments.
Grammy and Grampa were married for 60 years and celebrated that milestone anniversary in the hospital during my Grampa’s final days. He was the eternal gentleman, refusing to leave her on their special day, telling every hospital worker, nurse and doctor “Did you know that today is my 60th wedding anniversary?” He passed into Eternal Life two days later. He was tall and handsome and had that Second Generation American way of still possessing the physical qualities of our family’s country of origin–Norway–before they became diluted through generations of the Great American Melting Pot. He wasn’t too big or important to play with his children and grandchildren and would even treat us to a show of playing the spoons before dinner–until Grammy walked into the kitchen, at which point he’d place them back on the table with an innocent, “…of course I can’t play the spoons for you, not with the nice silver! I would never!” and a wink. And he was a great man of faith; the kind of faith that I don’t actually ever remember him talking to me about, but which was simply and elegantly conveyed through everyday living.
For most of the year, the framed picture in my daughter’s room and the small reminders of my Grammy and Grampa around the house have a certain bittersweet quality to them. But today, on the Solemnity of All Saints, they’re positively joyful! Today, to me, is their feast day.
According to tradition, in the early 7th century Pope Boniface IV took the bones of martyrs and buried them underneath the Pantheon in Rome, which was a temple dedicated to all the pagan gods. He re-dedicated it to Mary and all the martyrs, and thus the tradition of celebrating all saints was born. As Church history continued and the idea of what constituted a saint expanded, the holiday moved from Spring to Fall and eventually settled on November 1st during the reign of Pope Gregory III in the mid-eighth century. It was made a Holy Day of Obligation relatively soon thereafter (which means that you should totally join us tonight for Mass at 7:00 pm at St. Bernard’s!). Together, the feasts of All Saints (today) and All Souls (tomorrow) commemorate all the faithful departed in Heaven and Purgatory.
The thing I love about All Saints is that it celebrates both the big-S saints like Saint Perpetua (a favorite of mine) or Saint Jude or Saint Simeon Stylites (who came up in conversation at the Newman Center recently) as well as the unnamed little-s saints like my grandparents or your childhood priest who passed away or other everyday, faithful Christians. Naysayers might suggest that we don’t know whether these little-s saints are in Purgatory or Heaven and to them I’d say, “Well, neither do you.” So celebrate I will in the hope of the Resurrection and trust in God’s mercy and grace!
Who do you celebrate today? Is is a favorite Saint or a favorite saint? Why do those people mean so much to you? Let me know in the comments–I really do want to hear!
And if you’re in Keene, come celebrate tonight at the 7:00 pm Mass at St. Bernard’s. The Student Organization will be going out to Galactic Bowling at Yankee Lanes afterwards, cause what says “celebration” better than glow bowling?!?!?