Return to Life

2 November 2005: All Souls Day
Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed

Our tradition tells us that we visit the graves of our beloved and pray for the souls who are still being purified in the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. While media introduces the Western tradition of Halloween and thus instilling in us that we should be afraid of the souls, Christian tradition tells us otherwise. And just as the visiting cemeteries are slowly becoming an empty tradition, I would like to share with you the following thought.

I want to tell you the story of Puccini, the great Italian writer of such classic operas as Madame Butterfly and La Bohème. It seems when Puccini was fairly young he contracted cancer, and so he decided to spend his last days writing his final opera, Turandot, which is one of his most polished pieces. When his friends and disciples would say to him, “You are ailing, take it easy and rest,” he would always respond, “I’m going to do as much as I can on my great masterwork and it’s up to you, my friends, to finish it if I don’t.” Well, Puccini died before the opera was completed.

Now his friends had a choice. They could forever mourn their friend and return to life as usual--or they could build on his melody and complete what he started. They chose the latter. And so, in 1926 at the famous La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy, Puccini’s opera was played for the first time, conducted by the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini. And when it came to the part in the opera where the master had stopped because he died, Toscanini stopped everything, turned around with eyes welling up with tears, and said to the large audience, “This is where the master ends.” And he wept. But then, after a few moments, he lifted up his head, smiled broadly, and said, “And this is where his friends began.” And he finished the opera.

What are we going to do about the death of our loved ones? What are we going to do about their masterpieces? Should we continue to weep? Would it be life as usual? Is it possible to build from their abilities, their humor, their virtues, their tradition, and their unrealized dreams?

I would suggest that if there is any fitting response to All Souls Day, it is life, our life, a life that is better lived: a life lived more selflessly, a life that makes a difference, a life that is honest and decent, a life that makes beautiful music for the living, the souls and for the Lord. We can make those who have died live in us. The music doesn’t have to stop at the grave. We have a choice.

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