By Barb Arland-Fye, editor
Crimson and gold leaves populated the boulevards as I walked near diocesan headquarters in Davenport on a mild, sunny October afternoon, putting me in a contemplative mood.
In the days leading up to the Solemnity of All Saints (Nov. 1) and The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Nov. 2), I thought about friends and colleagues who’d lost love ones this past week.
Those thoughts shifted to my grandma, Irene Arland, who died 36 years ago this month. Her warm, sunny personality comes to mind often on my walks. I know heaven isn’t a “place,” but because I live in a world bordered in time and space, I look up at the deep blue expanse and sense her presence.
On All Saints Day we remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. Grandma Arland, in my mind, is a saint – known to the large family she left behind — but unknown to the rest of the world. While in her 30s, my grandmother experienced a life-changing tragedy when her husband died after an accident, leaving her to raise nine children alone. Someone told her after the accident, “Irene, you’re sure to go to heaven for what you’ve been through.” Less than a decade later, her oldest son was declared dead after being missing in action during World War II. Whatever grief or feelings of being overwhelmed she might have experienced remained inside of her.
“She was as close to perfect as I could think of,” said my dad, the second-youngest of her children. Grandma Arland lived her Catholic faith daily, and chose not to speak ill of anyone. Her home was filled with family — some for short visits, some for longer visits. All were welcomed with warm meals, kisses and hugs. Each of her dozens of grandchildren received a birthday card each year with a dollar bill inside.
One of my brothers and I revealed to each other a few years ago that the person we’d most like to emulate is Grandma Arland. So of course I think she’s a saint, and I imagine many of us feel the same way about loved ones with whom we had an especially close relationship or admired deeply.
A conversation with Deacon Frank Agnoli about both feast days — All Saints Day and All Souls Day — brought me back to earth, so to speak. On All Souls Day we pray for the souls in Purgatory — again, not a place, but perhaps a state in which our souls undergo a cleansing so we can be reunited with our God. I told Deacon Agnoli that I imagined Purgatory as a state of separation from the people I love, which would be unbearable. Even if this state of separation is temporary, I am not a patient person, which God knows so well! My husband and I both joke that one of us will have to extend a hand to the other for an assist out of Purgatory. We acknowledge ourselves as imperfect people who likely will require an extra-good cleansing of our souls.
In Eucharistic Prayer II of the Mass, one of the beautiful phrases the priest prays is: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection; and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face. …”
Some extraordinary people pass through this life as models for the rest of us striving to embrace the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Even if these individuals are never canonized, I still believe they are saints. I don’t believe I fit in that category. But I can take comfort in knowing God is merciful, and that is worth contemplating on a beautiful fall day — and every day.