In Catholic parishes, the sacraments give rhythm to our lives, along with the days, weeks, months, and years of the liturgical calendar. Yet, even as the liturgical calendar punctuates our daily lives, the forward movement of time can feel deeply impersonal. Parish life, however, offers ways of accompanying universal experiences—even ones as complicated as death and grief—with tender rituals and personal touches. Throughout the month of November, we focus on death and grief as common human experiences through which God and parish companion us. Ministers and fellow parishioners accompany each other through moments that matter, even when those moments are hard.
I think that, if we’re lucky in this life, we’ll get to come across perhaps three or four really really good ponds. This story begins with one such pond: a koi pond at Balboa Park in San Diego. This particularly good pond was something that I happened upon while ambling around the park one sunny June afternoon in the company of someone I dearly love. We weren’t alone in thinking it the perfect day to take advantage of such a treasure: there were dog-walkers and stroller-pushers, families and friends, couples old and young. Loveliness seemed to flutter all around this large pond, gently begging us to lend our attentiveness.
“Perhaps however joy is the outgrowth of suffering in a special way.”
Flannery O’Connor (The Habit of Being, 527)
I wanted to be common like bread:
so when the struggle came she wouldn’t find me missing.
These lines from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Nothing More” were etched on a plaque, as a tribute to my late father, Denny, by a close friend of his. It hung on the wall of their local watering hole where my dad had gathered often with friends, colleagues, and strangers to recount the day or sometimes to forget it.