Remembering those who have gone before us
Graveyard at All Saints Church, Burton-Dassett, Warwickshire, England, where some of my husband’s ancestors are buried.
At the Chancery of the Roman Catholic Diocese where I work there is a small chapel, and this morning many of us gathered there for Mass to observe the Solemnity of All Saints, known in other Christian faiths as All Saints’ Day.
The priest celebrating the Mass – for Catholics it is a holy day of obligation – remarked that there are not enough days in the year to give each of the martyrs or the saints his or her own feast day. For this and other reasons, the church designated All Saints’ Day as an occasion to remember and pray for all of the holy men and women who have gone before us and lived exemplary and virtuous lives in imitation of Christ. He reminded us that we pray for all the saints, whether we know their names or not, and we give thanks for the many ways their lives blessed us.
His words got me thinking about the ways we honor our ancestors – handing down our traditions and sharing family names and stories, much as if they were our own litany of the saints, so that our children and our children’s children will remember these people who came before us. If we happen to be family historians and genealogists, we are likely to go a step further, embarking on never-ending quests to learn more about the ancestors we know and to discover the ones we don’t as we piece together our family puzzles.
Of course, we hope to find that we came from people of grace and goodness and love, and thankfully, most of the time this is the case. Beyond that, we might learn that some of them lived quietly, some were illustrious in one way or another, and some of them just baffle us as they languish behind those seemingly impenetrable “brick walls” we are always trying to knock down. In still other cases, we might come across a few ancestors whose lives were, shall we say, less than stellar. But this is part of the deal, and we have to accept what we find, taking the saints with the sinners, understanding that no one is perfect, and trying to make sense of how their lives have affected our own.
The more we come to understand our ancestors – our personal “saints,” the better we will appreciate them for who they were and how they handled their struggles and triumphs. And one more thing: for all the generations between us, we may find that we are not so different from them. Depending on what kind of person our ancestor was, this can be as enlightening as it can be disturbing. Usually, though, it is comforting, as we begin to see that if they can accomplish what they did amidst the challenges and hardships of their times, we can do the same.
So today, I’d like to dedicate this post to all of our ancestors – those whose names we know, those whose names we don’t know, and the ones in between that we’ve forgotten for one reason or another. Thank you – all of you, for being here, for fighting the good fight, and for living the best way you could amid your circumstances. Thank you for your good intentions, whether you succeeded or failed, and for the lessons they taught you – and us. Thank you for your love and foresight, and thank you for your sense of humor and perspective. Thank you for the values you passed on to us, whether they came tried and true from generations before or you just learned them the hard way.
Lastly, thank you for your part in laying the great foundation of roots of the family trees from which each of us dangles. Whether you lived lives of importance or obscurity, of saintliness or notoriety, each one of you was here for a reason. We would not be alive or who we are if not for you.
Copyright © 2012 Linda Huesca Tully