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Remembering our angels on All Souls’ Day

Gary Caruso | Thursday, November 1, 2007

Today in our nation’s capital at my home parish, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl celebrates a Mass commemorating his late predecessors. It is that time of year when a Communion of the Saints means celebrating on back-to-back days within our liturgical calendar. The Church first honors its saints, then follows with a day for us to remember the angels of our lives on All Souls’ Day. Yet, we need not an archbishop nor a canonized saint to honor our cherished loved ones – both living and deceased.

The Feast of All Souls owes its beginning to seventh century monks who decided to offer a Mass for their deceased community members on the day after Pentecost. All Souls’ Day evolved from the ancient Pagan Festival of the Dead, which celebrated the Pagan belief that the souls of the dead would return for a meal with their families. It was customary to burn candles in the window to guide the souls back home, and to place another setting at the table for them.

In the late 10th century, the Benedictine monastery in Cluny chose to move their mass for the dead to Nov. 2, and purposely followed All Saint’s Day in order to shift the focus from those in heaven to those in purgatory. While the Feast of All Saints is a day to remember the glories of Heaven and those there, the Feast of All Souls reminds us of our obligations to live holy lives to obtain a purification of our souls if we are destined for Heaven. By the 13th century, this All Souls’ Day custom had spread to Rome, where the feast was permanently placed on the calendar for the entire Church to observe.

For me, early November marks reminders on my calendar to prepare for year-end income tax deductions and obligations. In my mind, death and taxes are truly the only two certainties in life. After all, this is also the time of year when Notre Dame students feverishly call alumni who have yet to contribute to the annual fund. Their personal charms and youthful energy remind us alumni of our time on campus, and consequently, softens us to open our checkbooks with tax-deductible contributions – Marketing 101 in real time action.

November further reminds me of what I call the Angels of Notre Dame … not to be confused with a mentoring program on campus with a similar name. My angels are the religious and laymen who have inspired and comforted us throughout generations on campus. Recently, former Notre Dame Security Police Director Rex Rakow joined their ranks after bravely fighting an inoperable brain tumor. But regardless of who they are, we should honor them either collectively or individually when we turn the calendar to November. Furthermore, each angel deserves an enduring memorial.

My Archangel of honor is the late Rev. Robert F. Griffin, C.S.C., who comforted youthful, tortured souls – including mine – at Notre Dame. Griffin served as a Chaplain for the Glee Club and in the Campus Ministry. He founded Darby’s Place in the basement of LaFortune Hall, where he served as a counselor and friend to countless students after midnight. “Father Griff,” as he was affectionately called, could soothe suffering, console heartache, share joy and instill peace even in absolute silence during the early morning hours that nudged sunrise, his alarm clock to seek sleep. And in memory of his selfless, kind acts, many have contributed to a Notre Dame scholarship in his name.

Last year I publicly sought 200 of Griffin’s friends throughout the Notre Dame community in hopes that each would contribute $500 to fully fund his scholarship. Yet while Griffin’s most devoted friends worked with a cheerful Development Office to earmark funds, to date the scholarship is only about one-tenth towards our goal – needing a mere 180 additional supporters. Hopefully, this year we can double the number of contributors, thus snowballing our efforts to award a deserving Notre Dame student with a scholarship before the target date of 2014.

All Souls’ Day is the ideal time to remind the Notre Dame family to remember the angels of our past with a prayer or a contribution or a candle in the window. One of Griffin’s 1994 Viewpoint columns, “Letters to a Lonely God,” predated his death by five years but concluded with a foreboding of his life’s end. He asked for four angels – one to watch, one to pray and two to bear his soul away. He concluded with this: “May flights of angels sing me to my rest, though not soon.”

I would add a personal wish as well for the living within the Notre Dame family. May one of the many future angels currently among us on our beloved campus cross your path – and quite soon.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.